110. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Eliot) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Persian Gulf Situation

On the morning of November 30 Iranian forces landed on the disputed Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb. The Abu Musa landing was in accordance with the British-negotiated arrangement between Iran and the Ruler of Sharjah. The Iranian troops were welcomed by Sharjah officials and occupied a pre-determined portion of the island with the remainder left under Sharjah’s civil administration. Prior to the landing, the Ruler of Sharjah had announced the terms of the arrangement with Iran.

The landing on the Tunbs was made with British acquiescence and was an implicit part of the Abu Musa settlement. The Ruler of Ras al-Khaimah has consistently refused British urging that he cede the Tunbs to Iran in return for Iranian financial assistance. He was notified the Iranian forces would land on the Tunbs but failed to advise his six-man police force on the Greater Tunb which opened fire on the 30-man Iranian occupying force. Three Iranians and four Ras al-Khaimans were killed in the exchange. Ras al-Khaimah has publicized a strong protest to the British, stressing its continuing claim to the Tunbs. The Iranian Government has announced to the Majlis its occupation of the Tunbs and the landing on Abu Musa stressing Iran’s desire to cooperate with all the shaykhdoms on the Arab side of the Gulf.

Arab Reaction:

Prior to the landings, the British briefed Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on the Abu Musa arrangement and the Iranian plan to occupy the Tunbs. All were noncommittal in response, although Saudi Arabia and Egypt indicated the possibility of adverse Arab reaction.

The Kuwaiti, Iraqi, and Syrian governments have now publicly denounced the Iranian occupation, and Iraq has broken diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom over the event. Some Kuwaiti National Assembly members have called for breaking relations with the United States and the United Kingdom as well as Iran.

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Iraq has called for Arab League action and is exploring the possibility of bringing the matter to the United Nations Security Council. According to the British, the Kuwaiti delegation in New York has been instructed to “be reasonable” and we understand Egypt is not eager to pursue the matter in either the United Nations or the Arab League.

British Assessment:

Sticking to their timetable, the British terminated their treaty relations with the Trucial shaykhdoms December 1. The United Arab Emirates is still scheduled to be fully established December 2. The British anticipate making an official statement in Parliament on the Gulf developments December 2.

A Foreign Office spokesman has expressed regret for the loss of life on Greater Tunb. The British, of course, anticipated some adverse Arab reaction, although Iraq’s breaking relations seems to have come as a surprise to them. On balance, the British do not seem unduly concerned about the reaction to date, although they recognize that the unfortunate loss of lives on Greater Tunb will be a peg for more intensified Arab reaction than might have otherwise been the case.

R.H. Miller2
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 647, Country Files, Middle East, General, Vol. VIII. Secret.
  2. Miller signed for Eliot above Eliot’s typed signature.