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71. Memorandum of Conversation0

SUBJECT

  • President’s Talk with Crown Prince Faysal

PARTICIPANTS

  • President Kennedy
  • His Royal Highness Crown Prince Faysal of Saudia Arabia
  • GU. Alexis Johnson
  • NEAPhillips Talbot
  • NERobert C. Strong
  • NETalcott W. Seelye
  • White House—Robert Komer
  • PAO—Isa Sabbagh
  • Saudi: Dr. Rashad Pharaoun Saudi: Ambassador Abdullah al-Khayyal

After welcoming his guest, the President asked Faysal about his views on what was going on in Yemen. Faysal replied that because of the dearth of up-to-date information, the situation was still vague. Asked what the outcome might be, Faysal replied that, if the insurgents were not given any outside help, they would not be able to retain authority. President Kennedy asked if by outside help the Prince meant help from the UAR. Faysal replied "Not only from the UAR but also from the Soviet Union.” Elaborating, Faysal mentioned that the elements which carried out the coup in Yemen are a mixture of military and civilian zealots, who enjoyed the support and help of the UAR and the Communists. They were not really representative of the majority of the people or their desires. Faysal admitted conditions in Yemen during the late Imam Ahmad’s life needed improving and improvement was slow in forthcoming. However, the moment Imam Muhammad al-Badr ascended the throne, he announced quite a deep and comprehensive program of social reform for the country.

Badr’s announced reforms gave the lie to proclamations of the rebels that they carried out the coup in order to bring about improvement and reform,” said Faysal. Saudi Arabia’s concern is that, unless the situation in Yemen is reversed, fertile ground for the entrenchment and [Page 163]spread of Communism and its attendant subversive activities will be provided in the area. Asked how much help Saudi Arabia is giving Prince Hassan in his efforts to reverse the present situation, Faysal replied he is not fully conversant with what the Saudi Government is actually doing. However, he felt sure Saudi Arbia would not hesitate to give Hassan any assistance which was within the modest capabilities of his country. Prince Faysal asserted that Prince Hassan enjoys the loyalty and support of most of the tribes in Yemen. The tribes, however, are armed only with light weapons such as rifles, revolvers and machine guns. In reply to a question from Mr. Johnson, Prince Faysal added that the Yemen army numbered between three and five thousand. Numerically speaking, therefore, Hassan has greater support from the tribes than the revolutionaries have from the Army. The President remarked that the UAR’s and USSR’s interest in Yemeni developments was evident in their prompt recognition of the revolutionary government.

Prince Faysal reiterated his pleasure at having had the chance to meet the President, climaxing deliberations Faysal had had with other officials of the United States Government. This was Faysal’s sole purpose in coming over to the United States. He wanted to learn clearly the policy of the United States vis-a-vis the Middle East generally, and Saudi Arabia in particular. The President expressed his realization of the concern Saudi Arabia felt over the situation in Yemen and over President Nasser’s reported activities, which were deemed inimical to the interests of neighboring countries. The President explained that United States help to the UAR consisted mainly of food grains which went to the people of the UAR. Prince Faysal interjected that no Arab person or country could legitimately object to America’s policy of helping other Arab countries, or, indeed, any other country whose people needed such help. What is a source of anxiety to Saudi Arabia, however, is that United States help to the UAR is being used indirectly by Nasser and his agents for injurious and subversive activities. Money which otherwise would have been spent on food is set free for Nasser’s subversive efforts in other Middle Eastern countries.

Faysal went on to enumerate the different facets of Nasser’s interference in the internal affairs of other Arab countries, in particular, Saudi Arabia. These facets include covert intelligence gathering by impermissible means, sabotage, incitement, and the organization of assassination attempts. In Faysal’s view, it is obvious Nasser had one sole aim, namely, to crush the authority of the Saudi Arabian Government. This was the strongest cause of apprehension and nervous tension in Saudi Arabia. His country would wish for nothing more than to be allowed a long stretch of time marked by stability, tranquility and peace of mind so that it can move ahead with the job of carrying out needed reforms, raising standards of living, and achieving progress and prosperity.

[Page 164]

Saudi Arabia, however, is prevented from achieving its goals by the extreme condition of terror that surrounds it. This condition of unease and fear in the area is beginning increasingly to manifest itself within his country. Prince Faysal emphatically made the point that the concern and fear he expressed does not stem from the fact that he belongs to the ruling family of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Royal Family is just one Arabian family, which history accorded a role of leadership for the past number of years. Animatedly, Faysal declared that if he had for one moment thought that the Saudi Royal Family or its existence in Saudi Arabia were damaging to the interests of his country or its people he, although a member of that Family, would not cooperate with it and would, in fact, turn against it.

The President asked Faysal for his views or suggestions on how the United States could help in improving the situation. Faysal replied that the United States, while giving aid to the UAR, possibly could use its influence with Nasser and divert him from his path of intrigues and interference; we could keep a watchful eye over his activities so as to satisfy ourselves that the aid we are giving him does not indirectly go toward the UAR’s sabotaging of established governments in neighboring Arab countries. The President replied that the United States is very sympathetic to the desires of Saudi Arabia and the other Arab countries for greater tranquility, but he doubted very much that our influence with Nasser or with other recipients of United States aid is as great as it is sometimes thought to be. As examples, the President referred to the cases of India vs. Pakistan, Pakistan vs. Afghanistan, Cambodia vs. Thailand, and Japan vs. the Philippines. These examples demonstrate that United States aid to those countries individually does not result in the disputants settling their quarrels. The President said it may be that, gradually and in the long run, United States aid to two disputing countries could increase the weight of our moderating advice. Faysal remarked that, notwithstanding the clear exposition and enumeration of examples made by the President, there is one important distinction between those examples and the example presented by the dispute between the UAR and other Arab countries. In the latter case, there is no actual legitimate dispute. There is only the desire of the UAR to subordinate its neighbors. The President appreciated Prince Faysal’s view and said he hoped that in the coming months the United States would have a realistic appraisal of the benefits of United States aid to the UAR, and would come to know more clearly whether or not such aid has proved to be in the interests of the United States.

In the meantime, the United States would continue to use whatever good offices it had with Nasser and the UAR in the hope that such continued United States efforts would be instrumental in diverting Nasser from his extracurricular activities, and in encouraging him to turn his [Page 165]attention inwardly to constructive endeavors. The President did not think that Nasser, whose problems are many, would actually heed any United States threat to stop aid to the UAR. United States aid to the UAR is not of a kind or of such a magnitude that its loss would seriously curtail Nasser’s ability to agitate and propagandize. Our hope is that gradually we can turn UAR attention towards its internal problems, thus creating a UAR need for tranquility, which should be reflected in greater calm and peace in the area generally.

Prince Faysal then turned specifically to his own country, saying that since Saudi Arabia finds itself at some sort of crossroads in the midst of the turmoil surrounding it, he wished to go back to his country armed with some peace of mind, and with the reassurance that Saudi Arabia could depend on United States friendship and cooperation. Could he, Faysal, upon returning to Saudi Arabia, convey to the King, to the Saudi Arabian Government and to the Saudi people such an assurance from the President? The President replied "Yes, definitely,” referring to the mutuality of friendship and interest between the United States and Saudi Arabia which goes back quite a number of years.

(After luncheon the President and Crown Prince Faysal retired to the President’s upstairs living room, accompanied by Jidda PAO Isa K. Sabbagh.) The President began by suggesting possible ways and means of improving and strengthening United States-Saudi Arabian relations. He invited Prince Faysal’s reactions and observations to the idea of establishing a “civic action” program in Saudi Arabia, in the form of a road-building program. The United States Army and Saudi Armed Forces, engineering personnel, and Saudi civilians could cooperate in the venture. The President explained to Faysal that such a program would have the advantages of showing continued United States interest in Saudi Arabian progress, of demonstrating that the Armed Forces in any country can be put to useful peaceful purposes, and, in a sense, of making America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia felt at a psychologically critical time. The President wondered whether this topic had already been discussed with Assistant Secretary Talbot during Prince Faysal’s session with Mr. Talbot the previous evening. Prince Faysal said that the topic had not been broached because no specific item relating to any economic or other assistance from the United States was touched upon. Prince Faysal said the civic action program sounded like a worthwhile thing, which he would, upon return to Saudi Arabia, discuss with the King and Government.

The result of the discussions will, of course, be conveyed to the United States Ambassador in Jidda, Faysal said. The President wondered whether, in Faysal’s view a visit to Jidda, very shortly, by one or two United States naval ships would help the situation. He said such a naval visit might indicate to the UAR, as well as to the USSR, our serious [Page 166]interest in peace and tranquility in the area. Prince Faysal asked whether such United States naval vessels could be dispatched quickly to the scene. The President said they could. Faysal remarked that, in any case, a friendly visit of ships of one nation to the ports of another would not lend itself to criticism or misinterpretation. He said he would hasten to inform his Government of this possibility. The President promised that he would set the machinery in motion and instruct our Ambassador in Jidda to discuss the proposed visit with the Saudi Government on the spot.1

In the general context of manifesting our continued interest in the welfare and security of Saudi Arabia, the President mentioned the desire by Saudi Arabia to purchase a substantial number of modern supersonic jet fighters (F-5A’s), adding that the United States is willing to provide these airplanes for purchase by Saudi Arabia at the earliest opportunity. Another matter mentioned by the President was our retention in Saudi Arabia of a United States Military Training Mission. He inquired if Prince Faysal had any views on the USMTM and the jet aircraft. Prince Faysal said he understood that these topics are subject to further discussion between the Saudi Minister of Defense and the United States Embassy in Jidda.

Finally, the President mentioned a subject which he said he had brought to the attention of King Saud during the latter’s last visit to the United States in February, 1962, namely, the Saudi Government’s refusal to grant even transit visas to American citizens of the Jewish faith. The President continued that Saudi visas are denied not only to ordinary United States citizens of the Jewish faith but also to United States Congressmen of that faith. It was not as though the United States were asking Saudi Arabia to do anything which some other Arab governments are not already doing. For instance, the UAR is granting visas to such Americans. In fact, the President said, it is doubtful whether there would be an onrush of transit passengers through the Dhahran International Airport by United States citizens of the Jewish faith, should Saudi Arabia lift this ban. The President added that such a relaxation of the ban by Saudi Arabia [Page 167]would make our task easier in view of certain definite attitudes in Congress opposing this stand by the Saudi Government. The President said he realized the Saudi Government’s attitude on Israel, but wished Prince Faysal to understand how beneficial to the Saudi Arabian image in this country it would be if Saudi Arabia could lift the ban against American Jews. The President wondered whether if anything had been done about this question since King Saud’s return from his United States visit.

Prince Faysal said that shortly after King Saud’s return to Saudi Arabia, he was overtaken by illness which required a lengthy absence from his country. As to the substantive question, the Prince replied that it is a very delicate matter because, should Saudi Arabia react favorably to this suggestion by the President, Nasser could create a lot of agitation and attribute to Saudi Arabia a change of attitude toward Israel. It is well known, Faysal said, that Nasser would himself do certain things which he would turn around and criticize others for doing. Notwithstanding all this, Prince Faysal promised to take up the matter immediately upon his return with the King and Saudi Government with a view to seeing what could be done about it. He cautioned, however, that any fruitful results were not likely to emerge quickly. The President added his suggestion that in view of the Saudi Arabian Government’s concern over what Nasser could make out of such an eventuality, Saudi Arabia could resort to the unannounced de facto lifting of the ban. Prince Faysal reiterated his promise to look into the matter as soon as he got back to his country.

Winding up the tete-a-tete, the President invited Prince Faysal to keep in personal touch, if he preferred, on matters related to Saudi-United States relations or, indeed, to any substantive matter that touched on events in the Middle East and United States policy dealing with them.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 786A.11/10-562. Secret. No drafting information appears on the source text, but the memorandum was approved by the White House on October 19 and in G on November 7. The conversation was held during a working luncheon at the White House. The Department of State transmitted a supplemental briefing paper for Kennedy’s meeting with Faysal in a memorandum from Brubeck to Bundy, October 4. (Ibid., 786A.00/10-462)
  2. In a memorandum to President Kennedy on October 8, Komer provided the following report: "In response to your query, the following steps are in train to step up our naval presence in the Red Sea, and reassure the Saudis: USS Perry (DD) is already en route from Aden to Jidda, will be off Jidda tomorrow, and enter the port on a three-day scheduled visit at 8 a.m. Wednesday. It can stay longer of course. Another DD has arrived at Aden. It is thus in the area but not now going to Jidda unless instructed. The Greenwich Spray (AVP-converted destroyer) is heading in from Indian Ocean, and due in Jidda for a two-day visit 18 October. State did not understand you to say that both destroyers I mentioned as being in the area should go to Jidda pronto. My sense is that the one will serve the purpose for the moment, as UAR will know the other is also nearby at Aden.” (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Meetings and Memoranda Series, Staff Memoranda, Robert W. Komer, 9/62–10/62)