346. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (Rountree) to the Secretary of State1


  • Discussions with Azzam Pasha re Aqaba


We have completed two exploratory talks with Abdul Rahman Azzam Pasha, representative of King Saud, on questions relating to the Gulf of Aqaba.2

I am attaching the memorandum of the last of the conversations with Azzam (Tab A)3 which reflects the present far from satisfactory [Page 657] situation existing on this issue. The difficulties which now appear to me to be coming clearly into focus are of a nature which could well threaten our present effective relations with King Saud.

We have reviewed with Azzam the implications of taking the problem of the movement of Israeli warships in the Gulf to the Security Council, including the difficulty of confining any discussion to that issue alone. We have made clear that the United States would not oppose reference of the Israeli warship matter or of the broader issues to the Security Council or to the International Court of Justice. We have emphasized our position with respect to the free and innocent passage of vessels of all nations through the Strait of Tiran but at the same time have stressed that we would review this position in the light of any overriding contrary decision by an international judicial body.

From these discussions, as well as from the earlier exchanges with Saudi Arabian officials and with the King, himself,4 (Tab B) it is clear that the Gulf of Aqaba issue, if not resolved in some way, will pose a most serious threat to our relations with Saudi Arabia and to our position generally in the area. Saudi Arabia is strongly and bitterly opposed to any rights for Israeli vessels in the Gulf. Despite our explanations to the contrary, the King believes that Israel has gained substantially from its aggression by its new ability to use the Gulf. The King has dramatized his fear of Israelis’ presence by his letters to the Security Council on the problem of Israeli warships and by his statement, jointly with King Hussein, that the traditional pilgrim routes in the Gulf area were no longer safe. The King has threatened to make a further broad declaration on the danger during the Pilgrimage itself in July. The King demonstrates no enthusiasm for reference of this matter to the International Court of Justice.

Azzam Pasha has, during the recent discussions, suggested to us that it was clear that neither the United States nor Saudi Arabia could change its fundamental position with respect to the Gulf and that it might, therefore, be desirable to create some interim arrangement or modus vivendi which could preserve these positions until legal issues with respect to the Gulf could finally be settled.

We have serious doubts about the practicability or advisability of trying to work out an interim arrangement among the powers in the Gulf. We fear that any acquiescence in an interim arrangement, even if possible, would damage the position of the King himself.

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We believe it possible and desirable, however, to make strong efforts to get the Israelis to tie up their warships at Elath. In the present circumstances, the movements of these vessels tend to be provocative and, if in Egyptian waters, are in violation of the Armistice Agreement.

It seems to us that the best method of approaching the problem might be by a series of separate actions which would serve to lessen the current dangerous tensions in the Gulf and satisfy at least some of the Saudi Arabian fears. We believe it might be possible to utilize to this end the Israeli willingness to tie up the warships at Elath and the authority of the Secretary General over the United Nations Emergency Force at the mouth of the Gulf.


That, at your earliest convenience, we meet with L and IO representatives to review this difficult problem and consider action along the following lines:
A general Middle East discussion with Ambassador Eban during which we suggest that in the interest of area tranquility Israeli warships at Elath be tied up. We would also express the hope that Israel would, in the meantime, continue to move Israeli cargo through the Strait of Tiran quietly and in flag vessels of various countries, in addition to those of the United States;
A discussion with Azzam in which I might state:
He may inform the King that we would see value in consideration of the Gulf of Aqaba questions in the Security Council only if the end result was reference of the broader questions to the International Court of Justice;
The United States expects that the question of the legal status of the Gulf of Aqaba may ultimately be referred to me International Court of Justice;
That we have studied the possibility of a modus vivendi and believe any formal efforts to establish an interim regime in the Gulf might create serious problems for the King;
That we are considering actively certain other moves which the United States might take, itself, which would alleviate the current tensions in the Gulf and will be in touch with the King, the Ambassador, and Azzam in the near future.
An informal conversation with Secretary General Hammarskjold expressing our deep concern over the interruption of the pilgrim traffic by virtue of events in the Gulf of Aqaba and suggesting the assignment of a neutral warship to the United Nations Emergency Force during the pilgrimage period for the purpose of protecting the pilgrim route through the Gulf of Aqaba. Assuming the Secretary General’s agreement, this conversation would be followed by a letter;
A letter to King Saud informing him of our grave concern over the interruption of the pilgrim traffic and of our letter to the Secretary General. We would also suggest that King Saud issue a statement welcoming the stationing of a UNEF ship in the Gulf to assist in [Page 659] providing protection for the pilgrimage. We would also inform him that we were continuing to take such steps as we could to prevent provocative actions by any party in the Gulf.

I have promised Azzam Pasha that I would be in touch with him after my discussions of this problem with you.5

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 980.74/6–2457. Secret. Drafted by Newsom on June 21. A handwritten notation on the source text by Bernau reads: “Sec saw”. Becker concurred in the memorandum and Sisco cleared it provisionally.
  2. See Documents 337 and 341.
  3. Tabs A and B are not attached to the source text.
  4. Wads worth had last discussed the subject with King Saud on June 2. A summary of the conversation was transmitted to the Department of State in telegram 790 from Jidda, June 12. (Department of State, Central Files, 980.74/6–1157)
  5. A memorandum from Rountree to Dulles, dated June 25, indicates that Rountree discussed the Gulf of Aqaba question with Dulles on June 24 and that Dulles agreed to meet with Azzam Pasha to complete the series of discussions being held on the subject. (Ibid., 980.74/6–2557) No information has been found in Department of State files concerning Dulles’ reaction to the specific recommendations contained in the memorandum printed here.