Memorandum of Conversations, by the Ambassador in Saudi Arabia (Childs)1


Subject: United States-Saudi Arabian Relations

Participants: H. M. King Abdul Aziz ibn Abdurrahman al Faisal al Saud
H. R. H. Amir Saud ibn Abdul Aziz ibn Abdurrahman al Saud, Viceroy of Nejd
H. E. Shaikh Yusuf Yassin, Minister of State
H. E. Fuad Hamza, Adviser to the King
J. Rives Childs, American Ambassador
George C. McGhee, Assistant Secretary for NEA

Assistant Secretary of State McGhee and I arrived shortly after 9:00 o’clock in Riyadh on March 22, 1950, and after being conducted to our rooms in the new palace, were received by His Majesty during which the usual courtesies were exchanged. His Majesty expressed his great pleasure at receiving Mr. McGhee and having the opportunity to exchange views with him during the course of his visit.

We later saw Shaikh Yusuf Yassin at which time Mr. McGhee discussed the influence of SA in the Arab League in the matter of facilitating the introduction of stability in the M.E. (See Dhahran Telegram No. 53, dated March 25, 1950.2) Shaikh Yusuf agreed that although SA was not as wealthy or powerful as other Arab states, nevertheless, in the Arab League meetings the representative of SA always spoke last. Of the two points raised Shaikh Yusuf appeared to indicate that he would use his influence in the Arab League to urge the states concerned to cooperate in the carrying out of the Clapp program and accepted the assurances that no political commitment was involved. His response, however, was entirely negative to any suggestion of encouraging or even permitting any country to make peace or establish any normal relations with Israel.

In the afternoon Mr. McGhee and I were received again by the King at which time Mr. McGhee reviewed in summary manner the problem of meeting SA’s security requirements. The presentation was a summary of the verbal presentation made by Mr. McGhee in Jidda to Prince Faisal.

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Mr. McGhee in concluding said that if the independence or integrity of SA were threatened, the United States would take most immediate action. The King would understand, however, that in the light of the complexities of the situation which might exist at any future time, that it was not possible to state in precise terms what action might be taken.

His Majesty referred at some length to his problem with the Hashemites with which he was obviously preoccupied. He said the two Hashemite rulers had been imposed on their respective countries and had never been accepted wholeheartedly by the people. Their military power was entirely derived from British support, without which they would represent no threat. SA on the other hand had no such outside support.

His Majesty said that he had at one time offered the oil concession of SA to the British but they had refused it, although he himself was well aware, on the basis of information given him by the Turks before the first world war which they had obtained from the Germans, that SA was potentially one of the richest countries in the world so far as oil was concerned. Although the British had been given first refusal of the oil, they had always resented the fact that the concession had been given to America and his difficulties with the British had begun from that time. Accordingly, SA had every right to expect that we would approach its needs in security requirements with sympathy.

The King referred to his boundary difficulties and described the British position as very unreasonable.

The King said that the British were a people of “but”. They made statements and gave you assurances but always at the end “but”. His Majesty said that he would like for us to meet with Shaikh Yusuf Yassin and Fuad Bey Hamza at which time the discussions could be continued and amplified.

In the evening there was a State banquet. Dinner was served in complete western style, except for the King himself—a very recent innovation at Riyadh.

On request from Ambassador Childs His Majesty recounted the capture of Riyadh, which represented the first stage of the establishment of the King’s power in the Arabian peninsula. It is given here as being of historical interest. Mr. McGhee inquired of His Majesty if any Arab rulers had previously controlled the peninsula as His Majesty does now. His Majesty replied that a member of his family, coincidentally with the same name, had established such control over the Arabian peninsula some 250 years ago. This constituted the only previous union of SA. Subsequently, his family had ruled only over [Page 1148] minor villages. He was assisted in his conquest of Riyadh by some 40 followers. They proceeded to the vicinity of Riyadh on camels from which they descended and walked some four hours to Riyadh arriving after dusk. The King knocked at the door of a house, which was at the edge of the village and which constituted a part of its outer fortifications, and was received by a woman who refused his admittance. He advised her, however, that he was a servant of the Amir and that if she did not admit him he would see that her husband would be killed by the Amir, whereupon she acceded. When he entered the house she immediately recognized him since he was apparently well known, but when his identity was known to the other members of her family they acclaimed him and agreed to support him. In order to prevent the woman from disclosing his presence he locked her in her room and he and his followers proceeded over rooftops to an adjoining house where he found a man sleeping in bed with his wife. He also locked them in a room so that they would not give an alarm. They then proceeded to the home of one of the Amir’s wives whom they found sleeping with her sister. She, when awakened, advised that the Amir was in his palace but warned him that he could not overcome the Amir, whereupon he locked them up. At this juncture it was still a long time before morning so he and his followers prepared coffee and slept until dawn. At dawn, as was his custom, the Amir emerged from the palace which was well defended, along with some seven of his guards. The gate to the palace was opened and they came into the open courtyard in front. Ibn Saud and his followers, who had been lying in wait, attacked them and the seven guards fled back into the palace with the Amir behind. Ibn Saud grabbed the Amir from behind and arrested his flight. The Amir in turn kicked Ibn Saud and pushed him down, whereupon Abdullah Saud bin Jelui hurled a spear at the Amir and killed him. The group then attacked the palace which was defended by some 200 soldiers and took it with the loss of only two killed and 14 wounded after inflicting the loss of 15 on the defenders. Within two days some 4,000 men had rallied to his support. Ibn Saud said that the Riyadh Conquest was a difficult one, especially since it was the first, but not the most difficult one. On two occasions all of his followers, aggregating some 800 or 900 people were killed, and he alone escaped to recruit more support.

His Majesty said the best account of the Capture of Riyadh was that given in Rihani’s book.

Mr. McGhee questioned His Majesty as to any conversation he might have had with the King of Afghanistan who had departed several days before, after visiting His Majesty, with respect to the dispute with Pakistan over the Northwest territory.3 His Majesty said [Page 1149] he had spoken with the King urging upon him that he make every effort to reach agreement with Pakistan over the issues between them involving the Pushtoon tribes of the Northwest territory. His Majesty added that he would make every effort to do so. Mr. McGhee stated to His Majesty that it was the frank view of our Government after a detailed investigation that the situation among the tribes did not appear to justify the strong position taken by the Afghanistan Government. In fact, it appeared that the Afghanistan Government itself was, to a considerable extent, responsible for the unrest among the tribes. The King indicated that this was his own conclusion in the matter and promised that he would renew his attempt to reconcile the difference. Mr. McGhee pointed out the difficulties of creation of an independent state of Pushtoonistan even if, as the Afghanis allege, this was the desire of the tribes. He particularly noted the fact that both the British and Pakistanis had found it necessary to subsidize the tribes and that they could not possibly develop trade to support themselves in an independent state. The King appeared to agree with this conclusion. In response to a passing remark from Mr. McGhee about the relations between SA and Ethiopia, the King said SA had friendly but never close relations with Ethiopia; did not, in fact, now have a representative in Ethiopia, although it did have one at one time. He had, he considered, close relations with Pakistan.

His Majesty complained that European-style dinners were too long drawn out to suit him.

After dinner Fuad Bey Hamza and Shaikh Yusuf Yassin came to our palace for a further discussion. In the course of an extended conversation, Fuad Bey, who acted as Arab spokesman, set forth at considerable length the desire of His Majesty for the closest possible treaty relations with the United States in the form preferably of an alliance which would assure SA of its security.

SA needed to be assured that America had more than friendship for SA, that it had vital interests, since American support would flow from such interest. He questioned whether or not Americans have sufficient incentive to protect SA’s oil interests and those of American companies in SA; since there are adjoining countries such as Kuwait and Bahrein where American companies also have interests. He was assured that America did consider they had vital interest in SA both from the standpoint of its oil interests and from the standpoint of the importance of the stability and independence of SA from a strategic standpoint. He was assured that America would take all appropriate steps to protect legitimate SA interests independently of its own commercial interests outside of SA.

It was explained that America had not traditionally entered into treaties of alliance such as those entered into by the British and others, [Page 1150] but that it was believed that America’s record for assisting friendly states and those wherein it had vital interests was sufficiently clear to give assurances to the Saudi’s.

Mr. McGhee said that despite the fact that we could not envisage the conclusion of an old-style treaty of alliance, he thought that there were several measures open to the United States which would not only give evidence of our great desire to assist SA but which might also serve in effect the practical purposes of a treaty of alliance. These measures he summarized as (1) conclusion of a treaty of friendship, commerce and navigation4 which might symbolize and serve as a notice to all concerned of the closeness of our relations; (2) the making available of such technicians as SA might desire under the 4-point program; (3) the making of loans such as the Eximbank loan now under discussion5 and; (4) the conclusion of a long-term Dhahran Airfield Agreement which would include or follow (5) a program of military aid to carry out these recommendations if the O’Keefe report finally approved including the making of arms available on a cash reimbursable basis and the sending of an appropriate military mission to aid in the training of SA forces.

Fuad Bey was disposed to question at first whether the granting of a loan might be claimed as a real service inasmuch as SA could obtain loans from others. Mr. McGhee pointed out that such loans were not easily obtained these days and it seemed doubtful if a loan such as SA desired might be available from ordinary banking sources. Mr. McGhee added that he did not know of any other government which was in a position to make a loan to SA.

Fuad Bey asked whether SA might obtain today the arms it needed through commercial sources. Mr. McGhee stated that the arms available through commercial channels in the United States were rather limited, but he said other common use items, such as trucks and transport aircraft, which would be a part of SA defense requirements would be available. Most modern purely military and used items could be obtained only by purchase from the US armed forces which required Congressional authorization. When Fuad Bey suggested that Israel had been obtaining arms in the United States, it was pointed out that the arms which Israel had obtained were those limited quantities available through ordinary commercial channels and that it was open to SA equally to obtain these. It was added that Israel had obtained no authorization to purchase arms from the US Armed Forces.

Fuad Bey stated SA by this time appreciated some of the difficulties in the way of the fulfillment of its complete desires. It could be most [Page 1151] unfortunate if it were suddenly to be confronted with an adverse decision on the O’Keefe report and he hoped the SAG might be kept currently informed of the progress of the USG’s purposes with respect to SA to avoid the shock of some sudden unexpected reverse to the aim we were seeking of bringing about closer relations. Mr. McGhee reassured him on this.

At the end Shaikh Yusuf raised the question why, if we professed such friendship for SA, we could not make available military aid on a grant basis such as we had made available to other countries, including, in particular, Greece and Turkey. Mr. McGhee replied that this was not a matter of friendship and pointed out that the resources of the United States were not unlimited; that we already were suffering from a budgetary deficit this year of approximately 5 billion dollars and that it was essential for us to confine our grants of military aid to those countries whose economy did not permit them to sustain the cost of such a burden. Our National Advisory Council who made policy in such matters, required countries who were in a position to pay, like SA, to obtain assistance on a reimbursable basis. Greece and Turkey were not able to repay.

Shaikh Yusuf said in conclusion that there were two things which His Majesty really desired: (1) arms on a grant basis; and (2) conclusion of a military alliance. However, we had discussed with him the possible alternatives. He realized that SA desired more than we could fulfill, whereas the United States had offered less than SA desired. It was agreed that our purpose would be to reach a common ground between these two.

In the morning of March 23 the word was sent to us that His Majesty was somewhat fatigued and would not be able to receive us as planned but that instead we would be received by Crown Prince Saud.

The Crown Prince welcomed us very cordially and stated what a great satisfaction it was to have the visit of Mr. McGhee and the opportunity for such frank exchanges of views. He added that Fuad Bey Hamza had reported to him and to His Majesty at great length the conversation of the evening previous. The Crown Prince said while SA desired a treaty of alliance, it fully appreciated the difficulties which stood in the way of the conclusion of such an agreement, as had been explained by Mr. McGhee.

Mr. McGhee remarked that it was very gratifying to know that our warm friend SA had understood our difficulties and that it was a mark of the closeness and friendliness of our relations if we endeavored to understand and appreciate the problems of the other in connection with our mutual interest. Our friendship was certain to be founded on a fundamentally strong and lasting type when we took [Page 1152] the pains to understand one another’s point of view in solving our common problems. He added that he has already convinced his father of USG’s procedure and its circumstances which His Majesty now has absorbed and understands very well.

The Crown Prince stated he very much hoped this would not be the last visit which Mr. McGhee paid to SA but only the first.

On the afternoon of March 23, on our way to another audience with His Majesty, Fuad Bey Hamza met us and stated that after an explanation of the conversation of the previous evening to His Majesty and the Crown Prince, His Majesty had been persuaded to accept the bases as outlined by Mr. McGhee for our relations. Fuad Bey suggested that Mr. McGhee summarize the points briefly for His Majesty and to emphasize that SA would be kept advised before Congressional action was sought and the progress of the steps which were being taken in the United States toward the realization of a military program.

When we were received by His Majesty, Mr. McGhee went over the points briefly and gave the suggested assurances to His Majesty.

His Majesty stated that he welcomed these assurances and that he wished it to be understood that he considered the United States and SA as one state. He said that he hoped, when final plans for military aid had been worked out, someone might be sent to SA, such as Mr. McGhee to review them with His Majesty before final decision for their execution is reached.

Later in the afternoon we were received by the Crown Prince at his summer palace and were offered tea; followed later by dinner.

During the dinner the Crown Prince was asked what his views were concerning the development of Yemen. He stated he could best answer by recounting the conversation he had in Cairo a few days previous with the Yemen delegate to the Arab League who called on him. The Crown Prince said he had expressed the hope that Yemen would open itself to greater development and contact with the outside world. The Crown Prince pointed out that SA had welcomed an American oil company and had benefited greatly by this enterprise without any prejudice to its sovereignty and that the only way Yemen could raise the standard of living of its people was by welcoming outside assistance. The Crown Prince said the Yemen delegate expressed thorough agreement. The Crown Prince said that according to all the information of the SA Government, conditions in Yemen were anything but stable and he hoped that when Mr. Childs visited Yemen he would urge the same views on the Yemen Government.6

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Mr. McGhee remarked that private investment in fields where production could be undertaken in SA such as textiles, glass, cement, etc., was one of the means which might contribute greatly to the advancement of SA. The Crown Prince said SA would welcome this private investment, either directly or in partnership with SA capital.

After dinner Mr. McGhee referred to the audience with His Majesty in the afternoon during which His Majesty had spoken of the alarming exodus of rivals from SA and the need for examining the situation and studying the possibility of introducing the Indian Rupee. The Crown Prince said he was in thorough disagreement with this and thought Mr. McGhee had been well advised to make the suggestion that the matter be studied by experts. It had been suggested and agreed upon that an effort would be made to obtain the services of Mr. Judd Polk from the Embassy in Cairo to come to Jidda to confer with the Finance Minister and give disinterested advice as to how the Government might best proceed in this matter. Mr. McGhee said that a stable currency in which the people had confidence was a fundamental pre-requisite to a stable economy. He added that when SA studied its needs under the President’s Fourth Point and so desired the United States would be glad to make every effort to find suitable financial technicians who might come to SA to give advice and assistance in these technical financial matters.

In the final audience with His Majesty on the evening of March 23, appropriate remarks were exchanged with respect to the visit of Mr. McGhee and both His Majesty and Mr. McGhee expressed satisfaction with the conclusions reached in the conversations which had been held. His Majesty reiterated his strong opposition to Communism which was based on the fact that [it?] opposed religion which constituted the basic element in Arab life, and also because it was an aggressive force. He stated that the stability of the Arab world is an extremely important factor in safeguarding against the spread of Communism since any disaffection in the Arab world would spread elsewhere. He pointed out that Communism had made some gains in the Arab world, particularly in Iraq and Egypt, and urged the US to make efforts to assist in counteracting such movements. His Majesty gave China as an example as to what happens when such movements are unchecked. Mr. McGhee replied that the US sought, through assisting these countries in their economic development, to provide them with an incentive to continue to cooperate with the free world by demonstrating that such cooperation offered more than adherence to Communism.

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Mr. McGhee said that the friendship of the two countries involving the interchange of advice was one extending to the giving of advice by SA with respect to the Arab and Islamic world to the United States. His Majesty replied that one manner in which the United States could be very helpful was in supporting the Arab League and in urging and promoting unity among the Arab states.

Mr. McGhee promised that he would convey to the President the generous remarks of His Majesty with respect to the United States and advise him of the satisfactory conclusions reached.

  1. A summary of the source text was prepared in the Department of State on April 10, and Acting Secretary James Webb transmitted it to the President on May 9 (Secretary’s memoranda, lot 53D444).
  2. Presumably this refers to telegram 54, March 25, from Dhahran. The telegram reported a conversation between McGhee and Yassin on March 22 on Arab-Israeli relations and is printed, p. 816.
  3. For documentation on this topic, see pp. 1446 ff.
  4. Information on the proposed negotiations for a treaty of friendship, commerce, and navigation is in Department of State file 611.86A4.
  5. See the memorandum of conversation of April 19, p. 1166.
  6. For documentation on this topic, see pp. 1355 ff.