68. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Kennedy0
Faisal is in the US primarily to see you. We’ve had numerous reports that Saud is rapidly failing. Faisal, next in line, is probably here to find out how much he and his country can rely on US support. You can talk frankly to him, as he is far more intelligent than Saud.
Most important, Faisal wants very much a half hour privately with you, without any other Saudis present. He may want to say a few things about his own future. Why not take him upstairs for coffee right after luncheon. His English is fair (or you can ask along our own Arab interpreter, Sabbagh, to translate).
Unfortunately, the Yemen revolt has brought to a boil all Saudi fears of Nasserism (the House of Saud well knows it might be next).1 Faisal wants US backing for the UK-Saudi counter-effort in Yemen.2 It will be hard to satisfy him on this score.
Our current Yemen policy is one of non-involvement. We can’t do much anyway, and the Imam’s regime was one of the most backward in the world. However, Nasser clearly backed the revolt and his radio is telling Saud he’ll be next. So the Saudis feel compelled to react. The UK also seems to be covertly in the play, because of its acute concern over the heightened threat to Aden from a Nasserite Yemeni regime.
Therefore, it would be best to steer Faisal off Yemen and on to US-Saudi relations. Here the important thing is to reassure Faisal as to our firm backing of the House of Saud and as to our policy toward Nasser. If you can get just these two points across at luncheon, it will be a great success.
Faisal was once pro-Nasser, but now (like Saud) hates and fears him; he suspects we have really changed our Arab policy to one of supporting Nasser as our chosen instrument. I urge disabusing him in no uncertain terms. We are not backing Nasser against the other Arab states, with [Page 159] whom we have longstanding cordial relations. If this were the case, why are we continuing to be helpful to Saudis, practically subsidizing Jordan, and giving major new aid to Syria, plus underwriting the independence of Lebanon? These actions are totally inconsistent with any suggestion we are backing Nasser as Mr. Big in the Arab world.
Indeed, our policy towards Nasser is designed (a) to turn him inward; and (b) to increase US leverage on him so that we can encourage policies less antagonistic to our interests and those of our friends. We do not think US aid (mostly food) is keeping Nasser in power. If we didn’t help, he’d merely turn more to the Soviets, which would be emphatically against US and Arab interests.
The other side of the coin is to convince Faisal that we still strongly support the Saudi regime. We met all three requests made to you by Saud last February: (1) an arms credit—for $13.5 million; (2) a gift of three radio transmitters; and (3) an economic survey team (Saudis have the report). We’re also met the Saudi request that we keep our Military Training Mission there, and are ready to sell an excellent new fighter, the F-5A. We’re ready to provide further experts in specialized fields (though we’d prefer Saudis to pay for them; we also doubt any US loans are needed in light of their $300 million oil revenues).
But we think the Saudis themselves must press forward with modernization and development. Deliberate, controlled internal reform is the best antidote to Nasserism. We’re pleased with the signs of progress to date, but wonder if it’s fast enough.
I also think you should brace Faisal on the discrimination issue, as one factor which puts a real strain on our ability to pursue a friendly policy. Saud told you last February that he intended to apply the policy followed by other Arab states, but we’ve seen no signs yet. We know how deeply the Saudis feel about Israel, but they must understand our feelings too. This is not just a matter of a US pressure group influencing our policy, but of a fixed position of the US government. Israel is here to stay and we will oppose any efforts to attack it, just as we will oppose any Israeli effort at expansion.
Finally, you might give Faisal a personal, oral message to take back to Saud, i.e. let there be no doubt that we continue to stand by our friends.
Read Tabs I-A and III-A of attached briefing book3 if you have time, but State is sending over a suplementary memo giving their last minute views.
- Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Saudi Arabia, 10/62. Secret. A handwritten note on the source text reads: “(Ret’d frm Mrs. Lincoln 10/4)”↩
- On October 2 in New York during a dinner party hosted by Stevenson, Faysal expressed his concern over U.S. failure to aid Hasan in Yemen and his strongly negative attitude toward Nasser. Stevenson’s report is in telegram 1044 from USUN, October 3. (Department of State, Central Files, 786H.00/10-362) Komer forwarded the telegram to Bundy on October 4 under cover a note that reads: “President should see this for flavor. However, CIA has reliable word that Faysal (like Ayub) will be much more moderate on Nasser when face to face with JFK. His homme de confiance told Talbot plaintively that main thing Saudis wanted was to get Nasser to stop violent radio attacks on House of Saud.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Saudi Arabia, 10/62)↩
- On October 4, the White House received intelligence reports of Saudi military preparations for possible use in Yemen. The reports are ibid., Yemen, 10/1/62–10/8/62.↩
- Reference is to the briefing book prepared by the Department of State for Faysal’s visit to Washington in October. (Ibid., Saudi Arabia, Faysal Briefing Book, and Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 65 D 533, CF 2172)↩