157. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Bahrain Situation; US-Bahrain Relations

PARTICIPANTS

  • Mr. Roy Lay, Chairman, Bahrain Petroleum Company, New York
  • Mr. J. J. Josephson, General Manager, BAPCO, Bahrain
  • Mr. Ed Lavery, Caltex Representative, Washington
  • Mr. Rodger P. Davies, Deputy Assistant Secretary, NEA
  • Mr. William D. Brewer, Country Director, NEA/ARP
  • Mr. James E. Akins, Deputy Director, E/FSE
  • Mr. David G. Newton, Economic Officer, NEA/ARP

Mr. Lay said that Mr. Josephson was completing his home leave and returning to Bahrain shortly. He thought it was a good time to compare notes on the situation.

Mr. Lay explained that the Ruler of Bahrain has a very high regard for Americans. His relationship with BAPCO and Mr. Josephson is much closer than an ordinary business relationship. The Ruler remembers the warm treatment that he was given during his visit to the US two years ago. He hopes one day to see tangible expressions of US interest in Bahrain.

Mr. Davies responded that the USG has a strong interest in the Gulf. We are concerned at what will come after the British withdrawal. We have attempted to smooth dispositions ruffled because of Saudi-Iranian differences over Bahrain. Responding to Mr. Josephson’s questions, he opined that Bahrain was a matter of considerable face for the Shah. Faisal has acted with considerable dignity and is looking forward to the Shah’s visit on November 9 when we hope some progress on this issue may be feasible.

Mr. Lay said that he felt that Faisal would never stand for Iranian “muscling in” on Bahrain, but he felt the King doubted the Iranians would go so far. He asked why the Shah did not recognize the situation as it is. Mr. Davies responded that what the Iranians needed was a formula to permit them to back away gracefully. The Shah’s formula, a plebiscite, is not regarded as compatible with Shaikh Isa’s dignity. However, Mr. Davies said that he personally was taken with the idea of some sort of “consensus” involving consultation with local leaders, [Page 324]as the UN did in Libya. If there were a plebiscite, the Iranians as a minority would lose. Mr. Brewer underlined the fact that the plebiscite desired by the Shah would have to be specific. It would ask people whether they wanted to join Iran or not. The Iranian idea of a plebiscite has been put to Shaikh Isa by the British but turned down. Mr. Davies said that he did not think the Shah would take Bahrain by force, but he evidently could not accept a change of status which would impair his claim.

Mr. Lay said that the Ruler was deeply concerned and preoccupied over the impending British withdrawal. Mr. Brewer responded that we were worried that the local rulers might feel that we had no interest in the area because we failed to step in and solve their problems. We would, of course, like to see them solved, but it is very difficult for us to do so.

Mr. Josephson said that the Ruler had been approached twice by the Russians from Baghdad to permit a twelve-man team to visit Bahrain. The Ruler is “scared to death” and hasn’t even acknowledged their request. Mr. Brewer pointed out that some sort of federation, such as the FAA, would presumably apply for UN membership. The Russians could agree or veto, as in the case of Kuwait in 1961. Their price would no doubt be establishment of a Russian resident mission.

Mr. Lay indicated that the Ruler had his doubts about the success of the FAA. He and the local merchants would like to see it work but are skeptical, in view of inertia and jealousy of some of the local rulers. Mr. Brewer said that it was his hunch that the FAA would be established for lack of an alternative; whether it would work was another matter. Bahrain would not pull out and leave the Federation to its enemies. Mr. Davies pointed out that much depends on the Shah-Faisal meetings in November. If they go well, the shaikdoms will move towards some type of amorphous federation structure. Mr. Josephson added that, if the FAA fails, the Ruler wants some type of Bahraini association with the UN and embassies in the UK and US. He also wants to get some type of US office in Bahrain.

Mr. Brewer emphasized that the foregoing underlined the need for some solution to the current Bahrain issue. Mr. Josephson said that Shaikh Isa was worried to the point of emotionalism. Mr. Brewer said that the problem boiled down to the Iranian claim; the Iranians feel strongly about it. Mr. Josephson added that the Ruler told him that Faisal has assured Shaikh Isa he will provide military assistance if the Iranians land troops.

After Mr. Davies and Mr. Lay departed to attend other meetings, Mr. Josephson pointed out to Mr. Brewer that the Ruler would “pick his brains” when he returned to Bahrain. Shaikh Isa is determined to settle the problem and has written to the Shah that he would meet him [Page 325]at any time, in any place. Mr. Brewer emphasized that developments are taking place on which we are uninformed. The fact that we are not seeking to solve the problem does not mean that we are not doing what we can to encourage its solution.

Mr. Josephson said that the Ruler was delighted with the new American school in Bahrain. It now has forty students and he would like to make it an American International School. The school has received many requests for admission from outsiders, including Bahrainis, and the Ruler is totally cooperative.

Mr. Brewer summed up by saying that, while he could not speak for Iran, it was his impression that the Iranians felt their present policies were simple realism. The recent FAA meeting went well and it is making progress. We are trying to encourage a cooperative atmosphere and look to the coming Shah/Faisal meeting to produce some progress. He said that Mr. Josephson could assure the Ruler that we retain our friendly interest. However, with the UK departing, the local rulers must work out their own problems. Mr. Josephson responded that the Ruler understands this, but is looking for tangible evidence of US interest.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1967-69, POL 19 BAHRAIN IS. Confidential. Drafted by David G. Newton (NEA/ARP) on October 30.