S/A (Jessup) files, lot 53 D 65, “Arab-Asian Question, Miscellaneous File, UNGA 7th Session”

No. 1494
Memorandum of Conversation, by Edwin Plitt, Adviser, United States Delegation to the General Assembly



  • Al Buraimi Controversy


  • H.R.H. Prince Faisal Al-Saud, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Saudi Arabia
  • H.E. Shaikh Ali A. Alireza, Minister, Saudi Arabian Delegation
  • Mr. Edwin A. Plitt, U.S. Delegation

Following a telephone call from Shaikh Alireza yesterday afternoon, and a follow-up request from Prince Faisal conveyed to me by Alireza at the Syrian reception last evening to see His Royal Highness tonight, Alireza telephoned to me again this morning saying that his Foreign Minister wished to speak with me as soon as possible and preferably this morning. I accordingly called on him at his suite in the Hotel Waldorf. He seemed somewhat agitated which is unusual for an Arab, and more so for anyone of his background and in the high position he occupies. This was further demonstrated after he had invited me to sit next to him and he produced a package of cigarettes with the remark: “I never smoke in public and rarely in the presence of visitors, but I should like to consider you this morning as a member of my family circle and have you join me in smoking for which I feel the need.”

Shaikh Alireza, interpreting, said that His Royal Highness had just received another instruction from His Majesty urging upon him to procure our help in reaching an immediate amelioration of the situation which has developed as a result of the Al Buraimi dispute (they avoid the use of that expression) with the UK and which, according to His Royal Highness, is becoming serious. He added: “H.R.H. wants to speak very frankly with you.”

He referred to his call on the Secretary (See memo of conversation of December 21) several days ago and asked if the Secretary had come to any decision. When I pointed out in general the extent of the problems with which the Secretary had to cope and the great demands made upon his time, he expressed the hope that the Secretary would nevertheless be able to give his attention to the request His Royal Highness had made of him, and asked me to find an opportunity to remind him of the urgency with which His Majesty [Page 2502] had instructed His Royal Highness to bring the subject of Al Buraimi to his attention. He added that he had just received another instruction to the effect that help from the United States Government was earnestly and urgently desired. In response to a question, he said that in its simplest form such help would consist of:

US good offices to stop British interference in the area so as to establish a calmer situation which is urgently needed to lead to a settlement of the controversy;
Help from the United States to protect the rights of Saudi Arabia.

Recalling his talk with the Secretary, Faisal once more recounted the history of events leading to the present impasse. He said that up until 1936 no one had manifested any particular interest in Saudi Arabian affairs, but that when the Americans discovered oil, every inch of Saudi Arabian soil was looked upon with covetous eyes. Offers made to the UK before that event had gone unheeded. The concessions granted American interests changed that attitude almost immediately. The present difficulties have their origin in this and disputes among local sheiks have been exploited by the British with a view to wedging into the oil-rich areas.

Prince Faisal explained how Al Buraimi had belonged to Saudi Arabia for over a hundred years, from the time of the King’s grandfather, the Imam Faisal. There had been an agreement made between him and the British to allow the latter to defend the coastal areas for the protection of the British sea lane. This was reaffirmed when the British later on sent a letter to the uncle of the King who confirmed to the British previous arrangements made with the Imam. His Royal Highness emphasized time and again that these agreements referred only to the coastal areas and did not include any “protection. over any inland territory.

The discovery of oil unfortunately started an extension of British interests in the area. No mention, whatever, was made concerning Al Buraimi in the 1915 treaty with the Emir of [omission in the source text] nor in the later agreement of 1926. It was only after 1936 when disputes arose between “Qatar and Abu Dhahib [Dhabi]” (not sure of spelling) which “lie between Saudi Arabia and Muscat.” Furthermore, no mention of Al Buraimi was ever made in conversations with His Royal Highness last year in London.

After the controversy developed last August, His Royal Highness proposed a meeting with the sheiks involved in the area of dispute. A meeting took place at Dhahran and His Royal Highness suggested the appointment of sub-committees to handle the problem but [Page 2503] the British refused, saying that the method proposed would take too long and that the disputes should be settled forthwith.

Prince Faisal said that he was certain that all of this would be a matter of record in the Department as he had kept Ambassador Hare fully informed of all developments.

When I mentioned the arbitration proposal, His Royal Highness most emphatically said that his Government would not accept it for the reasons given to the Secretary (memo of conversation of December 2) and once again referred to the problem of religion involved. He added that the King had more than a political responsibility for the inhabitants of the region concerned, and that if he submitted to arbitration even the population of Riyadh, his own capital, would be likely to give him trouble. In reply to my question concerning arbitration for other than the Al Buraimi area, he hesitated for a moment and somewhat reluctantly replied to the effect that that would have to be given further consideration by his Government.

He then requested me to impress the Department with the need for acting quickly and asked me to bring this to Assistant Secretary Byroade’s attention upon my return to Washington and do what I could to change American policy toward the Arab states and Saudi Arabia in particular. When, in answer to his question as to whether I would help to this end, I replied that I would transmit his request, he somewhat impatiently remarked that he had seen and spoken with many high officials of the Department of State and the President, himself, but that none had ever admitted categorically as having responsibility for the formulation of American policy, that he could not understand this and felt considerable concern over it. I took a few moments to explain to him the extensive coordination required in the development of policy which in our government is not a one-man operation. He listened carefully, then in terminating the meeting he said that we should not forget that in so far as the Middle East is concerned, especially the Arab states, time is running out fast on us. that their friendship for us remains but that they cannot keep on hoping for a better understanding of their situation and more effective support from us; that our attitude on the Palestine item and what he fears may be our attitude toward the North African issues in the UN will further undermine our prestige in the Arab world.

In conducting me to the door he said: “Don’t place too much faith in what Arab leaders may tell you that Communism is incompatible with Islam. We are in desperate straits. A drowning man will grasp at a snake—even a poisonous one—if it is the only chance he has to prevent his going under for the last time!”