166. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Saudi Arabia 1

387. Department naturally concerned over recent but not unexpected renewal of unfavorable drift US–Saudi relations (Embtel 4162) which we attribute in large part to conclusion Turk-Iraqi pact and our well known support development “northern tier” defense [Page 255] arrangement. Department is facing possibility USG may be reaching a cross-roads in its relations with SAG. Obvious remedies for Saudi bitterness, i.e. radical change in our defense policy, one-sided support Saudi border claims and Arab attitudes re Israel and North Africa out of question. Furthermore record our recent relations with Saudi Arabia does not encourage belief that sizeable economic or military assistance would give our position in country solid strength for any appreciable period of time. On contrary we question whether willingness our part give such assistance (which cannot be justified either from financial or military-potential point of view) would not be interpreted as degree of weakness … and would pave way for future heavy demands. We therefore doubt real improvement in our relations possible without reorientation of King’s policy.

Believe foregoing expression Department’s feeling may be useful background in event King raises question Dhahran Airfield during March 10 meeting.3

While we believe King may refer to question in oblique terms or in general context his dissatisfaction with US policies it is possible he will go into specific details in effort elicit indication our willingness meet Saudi demands. In such case it may be useful review events related to Dhahran airfield, pointing out:

Accomplishments military training mission. If you thought it desirable you could state approximate cost to US of mission to date.
Opportunities afforded by US for purchase military equipment, until recently used to small advantage.
Approximate cost to US of training being given Saudis in airfield operations to date.
Importance of Dhahran as an international airport which has been achieved through US efforts and expenditures. These civil aviation facilities could become increasingly important with expansion and development of aviation. (In this regard you may wish point out fact we provide all aircraft facilities Dhahran for civil aircraft but Saudis collect fees.)

Grover4 may be able indicate monetary cost to US above items and has been alerted by Air Force.

Should question our economic assistance arise you would doubtless wish review our recent activity in re possible Export-Import Bank loan for Riyadh–Jidda railway.

Department inclines to belief King may prefer have subordinate such as Yusuf Yasin broach Dhahran airfield question in way which [Page 256] will leave no doubt Saudis expect large-scale “handout” in return for continuation USAF rights after June 18, 1956; failing which Saudis would cancel agreement. Such approach could be effort determine softness our position.

If you are approached in such manner we believe best tactics may be immediate reaction indicating we have no intention being “blackmailed,” for such is indeed our attitude. Would suggest your response (in sorrow rather than anger) reflect regret Saudis considering cancellation mutually beneficial airfield arrangement which Prince Faisal had assured us would run for full ten year period (see page 31 Enclosure 1 Jidda despatch 401 of May 31, 19515); and include foregoing arguments and expression hope we would continue together on road of progress. However if the Saudis insist on the impossible in exchange for continued base rights we would feel obliged leave Dhahran and withdraw our training missions without recrimination or hard feeling.

In our tentative opinion such a reaction on your part might do great deal to dispel Saudi idea Dhahran is so important to us we would gratify exorbitant demands in order retain it. Effect might enhance our chances of retaining airfield.

Foregoing has high-level State and Defense clearance.

Department invites your comment and will give most careful consideration to expression your views.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 682.87/2–2755. Secret; Priority. Drafted by Fritzlan; approved by Murphy; and cleared by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Department of the Air Force. Repeated to Dhahran.
  2. Not printed; see footnote 6, supra.
  3. Wadsworth reported that during his March 10 audience with Saud the King’s “attitude throughout was friendly and on Saudi-US relations showed marked lessening of tensions evident my meeting with Prime Minister Prince Faisal.” (Telegram 436 from Jidda, March 14; Department of State, Central Files, 682.87/3–1455)
  4. Brigadier General Orrin L. Grover, USAF, Commander of the Second Air Division, Saudi Arabia.
  5. Not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 711.56386A/5–3151)