402. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary Rusk’s Meeting with King Faisal


  • King Faisal
  • Prince Sultan
  • Dr. Rashad Pharaon
  • Ambassador Ibrahim al-Sowayel
  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Raymond A. Hare, NEA
  • Ambassador Hermann F. Eilts
  • Mr. George C. Moore, NEA:NE
  • Mr. Isa Sabbagh (Interpreter)

The King opened the discussion with a general query about DeGaulle’s visit to the U.S.S.R. The Secretary said we did not expect any surprises; that there had been some movement among the Eastern European countries for closer relations with Western Europe, but we [Page 762] continued to treat signs that the Communist countries wanted a détente with considerable caution in the light of our past experience with them. The King expressed his view that no one could believe the promises of Leftists. He continued to endorse fully our firm positions in Vietnam and Berlin and hoped that we would be equally firm in not pulling out of the Near East.

The Secretary said we, as the only free world country capable of independent action, must take a global view of the Communist problem. We watch the situation in the Near East very closely. It is clear that the U.S.S.R. wants to build its policy around Nasser. Nasser goes along with this up to a point, but where his limits lie is not clear.

Concerning Yemen, the Secretary affirmed our hope that the U.A.R. would withdraw its troops. He noted, however, that with more troops in Egypt, the possibility existed for the U.A.R. to move toward the east, which would result in a full scale war; to the west, where we had our important base in Libya; or to the south, which would create a large problem with the Sudan and would not be welcome by the Africans. With these possibilities in mind he asked for the King’s view concerning the strategic importance of the withdrawal of Egyptian troops from Yemen. He added that they had already spoken of the impact that these troops would have within Egypt itself, but that was Nasser’s problem, not ours.

In response, the King suggested that consideration of Egyptian military movements to the east, west or south of the country was basically hypothetical. He did not think Nasser would have the interest or capability of taking such action. The practical realities were whether the Egyptians would or would not withdraw from Yemen. In his view, their staying in Yemen would have far more serious repercussions than would their return. (The Secretary interjected, “I agree”.) The King continued that the presence of Egyptian troops in Yemen deprived the Yemenis of that domestic stability which is essential for improving their lot and would continue to pose a constant source of fear, particularly for the Gulf and South Arabian states. It would allow the Communists firmly to establish themselves among the Yemeni masses, not just in the government and army, and threaten development of another Vietnam. The King’s fear was not particularly that he would be attacked, but concerned the long range penetration of the Communists which is abetted by the presence of U.A.R. troops in Yemen.

The King said he knew Nasser personally and was certain that he was not a believing Communist, particularly because he believes in nothing except his own personal domination. For this he would follow any ideological line necessary. He said this with pain since, when he spoke of Nasser, he spoke in a sense of a part of himself, for Nasser [Page 763] was an Arab, was counted among the Muslims, and was for a long time a good personal friend.

The King said he had recently received information that the U.A.R. had now returned 5,000 troops to Yemen, more than balancing earlier withdrawals.

The Secretary commented that maintaining troops in Yemen posed real problems for the U.A.R., not just economic ones, but other types. Among these were the growing opposition to the Egyptian presence among many Yemeni republicans, and the increasing dissatisfaction with and suspicion of U.A.R. activities by other Arab countries.

Responding to the Secretary’s query about possibilities for the success of the Kuwait mediation effort,2 the King said that he, just as the Secretary, had had hopes regarding the Jidda Agreement but that this was the third agreement on which Nasser had reneged. He attributed this to Nasser’s fluctuating psychology which led him at times to be conciliatory (as when he went to Jidda) and a few days later to change to a mood of personal recalcitrance. With appropriate good will, a negotiated solution is always possible, but if that solution is to reflect solely Nasser’s desires, then it is not possible. The King emphasized that the Kuwait proposals were clearly only Egyptian proposals, as shown by the timing of their presentation to him. He listed them as: 1) formation of a transitional government on a 50-50 basis; 2) that government to request withdrawal of U.A.R. troops (to be guaranteed by Nasser), withdrawal of the Hamid al-Din (to be guaranteed by Saudi Arabia); and a symbolic presence of up to 100 troops from each of several Arab countries to assist with the plebiscite. The King said he had problems with this, among them being that his agreement to this general proposal would displace the specific U.A.R.-Saudi accord reached in the Jidda Agreement, and instead would involve some type of projected accord between each country and the transitional government. The stipulation concerning the Hamid al-Din was difficult. As previously agreed, he would fully support requests by a transitional government, after withdrawal of Egyptian forces, for exclusion of any person or group. Additionally, the Hamid al-Din do not take orders from him and were not necessarily always amenable to his proposals. [Page 764] If the Hamid al-Din decided to remain, despite implementation of the Kuwait proposals, it was conceivable that the Saudis, as a party to those proposals, would have to send troops against the ex-royal family. The Jidda Agreement continued to be the basis for the Saudi position. In this they had agreed that the transitional government would be the sole authority in the country, absorbing both republicans and royalists. Basically the Kuwait—which should be considered Egyptian—proposals are all contained in the Jidda Agreement. The new suggestions are just a smokescreen. Concerning troop withdrawal, the Jidda Agreement had no ambiguities: Egyptian troops were to begin withdrawal on the date of the Haradh Conference and to complete it within 10 months.

The King sent for a copy of the letter containing the actual Saudi responses to the Kuwait proposal. These were: 1) adherence to the Jidda Agreement in letter and spirit; 2) adherence to the text of the Agreement, noting particularly that the first four articles discuss the desire for a solution in accordance with the desires of the Yemeni people and therefore provide for a transitional government, and that both the U.A.R. and Saudis are committed to assist this government; 3) the solution should involve (a) renewed Haradh Conference; (b) the name “state of Yemen”; (c) the government during the transitional period to be formed on a 50-50 royalist-republican basis (as was the clearly implied intent of the Jidda Agreement, reflected in the proposed proportion of representation at the Haradh Conference); (d) members of the transitional government to be appointed by the Haradh Conference; (e) both republicans and royalists to support the transitional government and not disturb the peace during the transitional period; (f) both the U.A.R. and Saudi Arabia agree to support implementation of the transitional government’s decisions; (g) Egyptian troops to be withdrawn in a time period to be established, but not to exceed 5 to 6 months; (h) the Saudis to refrain from giving military aid to the royalists; (i) the transitional government to have the right to expel any person or group considered a threat to the people or whose presence would exert undue influence on the plebiscite; (j) symbolic forces of not more than 100 to be requested from Kuwait, Sudan, Libya, and Morocco to assist in supervision of the plebiscite.

The Secretary asked if the problem could be approached piecemeal with, for instance, the King and Nasser first agreeing to establish a transitional government on a 50-50 basis and then moving to the next step. He asked this because he had the impression that the Yemenis on both sides were becoming most restive with continued presence of the Egyptians and because he felt such a group, agreed to by Yemenis of both persuasions, would get very strong international support. He [Page 765] added that this query arose only from our interest, that he was not volunteering as a mediator.

The King said he had as yet not heard of any reaction from Cairo to the current proposals but believed that Nasser—as the probable author of the proposals—would doubtless agree to a 50-50 representation.

The Secretary said we continued to follow the situation with great interest, are keenly interested in peace in the area and believe withdrawal of Egyptian troops would contribute to this objective. We were at a relatively low point in our up-and-down relationship with Cairo, and our influence there was thus very limited.

  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 7 SAUD. Secret. Drafted by Moore on June 24 and approved in S on July 14. The memorandum is Part I of II. For other memoranda of conversations recording King Faisal’s meetings with President Johnson and Secretary Rusk during his June 21-23 visit to Washington, see Documents 274278.
  2. Telegram 3129 from Cairo, June 6, reported Ambassador Battle’s discussion of Kuwaiti efforts to mediate the Yemen conflict with Al-Khouli, who had just returned from Kuwait. The initial Kuwaiti proposal called for formation of a transitional Yemeni government (50 percent republican and 50 percent royalist) which would: set the date for a plebiscite in Yemen; ask Cairo to withdraw UAR troops from Yemen; ask Saudi Arabia to withdraw the Hamid al-Din family from Yemen; and ask the Arab League to send token forces to Yemen to help maintain order in collaboration with equal strength Saudi and UAR forces. (National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Central Files 1964-66, POL 27 YEMEN)