69. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon1


  • Possible Move By King Hussein To Acquire Soviet Arms

The following memorandum is a status report for information only and will be followed in due course by a memorandum which contains recommendations for action.2

King Hussein of Jordan is awaiting a Soviet reply to his recent query regarding the availability of Soviet arms assistance.3 The King is looking for anti-aircraft artillery and field artillery, particularly the former in order that Jordan may better cope with the quickening pace of Israeli air attacks. The King states that he has turned to the Soviets because of our past inability to meet his needs fully. In this connection, you will recall that when the King was here in April we were unable to sell him everything he wanted because of non-availability.4

The King tells us that even though he has sounded out the Soviets, he would prefer to continue to buy American arms if they should become available. As evidence of this the Jordanian Commander-in-Chief has presented us with a list of arms requirements similar to that presented to the Soviets. The King indicates that he might be prepared to settle for less than the total amount of equipment requested. Our military people in Amman confirm Jordan’s defensive need for most of the equipment requested, particularly the anti-aircraft guns.

It is important to note that the King’s contemplated move toward the Soviets is evidently intended to be an arms transaction only. The King assures us that any such move would represent no shift whatsoever in Jordanian policy. Jordan would continue to maintain close ties [Page 229] with the West and to seek a peace settlement in accordance with the Security Council Resolution of November 1967.

A check of our military stocks indicates that in order to meet the King’s requirements we would have to make a decision to divert them from our Army units. For planning purposes, the Defense Department is preparing a report on the impact such a diversion would have on our forces.5 We are also in the process of checking other free world sources.

A decision by the King to buy arms from the Soviets would cause problems in that it: (a) could provoke a sharp Israeli response both militarily and politically, and thus make our peace efforts that much more difficult; (b) could make Israel even less responsive to our counsels of restraint toward Jordan; (c) could be an irretrievable first step which, despite the King’s best intentions, might lead eventually to a shift of Jordanian policy in the direction of the Soviets; (d) could make it difficult for us to obtain Congressional approval to continue existing military and economic aid programs and thus could undermine the King’s policy of maintaining close relations with the West; and (e) could be interpreted as a blow to United States Government prestige and thus, in a psychological sense, could strengthen the hands of the Arab radicals while weakening the moderate regimes.

On the other hand, we are reluctant to contribute further to the arms race in the Middle East. Also it might be argued that since we are unlikely to achieve a peace settlement, the trend toward radicalization in Jordan may well be ineluctable, i.e., the Hashemite regime in Jordan will probably gradually have to develop closer relations with the USSR as time goes on if it is to survive or at least to survive longer.

Our Ambassador in Amman has recommended that we should respond to this new development with equanimity and should avoid giving the impression of being in a hurry to preempt the Soviets. He suggests that we treat the Jordanian request for more arms as a function of our annual review of Jordanian arms requirements. In this connection, he recommends that we send military representatives to Jordan to consult with the Jordanian military for the purpose of developing a firm request for artillery that we can consider. We are in the process of reviewing these proposals.

Even if we were to decide to sell the King more arms, we might not be able to meet the King’s requirements sufficiently to preclude his going to the Soviets. If he did go the Soviet route, we would have legal problems. Our obligations under our present defense assistance agreement with Jordan are conditioned upon Jordan’s secret undertaking “that it will not purchase major items of military equipment, either [Page 230] ground or air, from other than United States sources without United States approval.” We consider the artillery requested from the Soviets to be in the category of major items of military equipment and, accordingly, if purchased (rather than given) without our approval, we would be legally justified in suspending our defense assistance obligations to Jordan.

Penalizing the King in this manner could well be counter-productive, however, in that it would probably weaken the constructive influence which we would otherwise continue to exercise in Jordan. Therefore, in circumstances in which the King turned to the Soviets we might wish to consider ignoring Jordan’s breach of its arms agreement with us or, conceivably, grant approval if it is requested. Any such decision on our part would have to flow from the assumption that Jordan’s basic policy orientation would remain unchanged and that United States Government punitive action would tend to reverse this policy orientation.

I plan to be in touch with you further on this matter once we have collected more information and have crystallized our views.

William P. Rogers6
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 613, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. II. Secret; Exdis.
  2. Not found.
  3. According to telegram 5294 from Amman, November 1, Hussein confirmed for Ambassador Symmes that he had “asked for Soviet assistance in furnishing Jordan with heavy, medium, and anti-aircraft artillery,” and that the request was made “some time ago.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 613, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. III) Telegram 438 from Amman, January 29, 1970, reported a favorable response from the Soviet Union to Jordan’s request as well as Hussein’s desire to refuse the Soviet offer if the United States would “come through” with its own package in a timely manner. The King emphasized the “urgency of a favorable US response.” (Ibid., Box 614, Country Files, Middle East, Jordan, Vol. III)
  4. See Documents 19 and 24.
  5. Not found.
  6. Rogers initialed “WPR” above his typed signature.