425. Memorandum From the Director of the Office of Near Eastern Affairs (Wilkins) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree)1


  • Soviet Bloc and Egyptian Activities in Yemen


At our request DRN prepared the attached study on Soviet Bloc arms shipments to the Yemen.2 On the basis of this and of other reports we note the following concerning the present situation with respect to Yemen:
There has been at least one major shipment of Soviet arms to the Yemen, accompanied by some Soviet Bloc technicians. There are unsubstantiated reports that this shipment included planes.
Minerals concessions to Western powers have been matched by Soviet trade deals of unknown extent. Some of these may have been masks for the arms deals.
In approaching the Soviet Bloc, Yemen appears to have been stimulated by:
The desire to increase ability to raid the Aden Protectorate. The lack of a Yemen Air Force would appear to preclude any major Yemeni offensive against the Protectorate.
Flattery of Yemen by the Soviet Union and Egypt who give the impression that they consider Yemen a major Arab power.
The desire to gain from both sides in the East-West conflict.
Egypt has assisted by training Yemeni officers in the use of Soviet arms. Yemen has accepted this assistance despite earlier Egyptian support of an anti-Imam movement.
In assisting the Yemen, both the Soviet Bloc and Egypt might have in mind ultimate control of the mouth of the Red Sea. AF has reports of increased cultural propaganda and economic activities by the Soviet Bloc and Egypt in Ethiopia, Somaliland and Eritrea.
Saudi Arabia has granted loans to the Yemen which may have been used to purchase Soviet arms. Despite King Saud’s anti-Communist policy, we have no evidence that he is concerned about current developments in the Yemen, which he tends to see in an Arab context.
The Yemen is the only place in the Arabian Peninsula where the Soviet Bloc has made successful inroads. While Egypt has been active in the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms, her activity has not been matched by active Soviet interest.
The United States Government has not in recent months made any active efforts to increase its influence in Yemen. Both Ambassador Wadsworth and the Consul in Aden have been busy with problems in their respective primary areas and have not visited the Yemen with any frequency. Although the establishment of a U.S. diplomatic mission in the Yemen has been considered at various times, the need has not been considered sufficiently great to justify the expense involved. A U.S. mission would also be faced with the problem of extraordinary restrictions on its operation. A foreign flag, for example, cannot be flown in the Yemen and there would be serious problems of staffing and supply.
The Yemen has made no request to the United States for grant assistance. An application to the Eximbank for a loan by Yemen is pending further information on the Yemeni economy, but the Bank is not optimistic that Yemen’s economic position can support a loan. Point Four assistance to Yemen was considered within the U.S. Government last year and disapproved.
The major private U.S. company in Yemen, the Yemen Development Corporation, does not presently consider that further mineral exploration on its part is justified by commercial possibilities.
It seems to us that recent movements by the Soviet Bloc in the Middle East, and especially in the Yemen at the southern entrance of the Red Sea, make it imperative that we obtain up-to-date information as soon as possible. We also need additional information regarding Saudi-Arab and Egyptian activities in the Yemen. It would also be useful to know from American officials how the American-owned Yemen Development Corporation and the other companies are faring in that country. Unfortunately, neither Ambassador Wadsworth, who is resident in Jidda, nor Consul Lakeland, [Page 754] who is resident in Aden, nor their staffs have had an opportunity, because of the rapid pace of recent developments, to spend any time in Yemen. Because of these factors, it is believed that we should take early steps, either through increasing the staff of the American Embassy in Jidda or the American Consulate in Aden, to provide personnel to cover Yemen exclusively. One officer and possibly one clerk-stenographer at either post would be adequate.
There appear to be a number of steps which we could take immediately:
Assignment of one additional officer and, if necessary, one clerk-stenographer to Jidda or Aden. Further consideration within Department of approach to Government of Yemen on economic assistance through Point Four or a long-term development loan for a specific project in Yemen.
Consideration within Department of approach to Government of Yemen on military assistance through an offer of a Section 106 reimbursable aid agreement with Yemen.
Summarize factual information re Soviet arms in Yemen and make summary available to King Saud.
Informally discuss the Yemen situation with British representatives in Washington and counsel the desirability of an early British-Yemeni agreement regarding the border with the Aden Protectorate.3


That you approve foregoing steps.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786H.56/1–257. Secret. Drafted by Newsom and Wilkins.
  2. The study, entitled “Soviet Bloc Arms to the Yemen,” dated December 4, 1956, is ibid., 786H.56/12–456.
  3. The memorandum bears no indication of approval or disapproval.

    On January 11, the Department informed the Embassies in Jidda and Cairo and the consulate in Aden that, among other things, the situation on the Yemen-Aden border was receiving “increasing stress” in Soviet bloc and “Egyptian-directed” propaganda and that there were indications that this might represent a “coordinated Soviet-Egyptian bloc policy seriously to undermine British position in Aden area.” (Telegram 496 to Jidda; ibid., 646C.86H/1–1157)