780.022/12–1152: Telegram

No. 1495
The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Gifford) to the Department of State1


3245. FonOff has for last several days been awaiting Pelham’s full report on Saudi reply to UK proposal for arbitration and countered with earlier proposals for tripartite commission to conduct plebiscite in Buraimi area and fact finding commissions to demarcate boundaries in other disputed areas. Saudi reply makes quite clear that it regards Buraimi as separate from other boundary problems.

At same time, Saudis have also, according to FonOff, replied to recent UK protest regarding Turki’s activities by stating that Buraimi is integral part of Saudi Arabia and that tribes in Oman owe allegiance to Ibn Saud. FonOff greatly concerned at what it regards as more categorical statement Saudi claims Buraimi and extension claims to Oman. It is currently deciding what action it shld take in circumstances. Possible line might be to suggest to Saudis that fact finding comm shld be sent to area and that any disputes which arise from fact finding comite’s attitude shld be submitted to arbitration. FonOff regards it doubtful, however, that Saudis wld accept this compromise.

FonOff official told us there is growing feeling in FonOff that Saudis are banking on belief that UK will not use force to dislodge Turki. This belief also prevalent among tribes in area who have hitherto been loyal to local Sheikhs and Brit but who cannot understand why Brit have permitted Turki to maintain his present position. This factor, plus liberal use of money by Turki, has resulted in many of loyal inhabitants defecting to Saudis. Turki now pushing his activities further afield and FonOff official said there is some feeling in FonOff that only effective way to counteract this and to restore Brit position in area is by using force to dislodge Turki. Another possibility might be to make things uncomfortable for Turki by interfering with his food supplies, etc.

Emb off expressed strong opinion that force was not likely to be effective solution to problem. Saudi prestige deeply involved and not likely give up easily. Use of force wld inevitably mean problem being taken to UN and, in view similar problems which have come before that organization involving Asiatic and Western states, [Page 2505] there is no telling what outcome might be. Finally, one cld not dismiss possibility that action of this kind might result in full scale war between SA and UK. All these factors shld be taken carefully into consideration before any decision taken re use of force.FonOff official expressed appreciation these factors, but felt UK record of willingness solve dispute by peaceful means was unimpeachable and reiterated that dislodging Turki by force wld have beneficial effect on UK position in area. He particularly stressed necessity some early action to solve problem, since longer Turki permitted extend his activities, weaker UK position becomes.

At several times during conversation, FonOff official expressed opinion, which he said was shared widely in FonOff, that Ibn Saud has banked heavily on US intervening his behalf at crucial time. FonOff official expressed strong wish that we cld have been more categorical in discouraging Saudis from tri comm idea and encouraging arbitration. He thought greater US support on both issues might well prove decisive with Saudis and expressed hope it wld still be forthcoming.

Comment: Emb inclined discount possibility HMG using force to dislodge Turki, but very fact that it arose in foregoing conv is measure of FonOff ‘s frustration at how to deal with this thorny problem. One cannot ignore possibility, moreover, that idea has been advanced to persuade US support UK position more fully.2

Whatever motivation, Emb fears deterioration in sitn unless machinery can be established to deal with it swiftly and effectively. Emb continues firmly of opinion for reason set forward Embtel 2879 Nov 203 that arbitration best meets requirements of situation and that we could advance sufficiently cogent reasons for support of that proposal omits [on its?] merits as to make it clear to Saudis that we were not supporting it merely because UK put it forward.

  1. Repeated to Jidda and Dhahran.
  2. Telegram 3491 from London, Dec. 23, reported the British position seemed to be to strengthen the defenses in the sheikhdoms, possibly by stationing armored cars at Sharja. The Foreign Office had emphasized there was no intention at that time to try to dislodge Turki by force, and any deterrent action to counteract Saudi activities would be tailored to the provocation involved. The Embassy commented that it was very difficult to argue against the principle of British defense of the sheikhdoms, since they had a treaty obligation to defend the territory; but the Embassy was disturbed by the timing of the move, especially since efforts were being made to persuade Saudi Arabia to agree to arbitration. (780.022/12–2352)
  3. Not printed. (641.86A3/11–2052)