428. Telegram From the Embassy in Ethiopia to the Department of State1

751. From Richards. Roundup on Yemen. Playing in tougher league now—batting average hit slump.

After two and one-half days of negotiation and one day of waiting, Mission talks in Yemen came to abrupt end last night (April 14) in short but dramatic interview with King, when he asked that we consider our proposals had never been made. I have therefore made no aid commitments and there will be no joint communiqué.

Following our initial discussions with group headed by Qadi al Amri and our visit to Crown Prince in Sana (reported proceeding telegrams) we held further work in revived talks with Amri group during which tentative agreement was reached on draft communiqué I considered satisfactory. It contained clear though slightly indirect endorsement American Doctrine and condemnation of communism as “inconsistent with religious principles.” (Text being forwarded by despatch.)2

Meanwhile, after considering long list of projects submitted, without supporting data, by Yemenis, I had decided offer $2 million grant for improvement road between Hodeida and Sana and additional $50,000 for construction paved road along Hodeida waterfront and to airport about three miles north. While it was impossible make accurate judgment regarding cost or need for any of proposed projects, it seemed obvious that Hodeida-Sana road was basic necessity, and Yemenis themselves gave it top priority. (At present this road is scarcely more than a track and average transit time for distance of about 185 miles is 18 hours. Freight cost per ton is between $25 and $30.) I thought this project and Hodeida airport road would also have popular impact, since construction work and ultimate resulting improvements would be easily visible to large number of people.

Therefore, after preliminary agreement reached on communiqué draft, we handed Yemeni representatives draft aide-mémoire setting forth proposed grant of $2,050,000 for these projects. Aide-mémoire further said I would recommend negotiation of agreement for establishment small technical assistance mission. On insistence Yemeni representative Tarcici, we added statement that I would report to [Page 758]Washington other projects submitted by Yemenis for future consideration but without any commitment on part of USG. (Aide-mémoire text being forwarded by despatch.)3

Yemeni delegation was clearly disappointed at amount offered and expressed concern lest King would consider it far too small. Chief representative Amri, however, did not at any time make specific request for increase or cite any figure which he thought would be acceptable. We explained at length difficulties confronting mission in recommending even this amount of aid in view our lack of information and absence of any resident American personnel who could provide reliable picture Yemeni economic situation. Stressed that we were able make grant only because of extraordinary authority vested in mission and were willing to do so only because of desire give special impetus to Yemen-American friendship in context new ME policy. We considered initiation concrete program, even though small, could be beginning of fruitful relationship and establishment US technical assistance mission could lead to further aid in future years.

At final informal session early last evening with Amri and company, Jernegan got impression these arguments might have had some effect, at least on Amri and Tarcici. However, they made clear throughout that decision could only be made by King, and it appeared he was suffering so severly from rheumatic pain during time our visit that he was able to give little attention to whatever reports were made to him and probably had only brief if any personal discussion with his representatives who were conducting negotiations. During above mentioned final talk with Jernegan, Amri read handwritten note which he said came from King to effect that he considered US friendship as of extreme importance and agreed with principles of American Doctrine. Note indicated in general terms he was dissatisfied with economic proposals and suggested economic aid question be left aside for present. However, Amri said this did not represent final specific decision, which could come only from King himself in person.

Around 10 p.m. April 14 we were suddenly summoned to see King. When Ambassador Wadsworth, Jernegan and I arrived, we found Jamal Husseini, Counselor of King Saud, also present. After very brief preliminary remarks in which he expressed admiration for President Eisenhower, endorsement of Doctrine, and appreciation for our visit, King went directly to subject our aid offer. He asked first whether $2 million was intended pay for surveys or for actual construction. I replied latter was the case. He then asked whether amount would be enough to do satisfactory job. When I said our [Page 759]estimates indicated it would be sufficient he questioned accuracy of estimates. I expressed belief that if sum proved insufficient additional funds could be found later and promised exert my influence to this end.

King said Yemen had many other important projects requiring aid. Wadsworth interjected that he would be coming back and could talk further about other projects. I commented we could not promise anything for future but that I intended report Yemen needs to Washington and recommend establishment technical assistance mission. I emphasized that since I had no authority beyond this fiscal year it was important to make start on aid project now.

King then abruptly switched subjects and declared no people like communism. Some have tried experiment, but Communist success has been possible only when people compelled accept it. Yemen hoped not be compelled to do so. He thought Communist take-over could not happen here. (I remarked others had thought this and found they were mistaken.) Nevertheless, King went on, sometimes nation might be forced accept Communist help as result of attacks by other countries. (I took this as reference to Yemen dispute with British over south.)

King went on to remark that he would take no position re American Doctrine until he presented question to his allies: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc., and had seen whether they were unanimously in agreement on it. If they were not he would have to act accordingly. Ambassador Wadsworth suggested he ask King Saud’s representative, Jamal Husseini, about Saud’s attitude. Husseini demurred, saying he was not present for this purpose. There followed brief interchange about “Arab Big Four” meeting in Cairo, at end of which King suddenly arose from his chair and said in excited tones: “Only one percent of the $200 million has been offered to Yemen. How can I release anything to the press on this? It will be harmful to my prestige and I shall be shamed before the people of Yemen. It is much better therefore to leave everything in its place, as if nothing had been raised. Let us bury it and cover it with stones.” As he finished this statement he walked hurriedly out of room without saying goodby to anyone.

Husseini and King’s advisers present (Amri, Naib of IBB, and Tarcici) remained few minutes longer with us and tried to suggest formulas which might satisfy King; (A) To omit any dollar figure from our proposal, simply undertaking to build road, or (B) to leave question of amount of aid open for later discussion with special Yemeni mission which might come to see me in Washington at end of my trip. I rejected these suggestions on ground they would either result in undefined commitments or raise hopes I could not fulfill. I made clear that I had done all I could on this mission. At same time, [Page 760]I emphasized I did not intend close door to future US cooperation with Yemen and would recommend USG give sympathetic consideration to Yemen’s needs. We parted amicably.

My general impressions of Yemen are:

It is amazingly primitive country. Bulk of people appear to live very much as they must have in Biblical times. Ruling class seems to have mentality of middle ages, although a few like Amri have greater appreciation of modern world and show desire enter into it. They are all highly suspicious of each other and of foreigners.
King is not only absolute ruler but delegates no authority to anyone, not even Crown Prince. He is sick man …. At same time he reportedly believes he must show people economic progress and feels obliged accept aid from any source in order to do so. Our prolonged discussions with his advisers and word reaching me from people familiar with country’s political situation lead me to conclude King’s rejection my aid offer was not due to any special prejudice against US, but rather to fear that if he publicly aligned himself with American Doctrine he would jeopardize chances of further Soviet and Egyptian aid…
Along with, or possibly because of, their internal preoccupations, Yemenis are obsessed with what they call “aggression” by British on southern frontier. They made repeated efforts to extract from me some expressed or implied statement of support for them in this connection and frankly said this problem was far more alarming to them than communism, even though they readily agreed communism was contrary to their religious beliefs. In talking to me they gave no indication they considered there could be two sides to “question of South Yemen”. It should be reported, however, that our consul at Aden, who was present during my visit, found considerable indication that Yemenis would in fact be receptive to conciliatory offer by British and would not insist on pressing their demands to extremes.
It is extremely difficult obtain reliable information about political or economic situation in country. Most of our reports came from … who was most cooperative and who appears to have close contacts with top officials, including King…
We received little new direct information regarding extent of Communist bloc activities. Crawford, Consul in Aden, learned there are now 24 Russian and Czech technicians in country. Both Crown Prince and Amri indicated Yemen anxious have USSR support in Aden dispute. (However, they implied they would be much happier have similar support from US. We of course steered away from this.) Primitive nature of country, xenophobia and religious feelings pose [Page 761]high barriers to establishment by USSR of formidable position in Yemen in short term.
It seems clear nothing can be done in a hurry in Yemen. I extended my own stay by one day, at his request, in order give King time recover from his attack of illness, since our visit would have been more than futile if we had not seen only man with power make decisions. However, I now believe it would have been necessary remain two or three weeks in order reach satisfactory agreement of any kind. Suspicions of Yemenis, their bargaining mentality and their internal intrigues are such that they cannot be expected make rapid decisions.
Nevertheless, I do not believe we should abandon the attempt to increase our contacts and influence …. In view strength of religion in country and obvious interest of ruling family in preventing Communist domination, this should not be impossible talk [task?]. It is worth an effort not only because of strategic location of country but even more so …. I therefore recommend that we work patiently toward preliminary understanding, attempt to establish small economic mission and, subsequently, a resident legation. If necessary, we should be prepared offer somewhat larger amount of aid than I considered myself justified in offering at this time—after we have obtained better information and plans on which to base such assistance.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 120.1580/4–1557. Secret. Repeated to Jidda, Cairo, Amman, Damascus, London, Paris, Aden, New Delhi, Tel Aviv, Karachi, Kabul, Ankara, Athens, Tehran, Tripoli, Beirut, Baghdad, Rabat, and Tunis.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Not further identified.