786A.022/6–1250: Despatch

The Ambassador in Saudi Arabia (Childs) to the Secretary of State

No. 347

Ref: Dept.’s Memorandum of Conversation, April 25, 1950.1

Subject: Comments on Dept.’s Memorandum of Conversation Dated April 25, 1950, Concerning Anglo-Saudi Arab Boundary Negotiations in Trucial Coast.

The Embassy received on June 10 a memorandum of conversation dated April 25, 1950, entitled “Conference with Aramco Officials and Judge Manley O. Hudson on Saudi Arabian–United Kingdom Boundary Dispute.” While the delay in the transmission of this memorandum probably renders the following comments of little use, the Embassy feels that there are certain inconsistencies and contradictions in Aramco’s position which should be pointed out.

I and members of my staff feel strongly that this memorandum indicates a dangerous tendency on the part of Aramco, as it appears that the oil company in this meeting was acting for the Saudi Arabian Government. It is noted that Mr. George Ray, Aramco’s General Counsel, stated that the Company had been asked by the Saudis to request the United States Government to intervene with the United Kingdom to permit direct negotiation of the boundary question (see page 3 of memorandum). To our minds this indicates a rather irregular procedure, since it would normally be expected that such a démarche would be undertaken either by the Saudi Embassy in Washington or by the Saudi Foreign Office here with this Embassy. No such démarche has been made by the Foreign Office here nor to our knowledge has the Saudi Embassy approached the Department on this subject. Furthermore, it is interesting to note that the Company, while thus acting for the Government, elsewhere claims that the same Government is perfectly capable of acting for itself when it comes to the complex matter of administering the area claimed by the Saudis. It would appear that this latter point would be considerably strengthened if the Saudi Government acted for itself in requesting the United States Government to intervene.

Aramco officials well know that the United Kingdom does not regard territorial claims in eastern Arabia based on tribal allegiance and tax payments alone as particularly valid. Yet it persists in stating that on the basis of these disputed claims alone the Saudi Government is entitled to its most extreme claims. If the Company is interested in seeking an equitable solution to this matter, in the Embassy’s [Page 54] opinion it would be more productive for Aramco officials to attempt to meet the arguments of the United Kingdom concerning the invalidity of tribal claims (see Embassy’s despatch 339 of June 8, 19502) rather than ignoring them. As set forth on page 5 of the memorandum, Judge Hudson’s position appears to be that the Rentz investigations regarding taxes and tribal allegiance make “a strong basis for the Saudi Arabian claims”, since Abu Dhabi is “a skeleton of a government and little more.” While the Embassy is not competent to pass on the extremely detailed investigations of George Rentz (see despatch 65 of Feb. 20, 19503), we believe that Judge Hudson’s statement indicates a misconception, namely that since Abu Dhabi is merely a skeleton of a government Saudi claims based on taxes and tribal allegiance are particularly strong. As the Department is well aware, there is scarcely a skeleton of a government existing in the disputed area so far as Saudi Arabia is concerned. In fact, we believe it a mistake for anyone to discuss the Trucial Coast boundary problem in terms of which Arab state exercises more effective control, since it is generally recognized that the only humans regularly visiting the area are wandering sections of the Manasir, Murra and Awamir bedouin tribes. This Embassy believes that neither Abu Dhabi nor Saudi Arabia exercises effective control over the area.

On the basis of the referenced memorandum, we also feel that Aramco exhibits a certain inconsistency in asserting, on the one hand, that it is interested in preserving the British position in the Persian Gulf and, on the other hand, specifically advocating direct negotiations between Saudi Arabia and the Trucial Shaikhdoms concerned, a development which appears pointedly to ignore that special position which has been confirmed not only by the Shaikhs concerned but also even by the Saudi Government (see Article 6, Treaty of Jidda, 1927).

Furthermore, we question whether short trips to the area form a sufficient base to enable Aramco officials to determine with any accuracy such important and imponderable questions as the present state of British prestige in the Persian Gulf. It is noted that Mr. Ray stated that “British prestige is suffering from their own conduct.” While this Embassy itself feels competent neither to confirm nor [Page 55] challenge this statement, it is firmly of the opinion that reports from our Consulate General in Dhahran and our Consulate in Basra have at least equal authority with bald assertions of returned Aramco travelers.

This Embassy continues to believe that an early settlement of the vexing boundary problems in the Persian Gulf is urgently required, but it is not of the opinion that such an approach as indicated by Aramco in the referenced memorandum will have the desired effect. While we have no intention of underestimating the very able work of Rentz and other Aramco officials in establishing facts with respect to the Trucial Coast, we do wish to emphasize that the British Government, as far as can be ascertained here, shows no disposition to grant an overriding validity to much of this work. The Department will have noted in this connection from despatch No. 339 of June 8, 1950, that the British Government is so far unprepared to accept claims based solely on tribal allegiance and tax payments that it is prepared to issue a unilateral statement establishing boundaries of its protected Sheikhdoms along the Trucial Coast if the Saudi Government does not agree to certain points prior to negotiations.

Although admittedly somewhat remote from the scene of the problem, this Embassy has given much thought to furthering a solution of the boundary problem. In our opinion there are two primary points which are blocking agreement: 1) the question of the special British position in the Persian Gulf, and, 2) the question of the validity of claims based on tribal allegiance and tax payments.

An equitable solution to the boundary problem can only be the result of a compromise, and we respectfully suggest to the Department for possible transmission to the British Government and Aramco that some compromise might be worked out which would reaffirm the British position in the Gulf while emphasizing the special importance to be placed on claims based on tribal allegiance and tax payments. In this way both the British and Saudi Governments would obtain recognition for part of their claims. In this connection it is noted from the memorandum that Mr. Terry Duce, Vice President of Aramco, stated in response to a question from Assistant Secretary McGhee that he believed that the British were more interested in preserving their position in the Persian Gulf than in controlling the oil resources of the area (page 7 of memorandum). We assume that Saudi Arabia and Aramco are more interested in the latter than the former and therefore suggest that a compromise along the line suggested above might prove workable.

J. Rives Childs
  1. Ante, p. 41.
  2. Not printed; it transmitted a paper entitled “Frontier Negotiations wife Saudi Arabia,” prepared by the British Embassy in Jidda (786A.022/6–850).
  3. Not printed; it transmitted a copy of an Aramco study of the eastern Arabian area by George Rentz and William Mulligan of the Aramco Research Division. The despatch read, in part: “The sponsors of the report can scarcely be regarded as disinterested parties, and the material should be considered with that point well in mind.… The value of this report and its accompanying maps to students of the area is nevertheless extremely high, since it contains information in many instances never before compiled.” (786A.022/2–2050)