Policy Statement Prepared in the Department of State2



a. objectives

Yemen only recently began to emerge from its traditional isolation and to assume a normal place in the family of nations. It is an objective of the US Government to encourage this process and to establish a firm and lasting foundation for friendship between the two Governments. Since Yemen is a primitive country which needs development of all kinds, we desire to encourage its progressive and orderly advancement politically, economically and socially. The geographical position of Yemen, situated at the southern narrows of the Red Sea, gives it a certain strategic value which we wish to remain in friendly hands. It is in our interest that the independence of Yemen be preserved, but we should like to see rigid autocracy give way in time to a rising political consciousness among the people. We believe that: 1) education should be developed on a broader basis; 2) the standards of living should be improved; 3) Yemen’s trade should be open to friendly western nations and its hard currency earnings should be available to Yemen rather than to Aden for use in dollar markets; 4) native industries should be improved; and 5) new industries should be started as Yemen’s resources and potentialities become known. We should continue to encourage sound American enterprise to interest itself in Yemen and should seek to maintain equality of opportunity for such enterprise with firms of other friendly nations.

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b. policies

US policy has been criticized by some Arab countries during the past three years because of our attitude on the Palestine question. Yemen has never actively participated in these criticisms, but has remained reserved and generally friendly toward the United States. It is our policy to retain and cultivate this friendship by: 1) preventing where possible the spread of Communistic influences in Yemen and the Near East generally and promoting the stability of the area; 2) assisting in the orderly development of the economy and public welfare of Yemen; 3) giving friendly counsel as the occasion may warrant to all parties to any dispute involving Yemen and encouraging prompt solution of the controversy; 4) observing the utmost respect for Yemen’s sovereignty, independence and local customs; 5) promoting the modernization of the country through Point IV assistance;3 6) encouraging sound American enterprise to establish business and developmental interests in Yemen; 7) extending loan assistance on the basis of normal banking procedures; 8) disseminating American cultural media in Yemen and inviting Yemeni students and leaders to the United States; and 9) fostering philanthropic (but non-religious) enterprise of public interest. In all our efforts to carry out our policies in Yemen, we should be very careful to serve as a guide or partner and avoid injuring Yemeni sensibilities by appearing to dominate them.

1. Political

The assassination of the late Imam Yahya on February 17, 1948 and the brief usurpation of power by the rebel leader interrupted our recognition of Yemen accorded on March 4, 1946. The rebellion was suppressed, however, and the legitimate successor assumed the throne in March 1948 as Imam Ahmed. The United States offered recognition in return for his assurances that he would respect international obligations, including the US-Yemeni Agreement of Commerce and Friendship of May 1946. Oral assurances were given in Washington in January 1950 and recognition was accorded. A rapid improvement in our ties with Yemen has resulted. The Imam has asked for Point IV assistance and American medical aid.4 A Chargé d’Affaires has just been accredited to the United States, and we intend to establish a resident Legation in Yemen when the location can be determined satisfactorily.

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We have attempted to assist Yemen whenever possible, because of its lack of experience in international affairs and trained technicians, in much the same manner in which we have given our services to Saudi Arabia in this respect. We also wish to encourage Yemen’s more active participation in UN affairs.

Yemen has been involved with the British over boundary disputes with the Aden Protectorate. The United States has remained impartial toward the settlement of these conflicting claims, but has encouraged their early solution in order to promote the peace and orderly development of the area.

2. Economic

Our economic policy towards Yemen is to encourage the general improvement of economic conditions in that country through development of its natural resources, improvement of the methods and means of agricultural and industrial production with a view to increasing production, and expansion of foreign trade. Hitherto Yemeni world trade has been small except for the export of coffee, hides and skins, some foodstuffs, and the importation of textiles and petroleum products. We should in general encourage Yemen to become an active member of the world community and in doing so to follow a liberal and non-discriminatory trade policy.

Although prospects of oil discoveries in Yemen appear to be remote, there has been much Yemen speculation, fed by persistent rumor, about the existence of significant oil fields in that country and in the adjacent Shabwa area of the Aden protectorate. While probably not of serious consequence, the conviction that Yemen, including the territory claimed by it, holds important petroleum resources serves to complicate Yemen’s external relations, chiefly with Britain. Despite assurances to the contrary, the Yemeni are strongly suspicious that British interests in the disputed Shabwa area stem from prospects of exploiting oil resources there.

A survey of the area by an impartial (American) company would be likely to end speculation on the oil resources of both areas and contribute to the improvement of Anglo-Yemeni relations. Some thought might therefore be given to encouraging both the Yemen and British Governments to open these areas for exploration by any interested company as soon as this is possible. This would be consistent with both political and economic objectives of United States policy if it tended to encourage a rapid solution of border controversies and to the establishment of American business and developmental enterprise in Yemen.

The US policy on economic development assistance to Yemen is aimed at improvement of living standards as a means of providing political and economic stability. Yemen needs supplies and equipment for road building, harbor development, telecommunications, agricultural [Page 1195] machinery such as pumps and tractors, and modern medical supplies and facilities. Yemen should be able to earn sufficient foreign exchange to make minimum purchases of these items by increasing its exports and by opening its mineral resources to possible exploitation.

Yemen’s primitive culture and its elementary stage of economic development will allow only small amounts of investment capital to be absorbed initially. The United States should, therefore, encourage the Yemeni to undertake modest developments, such as improvement of agricultural techniques, highway construction, small irrigation projects, promotion of small industries, and expansion of public health and educational activities.

We are particularly interested in developing proper arrangements for facilitating Yemeni exports to hard-currency areas and thus enabling Yemen to increase its purchases of essentials from those areas. At present most exports go through Aden, and re-exports to the dollar area have resulted in dollar exchange for the sterling area rather than for Yemen itself which is allowed only 25% of its hard currency earnings through Aden.

If the country’s exports can be further developed and if the Yemeni Government became willing to divulge the exact extent of their gold and silver holdings (sometimes estimated to be over 600,000,000 Maria Theresa thalers—about $300,000,000.00) and use it for loan security purposes, the United States may be in a position to support requests from Yemen for small development loans by the Export-Import Bank for projects or programs of economic merit, especially those which have been prepared by means of Point IV technical assistance. Yemen should be urged to put its holdings to work.

Under present circumstances it is hardly possible to negotiate with Yemen a more comprehensive commercial treaty than the very simple and limited Treaty of Friendship and Commerce which was signed at Sana’a on May 4, 1946.5 However, if the hoped-for economic development in Yemen should occur and, in consequence, our trade relations with that country should develop, we should point out to the Yemeni officials, at the appropriate time, the advantage and desirability of negotiating a more comprehensive treaty.

c. relations with other states

United Kingdom

Since Yemen achieved its independence from Turkey in 1918, it has been dominated by British influence from nearby Aden which has controlled the bulk of Yemen’s trade, a situation which has been distasteful to Yemen. Border conflicts have added to Yemen’s distrust of the United Kingdom. The last serious incident occurred in September [Page 1196] 1949 and resulted in a decision to confer in London in August 1950 to settle the boundary differences. The meeting was held August–October 1950 but was indecisive regarding boundary settlements since it provided only for setting up a fact-finding commission and did little to allay Yemeni cynicism toward British sincerity. An attempt was also made to end the diplomatic stalemate between the two countries. Yemen has refused to accept the credentials of the Governor of Aden as Minister to Yemen because it would exemplify to the latter the domination of its foreign trade by Aden, and the United Kingdom has thus far refused to accredit another minister. A Yemeni Chargé has now been named to establish a Legation in London and the UK is considering naming a new minister to Yemen.


In order to counter British influence Yemen sought close relations with Italy, its neighbor in Eritrea and Ethiopia across the Red Sea, before World War II. Italian political influence, trade, and cultural relations were strongly established. The defeat of Italy by the Allies, however, destroyed Italy’s position and prestige in Yemen.


France has never enjoyed high esteem in Yemen, but its relations are satisfactory and are conducted by the French Minister to Saudi Arabia who is also accredited to Yemen. Saif Al Islam Abdulla, the titular Minister of Foreign Affairs, has spent considerable time in Paris and on the South coast and may personally be friendly disposed toward France. The French Banque de l’Indo-China at Hodeida is the only western banking institution in Yemen.


Yemen has had a substantial Jewish population for hundreds of years. They have lived as a segregated community in Yemen where they were allowed to follow a mode of life dictated by their religious beliefs and with a minimum of interference from the Yemen Government. Following the establishment of Israel as a sovereign state and as a result of the urging of Zionist organizations most of the Yemeni Jews elected to go to Israel. The Jews were allowed to emigrate from Yemen to Aden and thence to Israel, and the operation was virtually completed in September 1950 with the transfer of nearly forty-two thousand Yemeni Jews. Only about fifteen hundred Jews remain in Yemen.


Yemen maintains no relations with Russia.

Saudi Arabia

Yemen’s relations with Saudi Arabia are very cordial. A firm basis for friendship was established by Ibn Saud in 1934 when he defeated [Page 1197] the Imam but offered very generous terms for a peace settlement. The bonds then established were further strengthened in 1948 when King Ibn Saud supported Grown Prince Ahmed of Yemen when he was fighting to recover the throne from his father’s assassin. Yemen accepts considerable guidance from Saudi Arabia regarding military affairs, the United Nations and in the Arab League.

Other Arab States

Yemen is an admirer of Lebanon, one of the most advanced Arab states, and has utilized the services of Lebanese in furthering its commercial relations with the outside world. It has similar sentiments toward Syria and enlisted the services of a Syrian to assist its delegation at the United Nations during the first session of Yemen’s membership. It is reported that Yemen objects to Egypt’s superior attitude in Arab circles.

Arab League

Although a full member of the Arab League, Yemen has taken little active part to date.

United Nations

Yemen became a member of the United Nations in September 1947. Its delegations have never participated in an outstanding manner in UN affairs, but have remained quietly in the background, largely due to inexperience, the language barrier and lack of instructions from home. Yemen usually votes with the other Arab states.

d. policy evaluation

Our position vis-à-vis Yemen has until the present time been almost consistently that of being “pursued” rather than “pursuing.” Repeated overtures by Yemen from 1918 to 1945 for recognition were finally acknowledged and recognition extended in 1946. In deference to Yemen’s isolation and general suspicion of the outside world, further development of our relations was left to Yemeni initiative. The resumption of US–Yemen relations in 1950 marked a notable development in closer ties. Yemen is now seeking development and medical assistance and better commercial relations, and has established resident diplomatic representation in Washington for the first time.

We desire to work as closely as possible with Yemen and to take every appropriate step to fulfill its requests. Care must be taken, however, to avoid too rapid advancement lest Yemen be frightened back into its traditional isolation.

Yemen, a primitive country without outstanding resources, has a long way to go to meet the economic and social standards and responsibilities of other nations, but it seems to have made its decision to do so. It also appears to look primarily to the United States for assistance in [Page 1198] its efforts and we are anxious to give it every possible encouragement without urging it to overextend or overexpand itself.

Yemen lacks modern education facilities. Its educational system should be broadened to send students abroad for higher education in more advanced Arab countries and to invite teachers to Yemen from modern Arab institutions. Above all, the children of the Royal Family should be offered the benefits of western education to fit them for their later responsibilities.

Yemen is climatically the most favored part of Arabia. It has good rainfall, fertile valleys and plateaus, and a large and industrious population. It attained a high degree of culture and industry in ancient times and the same resources which supported that civilization are still available for modern development.

  1. Department of State Policy (Information) Statements were concise documents summarizing the current U.S. policy toward, the relations of principal powers with, and the issues and trends in a particular country or region. The statements were intended to provide information and guidance for officers in missions abroad. They were generally prepared by ad hoc working groups in the responsible geographic offices of the Department of State and were referred to appropriate diplomatic missions abroad, under cover of formal instructions from the Secretary of State, for comment and criticism. The Policy Statements were periodically revised.
  2. For the initiation of negotiations for a Point Four Agreement between the United States and Yemen, see the editorial note in Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. v, p. 1360. Negotiations continued throughout 1951, but no Agreement was signed in that year. Information on this topic is in Department of State files 886H.00 and 886H.00 TA.
  3. Documentation on U.S. relations with Yemen in 1948, recognition of Yemen in 1950, and Yemeni requests for economic and medical aid, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. v. pp. 1355 ff.
  4. For the text of the treaty, see TIAS No. 1535; United Nations Treaty Series, vol. iv, p. 165; or 60 Stat. (pt. 2) 1782.