Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Francis E. Meloy of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs 1


Subject: Conference with Aramco Officials and Judge Manley O. Hudson on Saudi Arabian-UK Boundary Disputes.

[Page 42]
Participants: Mr. Burton Y. Berry—ANE (Chairman)2
Judge Manley O. Hudson—International Law Counselor for Aramco.
Mr. Richard Young—Ass’t to Judge Hudson
Mr. James Terry Duce—Vice President, Aramco
Mr. George W. Ray—General Counsel, Aramco
Mr. John Noble, Jr.—Ass’t General Counsel, Aramco
NEA—Messrs. George C McGhee
   Raymond Hare
} attended part of meeting.
L/P—Mr. William R. Vallance
OIR/GE—Mr. Boggs
LP—Messrs. Snow Sweeney
L/E—Mr. Wallace
DRN—Dr. Sethian
BNA—Mr. Ranney
U/FW—Mr. Taylor
ANE—Messrs. Wilkins Funkhouser Meloy


The meeting was proposed by Aramco in order that Aramco officers and their international law adviser, Judge Manley O. Hudson, might discuss with officials of the Department the following subjects:

British attitude on jurisdiction over the Island of Farsi;
British attitude toward the desire of the Saudi Arabian Government to deal directly with the Rulers of the Persian Gulf Sheikhdoms;
British attitude toward Qatar and Trucial Oman boundaries of Saudi Arabia.


Mr. Berry opened the meeting by welcoming the visitors and briefly sketched the background of the points which Aramco had proposed for discussion. He indicated that we were currently thinking that our delegation to the London Foreign Ministers’ Meeting3 may:

Point out to the British delegation that the UK threat to return to the 1913–1914 proposed line of demarkation appeared as extreme as the Saudi Arabian claim.
Suggest that a stalemate in the Persian Gulf area is not conducive to the region’s orderly development and tranquility, whereas the recent settlement of the Abu Dhabi-Dubai boundary by arbitral award sets an admirable example of progress.
Suggest that a fact-finding investigating commission, agreeable to the two governments, might be able to reduce the field of differences between the Saudi Arabian Government and the United Kingdom, acting on behalf of the Persian Gulf Sheikhdoms.
Suggest that any remaining differences in the boundary problem might be resolved by means of a neutral commission of arbitration.
Suggest, in a tentative and exploratory manner, that it would be profitable if there were direct contact between Ibn Saud and the Rulers of the various Sheikhdoms with the British playing an appropriate advisory role.

Mr. George Ray opened his remarks by stating that he had recently returned from a visit to Saudi Arabia. He recalled that in the January 31, 1950 meeting between Aramco and Departmental officers to discuss Persian Gulf boundary problems, the question had arisen as to what the United States Government could do to assist in the early settlement of the dispute. Mr. Ray said that he proceeded from the basic premise that we all wanted British power in the Middle East to be preserved but preserved with respect. He stated that the British are delaying and that British prestige is suffering from their own conduct. For example, he felt that the British were resorting to bullying tactics, as in their threat to tear down the Saudi Arabian marker on the Island of Farsi.

Mr. Ray said that through British instigation we may have been getting the idea that the Arabs are “over reaching”, particularly in the southeast. Aramco has made a thorough investigation and Mr. Ray believes that the Saudi Arabian claims are justified.

Saudi Arabian Government officials want the United States to persuade the UK to allow direct negotiation. Mr. Ray said that the Saudi Arabs make two points:

They are prepared to be generous;
Direct negotiations would bring quick settlement (They believe that negotiations through the British bring only insults and impede settlement).

The British claim Farsi for Kuwait on the basis of a light placed there by the Persian Gulf Lighting Service which operates throughout the Gulf. Mr. Ray said that the Sheikh of Kuwait in reality had nothing to do with placing the light on Farsi. The British, he believes, have not set forth their full case for Farsi.

Mr. Ray stressed his belief that the British are building up a case against themselves by forbidding direct negotiations. He stated that Aramco had been asked by the Saudi Arabians to ask the US Government to intervene with the UK to permit direct negotiation. Aramco is now doing so because the Company believes in the good effects of this procedure. He summarized by saying that Aramco wants the Saudi Arabians given a chance to show what they can do with direct negotiations. Aramco wants the US Government to “get in and fight” for this.

In concluding Mr. Ray added that before leaving New York he had just learned that the British had sent two notes to the Saudi Arabian Government. The first promised settlement of the sub-sea [Page 44] boundaries between Bahrein and Saudi Arabia, and urged restraint meanwhile. The second note wanted the Saudi Arabian Government to submit its claim to the island of Farsi and Arabi.

Judge Hudson said that previous knowledge of this area has been almost completely from British sources, and that the British disclose what they want to. Larimer’s Gazetteer printed in 1908, for example, and containing much information on the area has never been made available to the public. Judge Hudson said that Aramco has made studies and given information at the request of the Saudi Arabian Government. Judge Hudson, himself, has given his opinions impartially. Aramco, he said, has no desire for aggrandizement, but it is required by the terms of its concession contract to use “due diligence”.

Judge Hudson said that there have been several incidents in the Saudi–UK boundary controversies. The first was the Stobart incident, which occurred about one year ago near Suffuk Wells where Aramco withdrew at the British request. The second incident occurred last October at Fasht Abu-Sa’afa, where Bapco was operating. The third incident was that of Farsi Island, where markers were put up.

Judge Hudson indicated that he would like to review some of the problems connected with the boundary disputes. In regard to Kuwait, the question was that of creating a boundary, not of determining one already existing. The British return frequently to the Anglo–Turkish Convention of 1913 which was never ratified by the British. The object of the Convention was to prevent a railroad terminus on the Gulf that was not British controlled. It dealt mostly with Kuwait, which Turkey wanted to keep. At the time of the Convention Ibn Saud had already thrown the Turks out of Hasa. The Convention created the Neutral Zone.

At the Neutral Zone Saudi Arabia would like to have a boundary in the marginal sea. Aramco, however, has made no recommendation to the Saudi Arabian Government on this. The western boundary of the Neutral Zone, on the other hand, is a rocky projection which covers a large area and it is difficult to decide just where a line should be drawn. There is uncertainty as to the northern boundary of the Neutral Zone, that with Kuwait itself. From where do you measure?

In regard to the islands in dispute between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, Judge Hudson related that the British first said that “some or all are understood to be claimed by Kuwait”. They later said that Farsi belongs to Kuwait. Judge Hudson says, “why bring Kuwait so far”? Many of the islands are very near Saudi Arabia. Why do the British back Kuwait? There is no reason to claim them for Kuwait. Farsi was not included as belonging to Kuwait in the 1913 Anglo Turkish Convention. Judge Hudson expressed his opinion that in claiming these islands Saudi Arabia is not over reaching itself.

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Concerning the boundary dispute with Bahrein, Judge Hudson listed the following points:

Saudi Arabia needs a water boundary between the islands and the mainland. The water is very shallow, and there are some small bird islands. Both of the principal small islands should not go to Bahrein;
Saudi Arabia needs a boundary in the north, where Fasht al Juri and Fasht Abu Sa’af a are concerned;
Saudi Arabia needs a water boundary in Salwa Bay. In this area Anabar Island was recently marked by Saudi Arabia. The boundary here depends on the land boundary with Qatar. Judge Hudson claimed that “everybody admits that the boundary should not be at the bottom of the Peninsula, but should be up a way—which would give Anabar Island to Saudi Arabia”. It could be that Saudi Arabia would receive the whole of Salwa Bay or the Bay could be divided.

Turning to the question of Qatar, Judge Hudson stated that there is an urgent need for a land boundary between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There is a very sparse population in the Qatar Peninsula. The Sheikh of Qatar has very limited control. His authority extends to the area just around Doha. The only other permanent settlement is at Sikak, back on the mainland. For a long distance along the coast toward Abu Dhabi, there are no permanent inhabitants. The area is occupied mostly by the Murra and Manasir tribes. At the base of the Peninsula the area is a potentially profitable one for oil exploration by Aramco and Petroleum Development Ltd. (Qatar).

Examining the problem of the Trucial Coast, Judge Hudson stated that the shore line is not definitively marked in any way and that it runs out under water. There are no ports of consequence. The Saudi Arabian Government on the basis of taxes and the allegiance of the tribes has made a claim. The British, Judge Hudson added, might say that the claim goes far. However, in the Judge’s opinion, George Rentz’s investigation makes a strong basis for the Saudi Arabian claims. Abu Dhabi, said Judge Hudson, is a skeleton of a government, and little more.

The Judge said that Ibn Saud can be trusted to keep the peace. The Saudi Arabian Government has demonstrated its ability to rule this area. It collects taxes, even around Buraimi. The British peace has been useful, but it is no longer needed. Why do the British keep the one great power in this area from dealing directly with the local people? Judge Hudson emphasized the following points:

The Saudi Arabian Government is prepared to sustain its own claim on the basis of new information now available through non-British sources.
The Saudi Arabian Government is not over-reaching, despite the British repetition that they are. The Saudi claim is on the basis of tribal relationship and taxes.
The Saudi Arabian Government is convinced that it could reach agreements with the local Rulers. The Saudi Arabian Government could easily reach a modus vivendi and a definitive settlement at once with the local Rulers by direct negotiation.

Judge Hudson said that Saudi Arabia has acute boundary problems with Kuwait, Bahrein, Qatar and Abu Dhabi. The British assume a general overlordship over all four. They do not suppress local customs or make colonies of them. They do wish to boss the external relations of these Sheikhdoms. The United Kingdom is exercising its dominance without any admitted international authority. The British are using their dominance to serve their own ends, namely: (1) to control Middle East oil, and (2) to maintain a 19th century imperialist system.

In respect to the control of oil, the British have impressed on these states the obligation to grant no oil concession without British approval. To go into Bahrein United States interests had to form a Canadian Company under British economic and political control. In Kuwait, United States interests were allowed to have 50% of the company. In order to go into these areas at all United States interests had to be subject to British control. Judge Hudson reiterated that the British acted in their own interests. In his view, there are no signs of relaxation of British control.

Judge Hudson suggested that long range British policy might be based on more democratic principles—on gradual change—to avoid a violent debacle later to the British position. The United States should urge the British to adopt a more democratic policy in this region—a policy which will save the British themselves.

The Saudi Arabian Government is now most willing to continue negotiations and get on with the British. The British, however, do not recognize or realize that Saudi Arabia is a strong independent country. They treat it as they would the Sheikhdom of Qatar. Arab dissatisfaction with the British desire to dominate could be assuaged by the British letting them negotiate directly.

With regard to the possibility of a neutral investigating committee, Judge Hudson stated his belief that if the Saudi Arabian Government could be given some confidence in such an arrangement, and if the British would abandon their 19th century imperialism, agreement could be reached.

Mr. Ray interposed to say that on the basis of his recent visit in Saudi Arabia, he is convinced that the Saudis want a chance to reach agreement. Direct negotiations would be good for the United States, the United Kingdom and everybody. Otherwise, there will be bitterness and resentment.

Mr. Vallance asked if Judge Hudson would express his ideas on an investigating committee. Judge Hudson replied that it would be [Page 47] no good if the committee dealt only with the British acting for the local Rulers.

Mr. Berry summarized the points made in the discussion. He stated that from the discussion it would appear that:

We are agreed that the British should maintain their position;
The present UK attitude is not maintaining it;
There is need to facilitate a solution.

Mr. McGhee asked Mr. Duce whether, in his opinion, it was more important to the British to control the oil resources of the area or to maintain their position there. Mr. Duce replied that he believed that the British were more interested in preserving their position in the Persian Gulf, with a view especially to the preservation of their interests in the north.

Mr. McGhee then stated that it would appear desirable in order to facilitate a solution of the disputes that some formula be reached which would preserve the outward forms of the British special treaty position while at the same time allowing direct negotiation between King Ibn Saud and the local Rulers. He felt it possible that direct talks might take place with the British sitting in and perhaps advising the local Rulers, with the right of review of, and even a possible veto over, the final position of the local Rulers. The Aramco officials indicated that they could perceive no major objection to such an arrangement.

  1. Despatch 347 from Jidda, June 12, p. 53, transmitted the Embassy’s comments on this meeting.
  2. Director of the Office of African and Near Eastern Affairs.
  3. For documentation concerning the London Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in May 1950, see vol. iii, pp. 828 ff.