324. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Rountree) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Murphy)0


  • British Relations with Saudi Arabia


Cairo’s telegram 1807 of December 16 (Tab A)1 reporting a memorandum which was given to me in Cairo appears accurately to represent the current Saudi Arabian position with respect to problems with the British in southeastern Arabia. Ambassador Heath’s discussions on this [Page 737] same issue in Saudi Arabia (Tab B)2 reinforce the concern expressed in the memorandum.

On November 21 I spoke to Lord Hood (Tab C)3 and indicated that we would not be unhappy if the British could persuade the Ruler of Abu Dhabi to withdraw his police from Khor al Udaid. We are apprehensive that this move by the Ruler which has already revived relatively dormant border questions could have wider repercussions. The British have replied orally to our approach by indicating their reluctance to ask the Ruler to withdraw. They fear a withdrawal might make it appear that they were yielding to threats from Saudi Arabia. The British have agreed to keep in mind the desirability of a restoration of the status quo should an opportunity arise which would not make it appear that a withdrawal was under pressure from Saudi Arabia.

We have, on several occasions over the past two years and quite recently, had exchanges with the British on the general problems of their relations with Saudi Arabia. They are frank to tell us that they see little prospect of a resolution to their problems with Saudi Arabia which would not risk undermining their position in the Persian Gulf. They believe also that there is little to be gained by trying to reestablish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia until diplomatic relations have been reestablished between the UK and the United Arab Republic. They appear to have reached a firm decision that no effort will be made for the present to seek any agreement with Saudi Arabia.

We recognize that the British are facing a serious problem in endeavoring to be responsive to Saudi Arabian claims without weakening their position in the Persian Gulf. We are of the opinion, however, that political benefits could be gained from a change in the British position in the direction of a willingness to consider possible solutions to UK-Saudi differences and perhaps to discuss such solutions in some way with Saudi Arabia. The submission of their outstanding problems to arbitration or to some other form of international negotiation would, we believe, be a step forward and would relieve certain of the pressures now being built up in Saudi Arabia.

We believe that a new factor has entered the situation in the very serious development of Communist influence in Iraq. The Baghdad [Page 738] radio has already shown an interest in the British territories of the Persian Gulf. We believe it is now more than ever in British interest to reduce to the greatest extent possible other pressures upon their position in this area.

We do not agree that a restoration of relations between the UK and Saudi Arabia is contingent upon the restoration of relations between the UK and the UAR. It will, undoubtedly, however, be contingent upon some progress toward a solution of Buraimi and related questions.

We suggest, therefore, that you speak to the British Ambassador and indicate to him our regret that the British do not feel themselves in a position to press the Ruler of Abu Dhabi to withdraw his police from Khor al Udaid. Beyond that, we suggest that you tell the British Ambassador that we believe the serious situation developing in Iraq makes it of particular importance that the United Kingdom reconsider its position with respect to Saudi Arabia and restudy the possibility of relieving the tensions in southeastern Arabia.


That you express to the British Ambassador our regret that the British do not feel in a position to urge the ruler of Abu Dhabi to restore the status quo in the Khor al Udaid area.
That you emphasize to the British Ambassador that our reports from Saudi Arabia indicate a very genuine concern over the Khor al Udaid matter on the part of both the King and Faisal.
That you express to the Ambassador our hope that, particularly in the light of the situation in Iraq, with its area-wide implications, the British might reconsider their present policy with respect to outstanding problems with Saudi Arabia.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 641.86A/12–2258. Secret. Drafted by Newsom, cleared by BNA, and seen by Murphy.
  2. Not printed. (Ibid., 641.8600/12–1658)
  3. Apparent reference to telegram 579 from Jidda, December 19, not printed, reporting a discussion between Heath and Faisal on December 17 in which Faisal stated that by allowing Abu Dhabi to construct a police post at Khor Al-Udaid, territory claimed by Saudi Arabia, the British “seemed deliberately attempting to provoke trouble.” Faisal stated that he wanted friendship with the British, but the desire was not reciprocated. Faisal complained that the United States was not supporting Saudi Arabia in this dispute. (Ibid., 641.86A/12–1958)
  4. As reported in a memorandum of conversation dated November 21. (Ibid., NEA/NE Files: Lot 61 D 472, Saudi Arabia–Khor al Udaid)
  5. Murphy made the recommended points in a conversation with British Ambassador Caccia on December 29. (Ibid., NEA/NE Files: Lot 60 D 548, Saudi Arabia-U.K. Relations, 1958)