277. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State1

619. From Richards. My comments on Saudi Arabia follow: Saudi Arabia, like Iraq, obviously country in process of rapid change. Transformation of mud city of Riyadh into modern town is taking place even more rapidly and spectacularly than similar (larger scale) development Baghdad. I have no doubt great deal more progress can and will be made to develop cities, ports, transportation [Page 492] and communications facilities, et cetera. At same time, it is difficult to see how country so lacking in water and arable land and apparently possessing few mineral resources other than oil can in long run rival Iraq.

Also, Saudi Arabia in contrast to Iraq appears to be devoting undue proportion major effort to showy edifices rather than basic development projects. Oil revenues seem to benefit principally and ostentatiously royal family and its retainers while only trickling down to people.

Outside of oil revenues, which make possible a form of “dollar diplomacy” principal political asset of country seems to be prestige of King and custodianship Moslem holy places.

While these assets will be important in next few years, I doubt they will suffice make SA long term leader of Arab world.

I found no reason to doubt genuine good will of King toward US. He and his counsellors were at constant pains to assure us of their sincere friendship and fundamental agreement with US policies and objectives. (My mission and I were equally careful to express reciprocal sentiments and confidence in Saudi good will.) I also believe King is genuinely working, in way that seems best to him, to promote good US relations with other Arabs and to check Communist influence, to extent he sees it, in Jordan and Syria. He is clearly concerned about situation Jordan.

Nevertheless, it was clear Palestine question, Aqaba, Buraimi and in general, old issues of Zionism and imperialism loom large in Saudi thinking and could easily affect our relations quite seriously. King showed little desire even to consider basis our position re Aqaba and his counsellor became emotional whenever subject of Israeli aggression on Egypt arose. They spoke as if they themselves had been attacked. Success of US and UN in stopping that aggression did not seem to impress them as greatly as it had King who frankly ascribed success primarily to US effort.

While wishing me success and indicating general approval objectives my mission, counsellors (again in contrast to King’s forthright condemnation international Communism) refrained from clear cut endorsement new ME policy, even in private conversation.

This cautious approach was highlighted in prolonged discussions with Deputy Foreign Minister Yusuf Yasin over communiqué.2 We proposed statement that both parties opposed international Communism and hoped other countries in ME would take necessary steps defend themselves against it. Yasin refused absolutely even to use term “international Communism” and countered with brief draft [Page 493] merely stating mission had come to explain ME proposals and that parties had reaffirmed policy stated in Washington communiqué. When pressed, he justified this stand on grounds:

There had been no change in policy since King and President had met in Washington and there was therefore no need for new statement.
King was working hard to combat Communism and had taken even firmer stand in his country than we had in US. Actions are more important than words.
King was doing his best to get good reception for my mission in other Arab states. To do this he must maintain his influence in those states by sticking to moderate public position. If he came out flatly in opposition to international Communism this would be interpreted by other Arabs as siding with western imperialists unless he came out equally strongly and specifically against Zionism and imperialism, which Arabs consider their more immediate enemies. It was important to us as well as Saudis that King’s influence not be weakened. We must trust their judgment, as Arabs, on this point.

After I had expressed disappointment to King, at second audience, over this attitude, he instructed Yasin to try again. Eventually, we arrived at rather unsatisfactory compromise contained in final sentence of agreed communiqué (which being telegraphed separately). In order to get word “Communist” used at all, I had to accept mention of “other forms of imperialism,” but I considered this worth-while because of importance of having some sort of public statement from Saud against Communism and in view of fact US policy does oppose imperialism (in its bad sense) even though it is not strictly part of my job to spread this particular doctrine.

It was decided at insistence of Saudis to have no reference to economic aid in communiqué. They said announcement would be made when project agreements were signed. Meanwhile they requested that there be no publicity from US sources. We warned that there was always danger of leak but we undertook to make every effort to see that this did not happen either in Jidda or Washington.

Saudis, as usual, took reserved approach toward economic aid offered. They made point of insisting that our willingness to expand Dammam port was merely fulfillment of April 2 agreement which in turn was result of Washington conversations. They refused admit that this assistance came under new American doctrine or was anything more than portion of quid pro quo for extention Dhahran airbase agreement.

Tudor engineering group, after short period intensive study, had produced recommendation upon our arrival Dhahran that appeared admirably suited Dammam port requirements over next 8 years at present growth rate.

[Page 494]

Inclusive 5 per cent contingency, Tudor recommended project costing $20 million. Airmailing project details. Broadly, it calls for US-built port expansion, including three additional pier berths, two locomotives, adequate number railroad cars, trackage and freight handling material. Decided make foregoing firm proposal to SAG based upon my desire see good and fully adequate port engineered and constructed by Americans. I accordingly handed King aide-mémoire which is being telegraphed separately.3

Murray of Tudor group and Johnson ICA accompanied party Riyadh. Minister Communications Prince Sultan and Finance Minister Surur appeared pleased with proposal. They made reference to grandiose port construction project prepared by Egyptian engineer that Tudor estimates would cost upwards of $150 million. Murray was convincing in pointing out defects in this plan. Saudis wished Murray remain one week to discuss technical details. Murray agreed and due Washington approximately April 25.

In line with approach indicated above, Yasin told us on last evening SAG would send Embassy counter aide-mémoire referring to ours and pointedly accepting port construction offer as part of package deal concluded in Washington.

Saudis made no reference to Hejaz survey cost and we did not bring it up.

Johnson accompanying me Yemen but will return Jidda for negotiation project agreement.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 120.1580/4–1157. Secret. Repeated to Addis Ababa, Cairo, Damascus, Paris, London, and Amman and passed to Khartoum.

    On March 12, Ambassador James P. Richards, former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and now Special Assistant to the President, left the United States for a 57-day mission to the Middle East. Richards visited 15 countries as part of an effort to explain the President’s January proposals on economic and military assistance to countries in the Middle Eastern area. On April 9 and 10, Richards visited Saudi Arabia.

  2. For text of the communiqué, see American Foreign Policy, Current Documents, 1957, p. 842
  3. Telegram 615 from Jidda, April 11, not printed. (Department of State, Central Files, 120.1580/4–1157)