326. Letter From the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (Heath) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Rountree)0

Dear Bill: I thought you might be interested in my reactions to the visit of Assistant Secretary of Defense Irwin to Dhahran January 31, his briefing by General Clark and his staff, and my subsequent political-military talk with him.

General Clark’s briefing followed a standard form and he reviewed material that has been reported extensively by this Embassy and General Clark to the Departments of State and Defense. In sum, General Clark outlined the organization of the Second Air Division and the USMTM and his responsibilities as commander of both. He then proceeded to discuss the lack of progress of the USMTM due to defaults on the part of the Saudi Government, [1-½ lines of source text not declassified] and the Saudi Government’s lack of support of the USMTM regarding housing, working facilities and transportation. My comment on this part of the presentation is that I felt the picture of “deplorable conditions” under which the USMTM was working was somewhat overdrawn by the General. However, one could hardly find fault with the complaints of Captain Paret, Chief of the Navy Section of the USMTM, since the new Saudi budget has provided no money for the navy, and in fact no progress whatsoever has been made towards the establishment of a Saudi Navy, although General Clark has finally come around to the position that Saudi Arabia should postpone consideration of a navy. The Saudis have suggested that part of the MAP funds originally earmarked for the Royal Saudi Air Force Academy in Riyadh ($8 to $10 million) be used instead to finance the purchase of the two 95-foot patrol vessels which, under the April 2, 1957 Agreement,1 were to have been bought for the new Saudi Navy by the Saudi themselves. On the other hand General Clark, and apparently the Defense Department as well, consider this idea inappropriate and infeasible. General Clark feels strongly that whatever funds are available from the apparently defunct project for building in Riyadh should be diverted to other training facilities for the Saudi Air Force. The last major item for discussion was in connection with legal matters, that is, matters relating to status of forces, legal protection for USMTM personnel, definition of training areas, etc.[Page 743]Thus far little or no progress has been made as a result of USMTM efforts to obtain Saudi approval for this type of protection.

Turing to the political aspects of the United Stages military effort in Saudi Arabia following the general meeting, Assistant Secretary Irwin, who appeared exceptionally well briefed, made as his central theme the point that United States Government decisions to train the Saudi military forces and to provide them with arms was basically a political one. Therefore, no matter what our military problems with the Saudis are they should be accepted up to the limit of our national interest. The main question, he thought, was whether the Mission should continue at present strength or retrench to provide the Saudis with a token, if showy, force. He also wished to know whether the over-all impression that the Mission was making on Saudis was favorable or unfavorable. He said one of the worries of Defense was that the Saudis might accuse us of failing to carry out our commitments.

I replied I thought that Faisal was coming around more to understanding the value of United States friendship. He had up to now been working very hard and long on the budget for the country, to the exclusion of other affairs. Faisal had said some months ago that he planned to take up defense matters only after the budget had been issued. While I could not be definite as to the timing, I said I thought that it might be several weeks or possibly even months before Faisal could be expected to give clear-cut answers regarding his views on the future role of our Mission and the Saudi Armed Forces. I said one clue we had so far to Faisal’s feelings was his recent comment to me that, while it “would be nice” to have a large armed force, Saudi Arabia had more important things to do with its money at this stage of its development. I said I thought the Saudis on the whole appreciated the presence of the USMTM, and Mission Officers present at the meeting said that, in their experience, the reaction of the common Saudi to American military personnel ranged from indifferent to friendly. I said I thought it was worthwhile for the USMTM to continue its efforts in the country and I thought, where necessary, that the United States Government itself should pay for the support of USMTM and that, regarding the navy program, gradual removal of United States Navy personnel here was probably the best policy in view of the present apparent disinclination on the part of the Saudis to spend their own money on a navy program. I in turn also raised the possibility and desirability of giving Training Mission officers tours of two years in Saudi Arabia. This, I said, should entail permission for these officers to bring their families.

Irwin replied noncommittally to this last suggestion but indicated that Defense would probably want to see more progress made and a more constructive attitude on the part of the Saudis toward the problem of Mission support under existing arrangement before thinking in terms [Page 744]of longer tours of duty. There was hearty agreement by all including myself to Irwin’s question as to the feasibility of having Saudi drivers for all Mission vehicles. The purpose of this, of course, would be to minimize the chances of American Mission personnel getting into trouble with Saudi authorities as a result of traffic accidents without proper legal protection. Everyone naturally recalled the Morrison case in this connection.

In conclusion, Irwin stressed his view that, with due regard to political considerations, it was in United States military interests that Faisal and perhaps the King be approached as soon as possible to ascertain their general views on the USMTM. Regarding the particularly difficult problem of lack of Saudi support for the USMTM detachment at Al-Kharj, Irwin wondered whether a test of Saudi future intentions to improve the support picture might not be obtained by threatening to withdraw this detachment entirely from Al-Kharj if living and working conditions at this desert station have not been improved by the time the hot weather sets in this summer. I said I did not think this would be the best way of approaching the problem. Rather, I thought it would be better first to explore the broad subject of the USMTM in Saudi Arabia with Prince Faisal.2

That in brief gives you a bird’s-eye view of our discussions with Irwin. I venture to add only the thought that you may wish to consider the role the Department might play in the selection of an effective successor to General Clark. The personality and ability of the Chief of the Military Training Mission are of comparable importance, in our relations with Saudi Arabia to that of the personality and ability of the Ambassador. General Clark represents a very great improvement over his heavy-footed predecessor. But his successor must be still better. I said to you, by no means jokingly, when we saw each other in Beirut that the Chief of the USMTM should have the personality and some of the qualities of President Eisenhower, General Maxwell Taylor and General Gruenther. That sounds like a tall order but he should be able to inspire friendship as well as respect in his Saudi contacts. Clark, while intelligent and courteous, is too cold and niggling ever to get on a really cordial basis with Saudis.

I am very glad that Irwin made his trip here because I think he would get our point of sending somebody to head the Military Mission with warmth, personality and ability. I suggest that somebody get in [Page 745]touch with Irwin at a very early date about Clark’s successor. The tendency, I fear, would be for the Air Force to appoint a West Pointer of requisite seniority and availability rather than to make an effort to select someone capable of exerting a measure of influence on the senior echelons of the Saudi Officer Corps.

Sincerely yours,

Donald R. Heath
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786B. 58/2–1959. Secret. Official-Informal.
  2. For texts of the exchange of notes, which made up the agreement, see 8 UST 403.
  3. In an official-informal letter to Heath, March 3, Rountree observed that when the Embassy discussed with Faisal the USMTM, it should avoid giving the impression that the mission’s role was a matter for discussion. Rather, the discussion should concentrate on how the mission could do its job better. (Department of State, NEA/NE Files: Lot 61D 472, DDN confirmation)