132. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Prince Fahd, Saudi Arabia
  • Omar Saqqaf, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
  • Ibrahim Al-Sowayel, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia
  • The President
  • Hermann Eilts, U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
  • Harold H. Saunders, NSC Staff
  • Emil Mosbacher, Jr., Chief of Protocol

At the Prince’s request, he and Saqqaf (with Mosbacher and the American interpreter, Camille Nowfel) went into the President’s office for about five minutes of discussion before the rest of the group joined. According to the US interpreter later, nothing of substance was covered during that short period that was not covered in the later meeting.2 As the rest of the group joined the President and Prince Fahd in the President’s office, the conversation was going as follows:

The President said he was aware that being a friend of the United States may cause difficulty for the Saudi government with some extremist groups who are Saudi Arabia’s neighbors. The President hoped that our policies will be such as not to be a liability for our friends but an asset. He said that the US has to talk—and should talk—with both sides in the conflict involving Israel, the UAR, Syria and Jordan. The US is trying to play a role fair to both sides—that of the peace maker rather than of the trouble maker. The President said that was the difference between the US and Soviet roles.

The President continued that, with the British leaving the Persian Gulf area, it becomes doubly important for the US to play a stabilizing role there. The US therefore welcomed Saudi advice on how best to play that role. King Faisal, he said, is a just man who wants to be fair to all sides, and the President would welcome his advice.

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The President added that it would be very helpful if His Highness and King Faisal could convey these sentiments as the President has stated them to their Arab colleagues. Sometimes, the President said, rhetoric and news stories make it seem as if the US, to be blunt, had written off the Arab world. The President said he had a very strong conviction that the US must work with the moderates so that there could be a peace in which all could work and live together.

Prince Fahd said he was very pleased to hear these words. King Faisal shares the sentiments the President had expressed, particularly on the necessity for stability in the Persian Gulf after the British withdrawal. The Saudis trust that actions may be taken so that there will be no trouble after the UK departure. Fortunately, he said, relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran—and personally between King Faisal and the Shah—are very good. This will help improve chances for stability.

The President said that he would be seeing the Shah next week. He was glad to hear that good relations exist between our two friends. Good relations are essential. They are “an anchor in a very troubled sea.” The President said it was important to build strong relations among those who have similar views.

Prince Fahd said that the Shah has shown understanding on the Bahrain issue and had indicated his intent to see it solved.

The President said that he would convey Prince Fahd’s sentiments to the Shah the following week. He said that we must not allow again to happen the kind of divisive experience that the “Yemen exercise” had become in the past.

The President stated his view that it is necessary to separate the forces of stability, responsibility and peace from those bent on destruction by revolution and extremism. Saudi Arabia sits very solidly in that troubled part of the world in the former camp.

Prince Fahd said he was pleased that the President was going to meet the Shah. He suggested that this may be an opportunity to discuss the Bahrain issue and to reach a solution.

He continued, saying that the Communists often publicize false statements about Saudi Arabia’s relations with the US. Their aim is to destroy good relations between us. He said that when he had seen King Faisal before leaving for the US he asked the Prince to assure the President that Saudi Arabia’s intentions are to continue as a friend of the US. The King had asked the Prince to seek the President’s assurance in return, that the US intended to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia. He said that the King regards the US as a friend.

The President said, “His Majesty has that assurance absolutely.” As far as the Communists are concerned, he said, he has had a great deal of experience in dealing with them. His practice is never to believe their word but only their act. In this case, he said that the Communists [Page 416] would not succeed in driving a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the United States. The President continued that the US wants peace and good relations with the USSR but the road to peace is not through vague sentimentalities and soft words but through hard realities and interests on both sides.

Prince Fahd said he is certain that the President realizes Communist objectives throughout the world and particularly in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is in a serious struggle fighting against powerful forces. He believes that Saudi strength comes to a large extent from the US. Saudi Arabia intends to continue as in the past in this struggle because of its interest in democracy and freedom. Saudi Arabia intends to strive to develop the country and make it possible for the Saudi people to enjoy freedom and the good things of life.

The Prince continued, saying he believed that everything in his area depends on a just and fair Arab-Israeli settlement because the longer the problem remains unresolved, the more difficult it becomes.

The President said he could assure the Prince that the highest talents of the US Government are being devoted to the Middle East problem. Next to Vietnam, it is receiving our highest priority attention and energy. A settlement must be a lasting one in which both sides have a vested interest. It is difficult to achieve such a settlement with both sides so far apart and with the Soviets not being very helpful with their friends.

The President said that as he looked at the entire area—the Middle East and the broader Mediterranean area—he saw Iran, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco all trying to proceed on the same course—a path avoiding extremism. Then there were the UAR, Syria, the Sudan and now Libya where revolutionary forces had come out on top. And throughout the area in even the moderate countries there were extremist forces at work. As he looked at these two groups of countries, he saw a race between the forces of stability and those headed for revolution and destruction. The United States, he said, is solidly on the side of the first group.

Prince Fahd said he agreed with the President’s description and believed it was necessary for the people of the area to choose between destruction and salvation. Saudi Arabia would continue to depend on American efforts.

The President said, “We will work together.”

Prince Fahd said he had attended a number of high level Arab meetings. When the US position is discussed critically, he said he reminds the delegates that in 1956 President Nixon was Vice President and the United States took a strong stand in favor of the Arabs. He said he reminds the delegates that the same man is now President of the United States and he cannot believe that the United States does not intend to be on the right path.

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At this point, the President sent for four gift wrapped newly struck copies of the inaugural medal for the three members of the Saudi party and for King Faisal. He presented these to them as “a small token of friendship.”

As the party was waiting for photographers to come in, Saqqaf spoke up, prompting the Prince and saying that the Saudis feel that time is working against them. They feel a rope around their neck. They believe that a settlement cannot wait too long. After the session with the photographers and as the President was shaking hands with Saqqaf after having escorted the Saudi party to their car, Saqqaf underscored his point about the urgency of a settlement, and the President replied that we would continue to make every effort but we had to assure that it be the “right kind of settlement.”3

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 629, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. I. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information. Drafted by Saunders on October 16. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Briefing materials for this meeting are in an October 11 memorandum from Saunders to Kissinger. (Ibid., Box 937, VIP Visits, Prince Fahd Visit, October 1969)
  2. According to an October 18 memorandum for the record, Fahd conveyed Faisal’s greetings, expressed hope that Nixon would act promptly to resolve the Middle East crisis, and noted that Saudi Arabia was increasingly criticized by its Arab neighbors for its close ties with the United States. (Ibid.)
  3. According to Rogers, Fahd was very pleased with his visit, indeed he was quoted as saying that the “chief of state of the greatest nation in the world” walking “with me to the car has overcome me.” (Memorandum from Rogers to Nixon, October 31; ibid.)