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24. Memorandum From the Department of State Executive Secretary (Battle) to the President’s Special Assistant (Dungan)0

SUBJECT

  • Saudi Arabian Announcement Regarding Non-Renewal of Dhahran Airfield Agreement after April, 1962

On March 16, Radio Mecca announced that King Saud had ordered Ambassador Heath to be informed that the Dhahran Airfield Agreement would not be renewed when it expires in April, 1962. The text of the broadcast is enclosed.1 The announcement followed three days of discussions between the Ambassador and the Saudi Foreign Minister, [Page 52]during which the Saudis first sought United States concurrence in a proposed public statement abrogating the Agreement, but subsequently reduced their proposal to announcing non-renewal after April, 1962.2 A few hours before the broadcast, the American Embassy at Jidda reported the Foreign Minister’s assurance that any announcement would be deferred until the evening of March 18 to enable a joint statement to be prepared. The Departments of State and Defense were developing such a joint statement when the Saudis acted unilaterally. In an effort to soften the adverse impact of the Saudi announcement, the Department of State immediately issued a background press release in the evening of March 16. A copy is enclosed.3

King Saud’s precipitate action reflects the shaky internal position of his recently formed Government. In this connection, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador, at his request, called on the Under Secretary on the afternoon of March 18 to convey an urgent message from the King explaining that the rapid Saudi action had been made necessary to quiet his opponents both inside and outside Saudi Arabia. The King also instructed the Ambassador to reassure the United States that the strong relations between our two countries were not affected by the announcement and would in fact be even more soundly based in the future because of it. The Under Secretary told the Ambassador that, while it was regrettable that the announcement had come so abruptly which had precluded the development of a joint statement on the subject, the United States reciprocated the hope that its close relations with Saudi Arabia would continue to flourish. A telegram has since been received from Jidda indicating that the King was pleased with the tenor of the Department of State’s press release on the subject.

The United States has sought continually to stress in pertinent public statements that the Dhahran Airfield belongs to Saudi Arabia and that the United States does not have a “base” there. Nevertheless, the very presence of United States military personnel in Saudi Arabia, even though unarmed, has long disturbed Saudi and Arab nationalists. The Saudis have been keenly conscious of their vulnerability to Arab nationalist attacks for being host to foreign military forces. Alleged United States lack of sympathy for Arab views on the Arab-Israel problem and Algeria have also been seized upon by Arab nationalists to apply pressure on the Saudi Arabian Government to terminate United States operational facilities at Dhahran. It had been recognized for some time, [Page 53]therefore, that prospects for renewal of the Dhahran Airfield Agreement were doubtful, and in December, 1960, the then Prime Minister, Crown Prince Faisal, had in fact informally proposed voluntary United States relinquishment of our Dhahran Airfield privileges. The proposal lapsed with the advent of the King’s Government a few weeks later.

The Dhahran Airfield has been used primarily as a Military Air Transport Service terminal, but also represents a potential post-strike field in being. There are at present 1,332 American airmen stationed at Dhahran and 10 transport aircraft. Some months ago, the Department of Defense advised the Department of State that, if possible, the Dhahran Airfield Agreement should be renewed in 1962 to provide for additional facilities, but that suitable alternatives were already under study by the Joint Chiefs of Staff should the Saudis not wish to renew the Agreement. More difficult, however, is the potential effect of the Saudi action on our military base complex elsewhere and especially in Libya.

A summary of United States arrangements with Saudi Arabia concerning the Dhahran Airfield is enclosed.4

W.J. Stoessel 5
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786A.56311/3–2161. Confidential. Drafted by Eilts.
  2. Attached but not printed.
  3. Documentation on the U.S.-Saudi negotiations preceding Saudi Arabia’s announcement concerning the Dhahran Airbase is in Department of State, Central File 611.86A7.
  4. For text, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1961, pp. 700–701.
  5. Attached but not printed.
  6. Stoessel signed for Battle above Battle’s typed signature.