191. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • President Kennedy-King Saud Meeting1


  • President Kennedy
  • NEA—Mr. Grant
  • U/PR—Mr. Duke
  • NE—Mr. Seelye
  • King Abdul Aziz al-Saud
  • Shaikh Abdulla al-Khayyal, Saudi Ambassador
  • Jemal Hussaini, Royal Counselor
  • Bakhir Yunis,2 Saudi Arabian Government Press and Publications Office
[Page 471]

1. Iraq-Kuwait

The President expressed pleasure at the opportunity to discuss with His Majesty some of our concerns in the Middle East. He asked the King for his views on the Kuwait-Iraqi relationship and whether Qassim would continue to exert pressure on Kuwait. The King expressed confidence that Kuwait would succeed in withstanding Iraqi pressures in view of the support Kuwait enjoys from “all of the Arabs” as well as Great Britain’s vital interest in Kuwait. The President wondered whether this was a sufficient enough deterrent against a possible Iraqi surprise attack on Kuwait which conceivably might be accomplished within the space of a few hours. The King expressed the view that the presence of Arab troops in Kuwait, together with back-up British military support, would be sufficient.

2. Syria

The President asked the King for his views on the new regime in Syria. The King expressed pleasure with the new regime although, contrary to U.A.R. assertions, he said Saudi Arabia had had nothing to do with the Syrian secession from the U.A.R. The President asked whether the King saw any danger signals in the Syrian Government’s economic mission to the Soviet Union. The King expressed confidence that the Syrian Government would remain anti-Soviet and emphasized the importance of U.S. assistance to Syria as insurance. The President indicated that the U.S. is alert to Syria’s need for assistance and has already pledged a certain amount. He said our Ambassador to Syria has returned to Damascus from consultations in Washington with instructions to follow up closely Syria’s need for further U.S. assistance. In response to the President’s question as to the existence of pro-Nasser sentiment in Syria, the King replied that while many Syrian youth had once been enamored with Nasser, the U.A.R. President now commands virtually no following in the country.

3. U.A.R.

The President asked the King for his assessment of developments in the U.A.R. The King reported that at the time of the Suez campaign in 1956 he had pledged Nasser his full support and for a number of years Saudi Arabia had enjoyed excellent relations with the U.A.R. The recent nationalization and sequestration decrees, however, had revealed Nasser as a Communist who presents a real danger to the Arab World. (The King repeated this point several times during the meeting.) The President noted that the Communist Party is banned in the U.A.R. The King contended that this is merely a facade. In response to the President’s question as to how long the King thought Nasser would stay in power, the King commented that while only God knew, Nasser’s days appeared to be numbered. The President asked whether the military in [Page 472] the U.A.R. is disaffected with Nasser. The King replied that both military and civilians in the U.A.R. now oppose Nasser. The King called the President’s attention to the vehement attacks being leveled by the U.A.R. against both the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. He understood the reason Saudi Arabia was the object of these attacks but why the U.S. which continues to provide the U.A.R. with economic assistance? The President pointed out that our assistance to the U.A.R. has been mainly in the form of sales of agricultural surpluses for Egyptian currency for which humanitarian reasons exist. He said our economic assistance to the U.A.R. should not be misunderstood as supporting U.A.R. policies. Nevertheless, continued the President, we are watching Nasser’s policies carefully and are prepared to review our economic assistance to Nasser in the light of future developments.

4. Saudi Complaint Regarding U.S. Assistance to States with Leftist Tendencies

The King told the President he wished to speak to him in all candor on the following subject which had been bothering him: U.S. aid to states which have pronounced leftist tendencies and sympathize more with the Soviet Union than with the U.S. The President asked the King specifically what countries he had in mind but did not succeed in eliciting any definite response. The President told the King that the basis of our assistance to such countries as Indonesia, Ghana and Guinea is to reinforce anti-Communist elements in the hope that the latter will eventually assume a predominant role and, at the same time, in order to prevent a further drift to the leftist camp. When the King mentioned the U.A.R. in this category, the President said that the same principle applied. The President acknowledged the impossibility of predicting accurately the direction these countries will take. The King commented that there are some countries which are 100 percent Communist which receive U.S. assistance. The President replied that our aid to Yugoslavia, for example, has kept Yugoslavia out of the Warsaw Bloc and this, in turn, has protected the flanks of Greece and Turkey. The President called the King’s attention to the Soviet-Chinese split. The King asked what side the President thought the U.A.R. would take in the event of war. The President said this depended on the type of war. It would not matter in the case of nuclear war and should the war be localized, he believed the U.A.R. would remain neutral.

5. Pakistan-Afghanistan Transit Dispute

The President informed the King of our concern over the impasse which has been reached in connection with the Pakistan-Afghanistan transit dispute. He reviewed briefly the current history of the problem and pointed out that if the matter is not soon resolved, we will be faced with the necessity of considering the construction of a road of ingress [Page 473] into Afghanistan through Iran. The Afghanistani action in reopening the border on a temporary basis has helped somewhat, he observed. The President recalled that the Saudi Government had been helpful in the preliminary stages of negotiating a settlement of the 1955 Pakistan-Afghanistan dispute and asked the King for his views on how the problem might now be ameliorated. The King replied that he, too, has been concerned at the existence of this dispute between these two neighboring Moslem countries. He expressed a desire to help again if this could be effective, and called attention to the Soviet pressures being placed upon Afghanistan. (Jemal Hussaini remarked that as a former member of the Saudi negotiation team in 1955 he believed that Afghanistan would resist Soviet domination to the last man.) The King stated that while in the hospital in Boston he had received letters from the chiefs-of-state of both Afghanistan and Pakistan independently seeking his support. He mentioned a long-standing invitation from the Afghanistan Government to visit the country and indicated the possibility that upon his return to Saudi Arabia he might take advantage of this invitation to offer his mediation services.

6. Saudi Concern with Algeria, Palestine and Southern Arabia

The King asked for the President’s forebearance while he raised three subjects uppermost on his mind: Algeria, Palestine and Southern Arabia. With regard to Algeria, the King expressed appreciation for the position the President had taken while a Senator and hoped the President’s views had not changed. The U.S. should use its influence to assure a “favorable” solution. With regard to Palestine, the King indicated the importance of implementing the 1947 UN resolutions and thus adhering to the UN charter. On the subject of Southern Arabia he referred to the British policy of “colonialism” in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, including that affecting Buraimi. The King expressed the hope that the U.S. would persuade the British to modify their policies in this area.

The President indicated optimism that the matter would be settled soon. He pointed out General de Gaulle is doing his very best under trying circumstances. On Palestine, the President recalled the correspondence last year he had exchanged with the King on the subject and said that he was fully aware how strongly Saudi Arabia feels on this issue. He acknowledged the “gap” in the respective U.S.-Saudi approaches to the problem, but pointed out that the United States wishes at the same time to maintain good relations with both Israel and with Saudi Arabia. With regard to the King’s comments on Southern Arabia, the President stated that he was not fully informed on the subject and following consultation, we would be in touch with His Majesty.

[Page 474]

7. Request for U.S. Economic Assistance

The King reminded the President that Saudi Arabia is a relatively backward country whose native resources are inadequate to cover the growing needs and appetites of a population of some 10 million. (Note: An exaggeration of approximately 4 to 5 million.) He said Saudi Arabia is in dire need of hospitals, schools, ports, roads and artesian wells, and relies on the United States for required assistance. The President noted that the Saudi Arabian Government has hired a number of technicians including, in particular, Mr. Harold Folk, an American employed as the top planning advisor in the new Supreme Planning Board. He expressed his understanding that the World Bank had prepared a development plan for Saudi Arabia which was being executed under the aegis of these technicians. Nevertheless, he continued, the U.S. would be prepared to discuss the matter of possible economic assistance with the Saudi Government and suggested that the Ambassador might wish to raise the subject with Mr. Fowler Hamilton, among others in the State Department. The King wondered whether the United States might be able to send an economic mission to Saudi Arabia and whether, in any case, the U.S. could agree in principle at the outset to providing economic assistance. The President replied that we would first need information on specific projects and areas of need before making any decision. He said the U.S. would be delighted to receive a Saudi economic mission and would be willing to dispatch a mission to Saudi Arabia. He expressed certainty that U.S. lending institutions would be willing to consider projects which the Saudi Arabian Government might wish to submit on their merits.

8. Status of USMTM

The King called attention to the needs of his Government to develop a strong military force. His Government, he said, was requesting the U.S. to retain its Military Training Mission in Saudi Arabia but on a reduced scale of 80 officers and men. The President replied that we are prepared to be sympathetic to the proposal to retain the USMTM but the figure of 80 is too small. With the removal of the Second Air Division from Dhahran, the administrative requirements of the mission would increase and an adequate training job could not be accomplished with less than some 200 men. The King said that the reason for his desire to reduce the size of the mission was to economize. The King was then informed that the U.S. defrays the costs of the USMTM with the exception of housing and local transportation. The King commented that if the U.S. could pay for all the costs of the mission, it could be any size.

9. Credit Terms for Latest Saudi Arms Purchase Request

The King stated he would also like the U.S. to arrange credit terms for the most recent Saudi request for the purchase of about $16 million [Page 475] worth of arms and equipment in accordance with the 1957 arms sale agreement. The President asked for the status of existing credit payments and was told that several more payments are still due. The King expressed regret at Saudi delinquency in past payments and said he wished to correct this. The President informed the King we would look into the matter of further credits and would ask the Saudis to indicate the nature of the credit arrangements they had in mind.

10. Port of Damman Customs Difficulties

The President told the King that there were two irritants in U.S.-Saudi relations which he wished to draw to the King’s attention, the first of which was the matter of customs difficulties experienced by our Consulate General personnel at Dhahran. The President said he hesitated to bother the King about such an administrative matter, but this was causing us a serious operational problem. The King referred to the matter of reciprocity in privileges accorded Consular personnel. It was pointed out to the King that reciprocity already exists and yet equipment for our Consulate General in Dhahran continues to remain in customs. The King promised to look into the matter and pledged all possible assistance. He asked that in the future the American Ambassador in Saudi Arabia deal directly with the King on this matter.

11. Discrimination Against American Jews

Another irritant the President referred to was the inability of American citizens of Jewish faith to transit Dhahran airport and the refusal of the Saudi Government to issue visas to American Congressmen of Jewish faith. The King replied that the Saudi restrictions are only placed upon Zionists and that “many” non-Zionist American Jews have visited Saudi Arabia. The President commented that Congressmen of the Jewish faith, whether or not they are Zionists, are Americans who have pledged allegiance to the United States. The Saudi refusal to allow them to enter Saudi Arabia is grist for the propaganda mill and hurts the Saudi cause. The President surmised that some who claim a desire to visit Saudi Arabia would probably not go once they were issued visas. The President stated that Saudi policy in this regard is more extreme than that pursued by other Arab states. The King promised that he would give the matter consideration after his return to Saudi Arabia and expressed his intention to apply the policy followed by other Arab states.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786A.11/2–1362. Secret. Drafted by Seelye (NEA/NE) on February 16 and approved by the White House on February 27. The briefing book that the Department of State prepared for President Kennedy’s use prior to the February 13 meeting is ibid., Conference Files: Lot 65 D 533, CF 2054.
  2. While staying at his residence in Palm Beach, Florida, President Kennedy on January 27 paid a 15-minute courtesy call on King Saud. The King was recuperating in Palm Beach after hospitalization in Boston. Following this meeting, King Saud formally accepted President Kennedy’s invitation to visit him in Washington (see Document 152). The memorandum of the January 27 conversation is in Department of State, Central Files, 786A.11/1–3162. See Supplement, the compilation on Saudi Arabia, for documentation relating to the two Kennedy-Saud meetings.
  3. Bakhir Yunis had not been scheduled to attend the meeting and, although King Saud envinced displeasure at his presence, he did not evict him. [Footnote in the source text.]
  4. Telegram 983 to Cairo described key points raised during this meeting, primarily those not relating to direct U.S.-Saudi bilateral relations, and suggested that Bowles brief Nasser on it when they met. It also indicated that UAR Ambassador Kamel had been briefed on the Kennedy-Saud meeting. (Department of State, Central Files, 786A.11/2–1762)