226. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • Call on Secretary by SAC Deputy Foreign Minister

PARTICIPANTS

  • The Secretary
  • NEA—Phillips Talbot
  • NE—Talcott W. Seely
  • His Excellency Omar Saqcjaf, Saudi Arabian Deputy Foreign Minister
  • Mr. Abdullah Hababi, Charge d’Affaires. Embassy of Saudi Arabia

Mr. Saqqaf mentioned his mission as Arab emissary in connection with the Jordan Waters diversion and stated that he was asking an aide to make a presentation to working officials in the Department. He enumerated three current concerns in the Middle East as Syria, Yemen disengagement and Khrushchev’s visit to Cairo. In Syria the conservative wing of the Baath party has taken over and appears to [Page 434]command (he support of the majority of Baath party members. In response to the Secretary’s question, he said that Iraq, Jordan and the UAR all desire the overthrow of the present Syrian regime. Regarding Yemen disengagement, he expressed an interest in hearing the Department’s latest views. He called attention to the danger to our mutual positions of Khrushchev’s visit to Cairo.

The Secretary said we are watching Syrian developments closely. He commented that Khrushchev’s successful visit to Cairo flows from the Soviet Union’s commitment some ten years ago to build the Aswan Dam. We have to admit that the Soviet performance in building the Dam has been good. He saw two reasons behind the Khrushchev visit: (1) an effort to strengthen the Soviet position vis-a-vis the Western world and (2) competition with the ChiComs. He thought it unwise to take too much comfort, however, from the latter. Following Khrushchev’s departure we will have a better opportunity to assess accurately the impact of his visit. Mr. Saqqaf expressed the view that Nasser did not fully approve Khrushchev”s speeches and noted that Communism is outlawed in the UAR.

The Secretary noted USG interest in maintaining good relations with the Arab world and referred to the strong USG commitment to the independence and territorial integrity of Saudi Arabia. He said that we would disapprove of Arab unity if it comes about as a result of pressures; however, if reached by free choice, we could not disapprove. He asked Mr. Saqqaf for his views as to what posture the USG should take toward those Arab states who wish to remain independent. While the United States would come to Saudi Arabia’s assistance if it were attacked, is there not a danger that such Western military moves would be resented in the area? He characterized our objectives in Yemen as (1) to enable the Yemenis to decide their own future and (2) to prevent Yemen from becoming a base for pressures against Saudi Arabia. While our disengagement plan has not produced full disengagement, it has reduced the threat to Saudi Arabia. Mr. Saqqaf agreed. The Secretary noted that Saudi Arabia is stronger than it was two years ago and that Prince Faisal is forging ahead on a constructive program to develop the country.

Mr. Saqqaf commented that every Arab wants Arab unity, but in his own way. He alleged that Nasser could have “had the Arab world” after the Suez crisis of 1956 had he acted in the right manner. He failed because Arabs as a whole, by nature and by religion, are opposed to socialism. While Syria, Iraq and Algeria have socialist tendencies, each system differs from Nasser’s. Arab unity requires one belief. Mr. Saqqaf felt that the USG should protect countries who are fighting Communism and backing the West. Saudi Arabia wants “radical progress through evolution”. He saw no indications that the UAR would change but, [Page 435]despile ihe current dangerous situation, he considered the future of Syria as hopeful.

The Secretary inquired after Saudi Arabia’s relations with other Arab states. Mr. Saqqaf said that Saudi Arabia enjoys good relations with all Arab states, including the UAR. Saudi Arabia has nothing against the UAR if the latter leaves Yemen and stops attacking Saudi Arabia. In response to the Secretary’s query, Mr. Saqqaf said that UAR propaganda attacks against Saudi Arabia had discontinued.

Mr. Saqqaf asserted that Prince Faisal had been too busy to go to Cairo, needing a month or so to clear up internal matters. He noted thai President Arif has asked Prince Faisal to be present in Cairo while Arif was there, but that Faisal had declined. He said that the Prince would visit Cairo “if the Egyptians behave”.

The Secretary recalled reports received before and during Nasser’s recent visit to Yemen indicating that morale among Egyptian troops in Yemen was poor. Did Mr. Saqqaf believe the UAR was determined to stay in Yemen? Mr. Saqqaf said that the UAR wishes to leave but is looking for “a solution”. He said that Anwar Sadat and Hakim al-Amer had not hidden from him the fact that the UAR faces a difficult situation in Yemen. When Prince Faisal had asked their views as to a solution, Ihey had turned the question back to the Crown Prince. He said the Egyptian visitors had suggested that an Arab League army be sent to Yemen and that Faisal had countered with the proposal that an Arab “mission” be dispatched to Yemen. Mr. Saqqaf acknowledged that the UAR cannot be expected to withdraw its army from Yemen “at once” because, as admitted by Sadat and Amer, thLs would “be dangerous for the UAR regime”. According to Mr. Saqqaf, Prince Faisal had agreed that it would probably not be in Saudi Arabia’s interest for the UAR regime to fall and, therefore, he would not insist on an immediate withdrawal of all UAR forces from Yemen.

The Secretary noted that the USG had worked hard on the UAR to curtail its propaganda attacks and had also helped force the discontinuance of UAR air attacks mounted against Saudi supply depots a year or so ago. He inquired as to the prospect of an agreement between Saudi Arabia and the UAR on modifications to the Yemeni regime. Mr. Saqqaf replied that Saudi Arabia is “ready to help” but cannot do anything which requires “the use of force”. He said he had never lost hope concerning reaching a solution with the UAR on the Yemen problem.

The Secretary inquired whether the Western presence in the area— for example, the important USG facility in Libya and the British base in Aden—were helpful to Saudi Arabia or whether this caused Saudi Arabia concern. Mr. Saqqaf replied that while Saudi Arabia “says” it disapproves of the presence of “foreign troops,” at the same time it [Page 436]believes that as long as the country in which the bases are located is independent and does not oppose these bases, then the matter is ol “no concern” to Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia “says” that the British base in Aden must go, the Government knows that this is impossible. Speaking personally, he felt lhat the British should remain in Aden unless some alternative stabilizing presence could be arranged. There is the ultimate danger that Communism, which has been effectively prevented from penetrating the Near East from the north, will infiltrate from the south and prosper on the backwardness and weakness of the people of South Arabia. In response to Mr. Rusk’s question, Mr. Saqqaf stated that Communism is making headway in Yemen. He said that Communist propaganda is not currently being aimed at Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Saqqaf conveyed to the Secretary Prince Faisal’s best regards and said the Prince looked forward to the opportunity of seeing the Secretary some time in the future. The Secretary said that he held Prince Faisal in the highest regard and had long been one of his admirers. He commented lhat we are strongly encouraged by current developments in Saudi Arabia. Mr. Saqqaf said that the Prince is still not wholly satisfied by the progress that has been achieved so far and hopes to move faster now that the Royal Family problem has been solved.2

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 7 SAUD. Secret. Drafted by Seetye on May 18 and approved in S on June 2. The time of the meeting is taken from Rusk’s Appointment Book. (Johnson Library)
  2. On March 28 Saudi Prime Minister Crown Prince Faisal with the support of other members of the Royal family and the uluma, assumed the powers of the monarchy and reduced King Saud’s role to that of figurehead.