886A.413/4–350

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

secret
No. 155

Subject: Christian religious services held on the Dhahran Air Base

During a call at the Foreign Office on March 29, Khairradin Bey,1 temporarily in charge, stated that His Majesty and the Minister of Defense had received a report that an American “Missionary”, Captain Sloan,2 was holding public religious services on the Dhahran Air Base attended not only by officers and men of the USAF but also by people from Aramco. In a long discussion which followed Khairradin Bey emphasized that Saudi Arabia was unique among Arab and Moslem states in that it included the Moslem holy places and that not since the time of Mohammed had any Christian activities ever been permitted in the country.

I informed Khairradin Bey that this was an extremely delicate question and that I hoped the Saudi Arabian Government would not bring it up in a way to make it difficult for us. I said very frankly that to press us unduly might have extremely unfortunate consequences.

In my discussion I emphasized that we fully appreciated the delicacy of the question for the Saudi Arabian Government but we expected the Saudi Arabian Government to show as great an understanding of our difficulties as we were disposed to show of theirs. Both I and Aramco had been pressed for an active pursuit of the matter with the Saudi Arabian Government but we felt that the situation would work itself out if the matter were handled with appropriate delicacy and if neither side were precipitate. I assured Khairradin Bey that so far as I was aware there were no American Christian “Missionaries” in Saudi Arabia nor were there any regularly established churches and I could assure him further that there were no public Christian religious services being held so far as I knew. I requested him earnestly not to press me for any further assurances beyond these. I said that I could not believe His Majesty would object to the assembling privately of officers and men of our air base at Dhahran for the saying of their prayers.

Khairradin said, after considerable argument, that the objections of the Saudi Arabian Government were not to what occurred in the privacy of the homes or quarters of the officers and men but to public atherings for the holding of public services in a fixed place and at [Page 1156]fixed times. He said it had come to the Saudi Arabian Government’s attention that Captain Sloan was a religious leader who was conducting these services and he wondered if Captain Sloan could not be transferred.

I replied that if the Saudi authorities could present me with facts establishing that Captain Sloan had conducted public services at which Moslems were present or could establish the fact that he had engaged in religious discussions with Moslems I would be glad to bring the facts to the attention of General O’Keefe with a recommendation for his transfer. I could not admit, however, a complaint against Captain Sloan for discussing religious matters with the officers and men of the USAF at Dhahran, as this was a purely internal administrative question which solely concerned General O’Keefe and the internal organization of the Air Base.

Khairradin’s conversation was extremely conciliatory but at the same time he sought by every means to obtain more specific assurances from me that no regular services would be held in a specific place at regular times which were open to the public. I avoided giving any such assurances and made it plain to him as diplomatically as possible that I could not and would not interfere with the holding privately of devotional exercises at Dhahran for the American officers and men of the USAF, but I stated I would take steps to see that such gatherings were restricted exclusively to those officers and men, and that there were no public gatherings to which outsiders might have access. I did everything possible to impress on Khairradin Bey the necessity of letting sleeping dogs lie as quietly as possible. He said he realized that I had a very great appreciation of the Saudi Arabian Government’s position in this matter. I said that I did but that if we were to keep this question from arriving at a very dangerous impasse it would be well for the Saudi Arabian Government to show as much understanding and appreciation of our situation as we had been disposed until now to show of theirs.

Later our very able Arab Secretary, Mohammed Effendi, said that when we were recently in Dhahran, Colonel Nagshabandi3 had informed him that a party of Saudi officials had visited the Airport on Sunday, March 5th and that their attention had been attracted by the numerous cars and visitors outside the Character Guidance Center and that he had been obliged to disclose the nature of what was taking place in answer to their inquiries. Mohammed said he believed this was the occasion for the latest démarche on the part of the Foreign Office.

J. Rives Childs
  1. Acting Foreign Minister.
  2. The editors have not been able to identify Captain Sloan further.
  3. Lt. Col. Salim Nagshabandi, Saudi Arabian Army.