780.022/11–452: Telegram

No. 1490
The Ambassador in Saudi Arabia (Hare) to the Department of State1


338. Following is estimate Buraimi and boundary situs requested Deptel 272 Nov 1:2

[Page 2494]

Basic fact is that Buraimi and whole territorial problem from Qatar to Aden constitutes polit anomaly and both sides tend view with right or left eye depending on which prospect is more pleasing (on one hand Brit profess mere acting in behalf local chieftains whereas obviously interested in oil and also in maintaining prestige by extending protective coloration of Empire to large semi-independent and as yet undefined areas of Arabian Peninsula. On other hand, Saudis talk of historical tribal affiliation whereas also thinking in terms of oil and maximization of dominions.) Brit have certain legal grounds for their pretentions, but customs of desert and normal trends of polit development of peninsula favor Saudis . . . . Problem in some ways comparable status French and Portuguese settlement on periphery Indian subcontinent. Believe this is matter on which we shld do some hard thinking on our account since it is basic in gen sit of which Buraimi and Persian Gulf Shaikhdoms are only incidental and since sit is such that neither Brit nor Saudis are in position talk to us frankly, if, in fact, it is entirely clear to them.

In these circumstances and in light recent developments it is probable, as Dept suggests, that Saudis desire to solicit our support to disadvantage of Brit but it wld seem equally clear that any such effort had been directly largely to counteracting what Saudis regard as distortion of sit by exertion Brit pressure. Similarly, as long as Brit felt they had free hand in matter, they were rather stand-offish with us when we endeavored discuss in past years, but now, when going is getting bit rough, they talk of common front in resisting Saudis. Here again any assessment of blame wld have to be fairly even.

Re questioned compatibility of professed desire King reach early settlement with his requests which might delay resumption talks, it is possible he may have certain ulterior motives but Emb recalls Saudis have from beginning insisted on consulting will of people whereas Brit have consistently resisted idea in dealing with Saudis and disparaged it in talking with us. If Saudi contention is subj to criticism as delaying tactics, Brit position is also vulnerable as indicating unwillingness put their claims to practical test.

We agree standstill which we proposed applied only to Buraimi and have so told FonOff. Idea of mentioning adjoining areas sounds like some of Yassin’s sharp bargaining.

We also dubious re Saudi motives in reviving three power commission in view our strong and consistent opposition but it should be noted that, in form now presented, US rep would not supposedly be called on to reach decision between conflicting Brit and Saudi claims but would be third party in group conducting plebiscite. We [Page 2495] agree we should resist such role but there is nuance in Saudi suggestion which bears noting.

Re Brit proposal for arbitration, fact is, of course that this is procedure they have favored since before Amman [Damman] conf; in fact, this may have been one of reasons for holding of conference so quickly. Also recall Brit amb recently mentioned arbitration informally to FonOff here and it cannot therefore be advanced as new thought. Arbitration idea naturally has appealed to Brit since it could be expected to emphasize legal aspects of problem (where Brit position strongest) as contrasted with polit aspects (where normal trends of polit development favors Saudi). As regards Saudi view on arbitration, occasion has never arisen, as far as we know, for them to take position thereon but probability is they would express preference for fact finding. As regards ourselves, arbitration has obvious attractions, since it would get us off uncomfortable polit hook but we do not believe we should be identified with Brit proposal to that effect at this juncture. As record stands, we suggested standstill and early resumption direct negots. Both sides accepted in principle but with misgivings. Saudis then suggested separating Buraimi from direct negots pursuant Amman [Damman] conf. Brit are now apparently disposed to proceed immed with proposal for arbitration. In this sitn we believe our position should be that question still subject, as agreed in principle by parties, to direct negots in respect of substance and/or procedure. If they cannot agree on substantive implementation of direct negots then it is up to them, by direct negots, to discuss some other procedure, but we should maintain neutral attitude and freedom to support arbitration, direct negots or possibly some other procedure as sitn develops. At present we are in middle position and, despite its difficulties, that is where we should remain, at least for time being. At same time and in pursuance policy, Emb suggests that Dept reply to Saudi Amb in sense of concluding para of reftel since first para of same tel indicates that question of our participation in 3–power commission was actually put to Dept by Saudi Emb. We believe, in circumstances, direct reply by Dept would be procedurally preferable as well as carry more weight. Please advise if this suggestion approved and if any action taken.

Regret length this tel but Dept requested “views entire picture” and matter is so many-faceted that compressed treatment difficult.

  1. Transmitted in two sections; repeated to London and Dhahran.
  2. Supra.