260. Editorial Note

The Saudi Arabian Government proclaimed the Gulf of Aqaba to be a closed Arab gulf, having no international characteristics, in a statement issued by the Directorate General of Broadcasting, Press and Publications on March 16. (Despatch 203 from Jidda, March 18; Department of State, Central Files, 684A.86A/3–1857) The argument was later repeated in a note from the Saudi Arabian Foreign Ministry, dated March 31 but delivered to the Embassy in Jidda on April 8. The note, which was considered an official Saudi statement on the status of the Gulf of Aqaba, asserted Saudi Arabian sovereignty over the islands of Tiran and Sanafir at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, and described the Gulf as closed to international navigation, as the waters at the entrance constituted “Saudi Arabian territorial waters”. The note also maintained that any attempt to declare the straits to have an international status would be an act in derogation of Saudi sovereignty and a threat to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity. According to the Embassy in Jidda, the Saudi Foreign Ministry circulated copies of the note among the missions of “friendly Governments” in Jidda. (Despatch 232 from Jidda, April 9, and telegram 606 from Jidda, April 9; ibid., 786A.022/4–957 and 974.7301/4–957, respectively)

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During his first substantive conversation with Ambassador Richards on April 9, King Saud once again emphasized the importance of the Aqaba question to his government and asserted his determination never to consent to the Aqaba Straits being considered an international waterway. Richards, acting under instructions, informed Saud that the principles involved in the Aqaba question applied also to other waterways and that the stand taken by the United States must of necessity apply to all parts of the world. According to the United States perception, precedents pointed to Aqaba as an international waterway; the United States could not make an exception in Aqaba just because of the Israeli situation. (Telegram 617 from Jidda, April 11; ibid., 120.1580/4–1157) Richards’ instructions were forwarded to him in telegram 1778 to Baghdad, April 7. (Ibid., 120.1580/4–657)