McGhee Files: Lot 53 D 468: Petroleum

Memorandum of Conversation, by the Officer in Charge of Arabian Peninsula Affairs (Wilkins)


Subject: Conference with Judge Manley Hudson and Aramco Officials on Persian Gulf Problems

Participants: Mr. Fraser Wilkins—ANE (Chairman)
Judge Manley O. Hudson—Int’l. Law Counselor for Aramco
Mr. Richard Young—Ass’t. to Judge Manley Hudson
Mr. James Terry Duce—Vice President, Aramco
Mr. John Noble—Aramco
L/P—Messrs. Snow, Vallance, and Sweeney1
L/E—Mr. Wallace
U/FW—Messrs. Chapman, Looney, and Taylor2
OIR/GE—Mr. Boggs
ANE—Mr. Awalt


Mr. Wilkins welcomed the visitors and expressed the Department’s appreciation for the opportunity to meet with Judge Hudson, Mr. Duce, Mr. Ray, and their colleagues and have the views of such an eminent international jurist as Judge Hudson on the land and offshore problems in the Persian Gulf area.

Judge Hudson opened his comments with the statement that the principal difficulty in settling the problems was that the SAG had to deal with the British Government rather than with the individual Sheikhs directly. He added that the dominance of the British tended to intimidate the Arabs and place them at a disadvantage in the bilateral negotiations which have been intermittently carried on since 1949.3 He hoped the Department would be willing to counter this with an expression of encouragement to the SAG. He also cited the unhurried attitude of the East which needs prompting when matters [Page 19] require expeditious action, and he expressed the belief that the USG could be of service in urging greater progress toward settlement upon both sides.

Judge Hudson cited five disputes which most urgently needed settlement:

Saudi Arabia—Abu Dhabi land boundary
Saudi Arabia—Qatar
Jurisdiction (SAG vs. Bahrein), over Fasht abu Saafa, shoal area
Jurisdiction (SAG vs. Bahrein), over Fasht al Jarin, shoal area
Jurisdiction (SAG vs. Kuwait), over Arabi Island

Delineation of land boundaries, he said, was difficult because they have no historical background in the disputed areas. The traditional nomadic life there had no need for fixed lines separating one territory from another. Political history of the area is, therefore, almost useless. Both sides, moreover, lack complete information on the terrain, Judge Hudson stated, while tribal allegiances and the extent of their ranges are too conflicting or indefinite to offer a fully reliable basis for judgment.

Water boundaries also offer many difficulties, he asserted. The various fisheries—pearl, fish, and sponge, offered no basis for jurisdiction because they were regarded by littoral peoples as common rights in which they all shared.

The islands lack a political history of ownership because for the most part they lack water and hence have supported no permanent populations, and in most cases are uninhabited. Contiguity on the basis of the Truman Proclamation of 1945 offers some basis for attributing islands to littoral states, but experience has shown that it is not a sure criterion in the area, e.g. Hawar Island, off Qatar, but attributed by the UK to Bahrein, and Maqta, Harkus, Farsi, and Arabi, off Saudi Arabia which were among nine islands attributed by the UK to Kuwait in 1923. The only possible basis for attribution of islands and shoals, Judge Hudson felt, was practical necessity.

Certain principles might be established for determining water boundaries such as those elaborated by Boggs and Kennedy. However, in spite of their relevance and high merit, it must be admitted that they were not as yet recognized as acceptable principles in international law.

In the case of land and water boundaries Judge Hudson was of the belief that direct negotiations, as is now the case, should be attempted in the first instance and that if the differences could not be resolved an investigation commission might be established to consider the facts and report. Such commission should not have the power of decision in land boundaries as the negotiators thereafter could reach a solution. [Page 20] An investigating commission for water boundaries might, however, be authorized to decide because their terms of reference would include definition of principles to be applied.

With regard to the attribution of islands, Judge Hudson believed such matters could best be resolved in high-level negotiations and that it would be fruitless to appoint an investigating commission because there were neither facts to be established nor did there exist relevant principles on which a decision by a commission could be based.

Judge Hudson and Messrs. Duce and Ray repeatedly urged the Department to give friendly encouragement to the SAG and thereby strengthen its hand. Both feared that if too much time passed the present problems would be further confounded by discoveries of oil in or near disputed areas. Mr. Ray added that Aramco believed the various problems should be handled separately rather than together because of their complexity and the many parties involved.

Mr. Ray and Judge Hudson expressed the hope that the Department would also remonstrate with the British for their threat to the SAG to return to the 1913 Turko-British line as a basis for negotiation if the SAG persisted in advancing its extreme claim to western Abu Dhabi and Buraimi. Judge Hudson stated that the 1913 line had no legal basis for consideration since that convention was never ratified and presumed to divide territory (Al Hasa) of which neither side had possession at the time.

Mr. Wilkins stated that the Department had been following the boundary and island questions with interest, and that it had informed both parties of the desirability of reaching an early solution and had suggested that if an impasse were reached recourse might be had to a neutral commission of arbitration. Both sides, particularly the SAG, were aware of our interest. The United States could not intervene in the current negotiations by championing one side or criticizing the position of the other. It would be proper, however, to enquire of each with regard to the progress of the negotiations. Such query might have the effect of precipitating action. It was added that the Department did not have the impression the parties had reached the extent of impasse indicated by Judge Hudson and Mr. Ray. It was suggested that if this were the case it would seem appropriate for either side or both to suggest an investigating commission along lines suggested by Judge Hudson.

Judge Hudson and Mr. Ray thought it would be premature to propose an investigating commission as the current talks were still taking place and, although slow, had not reached a definite impasse. Any impetus that could be given to the present negotiations would, therefore, be helpful.

  1. Conrad Snow, Assistant Legal Officer for Political Affairs, William R. Vallance, and Joseph Sweeney.
  2. Wilbert M. Chapman, Special Assistant to the Under Secretary of State, Warren F. Looney, and Fred E. Taylor.
  3. For documentation on petroleum, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. vi, pp. 91 ff.