Memorandum by the Officer in Charge of United Kingdom and Ireland Affairs (Jackson) to the Director of the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs (Labouisse)


Subject: Attached Telegram1

There are, I understand, a mass of boundary disputes on the southern coast of the Persian Gulf in which various Arabs, aided and abetted by oil companies, either singly or in combination, assert territorial claims. The principal current dispute is between Saudi Arabia and a number of Trucial sheikdoms which are under British protection.

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There have never been any definitive boundaries in this area and the Saudi Arabian claims are based largely on the traditional payment of tribute by wandering tribes. Negotiations for settlement between Saudi Arabia and the UK, acting on behalf of its protectorates, broke down in mid-October. Since then an exchange of notes has taken place in which Saudi Arabia has advanced even more extreme claims than in the past and the British, in retaliation, have stated they must have recourse to a line of demarkation decided upon in a treaty between the UK and the Turkish Empire many years ago, which was never ratified and which goes beyond previous British objectives in the area.

While the pieces of land (some of which are islands and some of which are shoals and tidal flats) are otherwise unprepossessing, apparently all you have to do is to drill a hole to get a billion barrels of oil in any place in this area. As a consequence, these disputes will be, to put it mildly, difficult to resolve. Our own policy is one of strict neutrality in these matters, as important American oil interests in Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, and the Trucial sheikdoms would be adversely affected if we became involved.

  1. Telegram 5167 from London, December 30, 1949, not printed, summarized a review of British territorial disputes with Saudi Arabia. In contention were rights to the seabed between Bahrein and Saudi Arabia, and land boundary disputes between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Muscat. The British Foreign Office claimed to have a sound basis for its claims in the Anglo–Turkish Convention of 1913, and suggested Aramco influence might be shaping the Saudi Arabian attitude on boundary matters. A handwritten note in the margin read: “WGJ—What’s this all about? HL.” (780.022/1–1050)