184. Editorial Note

In a memorandum of April 26, 1965, to Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Anthony Solomon, Stanley Nehmer discussed the growing dispute between the Departments of State and Interior over control of international oil policy. The immediate cause was a proposed round of Anglo-American oil talks, and the point of contention was whether Solomon or Assistant Secretary of the Interior John Kelly would host the conference. Nehmer commented: “it has seemed almost inevitable that, sooner or later, the line would have to be drawn between oil policy and foreign affairs. If a confrontation is inevitable, it would be difficult to find an issue more likely to be resolved in the Department’s favor than one which involves the politics of world oil and has as precedent a series of similar meetings in which leadership by the Department has been a foregone conclusion.” Nehmer noted that the Interior Department was contending that Kelly had been personally invited to discuss oil matters by the U.K. Minister of Power because the U.K. proposal for the talks had been contained in a letter to Kelly, but he stressed that the proposed talks were a part of a series, all of which had been held under State’s chairmanship. (Department of State, E Files: Lot 69 D 76, PET—Petroleum United Kingdom 1965, US/UK Oil Talks 1965) Under Secretary of State Mann agreed. (Letter from Nehmer to Armstrong, May 5; ibid.)

In a letter to Kelly on April 28, Solomon invited him to serve as “vice-chairman” of the talks. (Ibid.) Kelly replied on April 30: “As you point out, the talks are part of a series. There has occurred, however, a fundamental change in Interior’s responsibilities since the last of these discussions in June 1963. I refer of course, to the President’s assignment to the Secretary of the Interior of responsibility for oil policy [Page 332] within the Executive Branch.” “In the circumstances,” he continued, “I am of the view that it would be appropriate for the senior representative from the Department of the Interior to act as chairman of the U.S. delegation. I would anticipate that the Department of State would provide the vice chairman.” (Ibid.)

Kelly’s reference to the President’s assignment was to a December 1963 meeting between President Johnson and Secretary of the Interior Udall, after which Udall told the press that the President had put him “in charge of oil policy.” As Andrew Ensor later wrote: “Kelly used this frequently, to little effect I’m glad to say, to try to horn in on State’s role. The fact is pretty clear that both the President and Udall thought of ‘oil policy,’ at that time, as purely a domestic matter.” (Memorandum from Fried to Solomon, February 8, 1966; ibid., E Files: Lot 70 D 54, ORG Organization and Administration 1966)

Although the talks were scheduled to begin on May 10, 1965, the issue was still unresolved on May 5 when Solomon was called away from Washington unexpectedly to deal with the Dominican crisis; in a memorandum of that day, Ensor referred to Solomon as the “prospective chairman.” (Ibid., E Files: Lot 69 D 76, PET—Petroleum United Kingdom, US/UK Oil Talks 1965) In June the Department rescheduled the talks for early July. Kelly again refused to serve as vice chairman in a letter of June 9 to Solomon, but a handwritten note approved by an officer in FSE reads: “In view of Kelly leaving Interior, should we take the British option of September?” Another note, dated June 30 reads: “No reply. File.” (Ibid.)

The Anglo-American Oil Talks eventually were held on November 15, 1965, at the State Department with Cordell Moore heading the Interior contingent; see Document 186. Ensor later wrote: “Interior used to be always for cutting imports; it is now, genuinely and of its own steam, not restrictive on this subject beyond minutiae… . State, too, used to be what I call ‘wishy-washy’ free trade on oil issues but has of late grown up a lot. I believe that it is increasingly recognized in State that, even though domestic politics were the cause of our imports policy (and the ‘national security’ basis was hypocrisy really), it is still a wise policy. This country should not become dependent on regularly receiving large quantities of oil from areas which are even slightly unreliable over the long term (which in my view means everywhere but Canada) and the economic price of this is well worth it.” Foreign and domestic oil policies, he wrote, were increasingly unrelated matters. “What must be borne in mind is that, regardless of the 1963 announcement, the fact remains undisputed and indisputable that State has full practical responsibility for our oil policy abroad. If this is done badly, it is State’s fault entirely.” (Memorandum from Fried to Solomon, February 8, 1966; Department of State, E Files: Lot 70 D 54, ORG Organization and Administration 1966)