161. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Saudi–United States Relations


  • The President
  • Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, Minister of Defense and Aviation of Saudi Arabia
  • Ambassador Ibrahim al-Sowayel, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia
  • Secretary of Defense Hon. Melvin R. Laird
  • General Haig, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Camille Nowfel, Department of State, Interpreter

The President welcomed Prince Sultan and said that Secretary Laird had informed him of his talks with the Prince.2 The President said he realized the dangers that threaten the Middle East and appreciated this opportunity to talk with the Prince particularly as he had recently held discussions with the Shah of Iran. Referring to recent developments in Iraq, the President said that the strength and stability of our friends in the area such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Jordan is very important to preservation of security in the region. He was pleased to note that Saudi Arabia has been giving support to Jordan and has been cooperating with Iran in this respect. The President described King Hussein of Jordan as a truly courageous man worthy of support and assistance.

Prince Sultan thanked the President for receiving him and conveyed to the President the greetings and respects of His Majesty, King Faisal. Saudi Arabia considers the United States to be the champion and the defender of peace throughout the world. Whenever the name of President Nixon is mentioned, people immediately equate it with [Page 515] peace and service to the cause of peace. The Prince especially appreciated the President’s remarks about the security situation in the area since this reflected the President’s complete understanding of the Saudi Arabian situation. He wished to assure the President of Saudi friendship for the Shah of Iran, of its good relations with Jordan, Kuwait and with most of its neighbors. In fact, Saudi Arabia is friendly with every country in the area except those countries which do not wish its friendship.

The President sought Prince Sultan’s opinion regarding the possibility of a brief stop in the Persian Gulf area by Secretary Rogers following the SEATO meeting in Australia.3

The Prince warmly welcomed Secretary Rogers visit to the Gulf saying it is always good to have a friend visit us.

The President asked about the military situation in Saudi Arabia.

Secretary Laird explained that he and the Prince had discussed this subject and had talked about training programs, the modernization of the Saudi Armed Forces and the need of Saudi Arabia for naval craft. He described the relationship between the United States Department of Defense and the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defense and Aviation as excellent.

The Prince expressed his gratitude to Secretary Laird and to each of the three military service Secretaries for the extensive discussions he held with them at the Pentagon on Tuesday, June 13. The meetings had been pleasant, inspiring and encouraging and the Prince was hopeful that Saudi Arabia will have from the United States the cooperation needed to improve its military posture and to modernize its Armed Forces.

Secretary Laird added that the discussions had covered the F–5 aircraft being purchased by Saudi Arabia from the United States as well as spare parts and other military equipment. These matters are going to be looked into further.

The President expressed his hope that there will be close cooperation between Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran in light of recent developments in Iraq.

Prince Sultan agreed stating that King Faisal has improved relations with Iran to the point where today Saudi Arabia has an excellent relationship with that country, despite the fact that there once had been boundary problems with Iran. The same is true of Saudi relations with Kuwait. Both on-shore and off-shore, difficulties with Kuwait had been [Page 516] overcome and, in fact, King Faisal had given to Kuwait Port Saud in an effort to improve relations. The Prince said that Saudi Arabia wishes to assure everyone that it is a peace loving nation that believes in construction and opposes destruction.

The President asked about the loyalty of the Saudi Arabian Armed Forces to the King and to the Prince saying that he recognized that this was a very sensitive question.

The Prince expressed his appreciation for the concern for Saudi Arabia that lay behind this question. He explained that in 1960 the Saudi Government had discovered that some of its Armed Forces personnel had become involved with women of ill repute and were being blackmailed by agents of Egyptian President Nasser. These young men were enticed to undertake a revolt by promises that they would, if successful, be given positions of high authority. This had happened prior to 1962 when conditions in Saudi Arabia were bad, particularly because of the misrule of the late King Saud. There was instability and confusion and then Crown Prince Faisal was deprived of authority to do anything to help improve that deplorable situation. Later, however, when King Faisal assumed the reins of government, the authorities had begun to gather information about certain elements within the Armed Forces. Nothing drastic was done at that time (1962) but it was realized that these young men had direct relations with Egypt and that Egypt was behind their subversive activity.

The Prince continued that in 1964 President Nasser air-dropped arms and ammunition to these men to carry out their subversive role. These weapons were to be dropped at a point between Jidda and Medina and some tribes in that area were to be recruited to use these arms to overthrow the Government in Jidda, seize power and bring about a division of the country between the Hijaz and Najd. However, the tribes and a number of Armed Forces personnel being trained in that area had taken possession of these arms and brought them to the Government. The arms were of Egyptian origin and stamped “made in Egypt.” The Saudi Government announced this incident to members of the diplomatic community and to all the world so that they might know that Egypt was trying to stir up subversion within the Saudi Armed Forces.

The President asked if there were any Communist subversive activities in Saudi Arabia today.

The Prince said that two Communist-connected cells have been discovered: one 20-man cell in the Hijaz and another 12-man cell in Dhahran. The Saudis have looked for others but have not found any. Those involved were arrested and brought to trial. Assuring the President that the Saudi Armed Forces were absolutely loyal to King, country and religion, the Prince said that many members of the military had [Page 517] insisted upon execution of those of their colleagues arrested for subversive activity. However, the King had ordered them court martialed. The legal proceedings in this case were concluded about one month ago and all have been sentenced to prison terms. None will be executed. It is the Government’s desire that instead they be rehabilitated and become again good citizens of their country. The Prince cited as the best evidence of the loyalty of the Armed Forces to the King what happened during the Yemen Civil war. At that time President Nasser had made great efforts to overthrow the Saudi Arabian Government sending 80,000 Egyptian troops to Yemen to help achieve that aim. Added to this were the problems created by the late King Saud and his efforts to undermine King Faisal. All of these efforts, however, were of no avail, proving beyond any doubt that Saudi Arabia’s Armed Forces are loyal to the King, dedicated to the service of their country, and opposed to all subversive elements.

The President said that he was pleased to hear this. He wished to assure the Prince that he would keep in touch with him through Secretary Laird. It is in the United States interest that Saudi Arabia remain strong and independent.

The Prince thanked the President for giving him so much of his valuable time. At this point, he asked Mr. Nowfel to translate into English a note from King Faisal to the President. When Mr. Nowfel had done so, the President asked that a written translation be made and delivered to General Haig so that a reply to it might be prepared.4 The Prince also delivered to the President a note, with an English translation prepared by the Saudis, itemizing points of mutual concern.5

The meeting concluded with the Prince conveying to the President the greetings and best wishes of his brother, Prince Fahd. The President in turn asked that his greetings be conveyed to Prince Fahd and to His Majesty, King Faisal. The President also thanked Prince Sultan for the gifts which had been delivered that afternoon to the White House.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL SAUD–US. Secret; Exdis. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Sultan met with Rogers on June 14. At this meeting, the two men discussed the Moscow Summit, the radical Arab threat, North Yemen, and the Saudi concern for Sadat. (Telegram 109890 to Jidda, June 16; ibid., POL 7 SAUD) In his June 15 meeting with Sultan, Sisco discussed the Arab-Israeli conflict and other items in the talking points in detail. (Memorandum of conversation; ibid.) See also Document 191.
  2. In his June 13 meeting with Laird, Sultan reviewed the two major political trends in the Middle East, the “continuing aggression against the Palestinians” and the “great concern in the Middle East, particularly among religious leaders, regarding the growth of pro-Soviet and pro-Chinese elements.” (Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330–75–0125, Box 16, Saudi Arabia 000.1—1972)
  3. Rogers was scheduled to attend the SEATO and ANZUS Council Meetings June 24–25 in Canberra, Australia. Following this conversation, however, Sisco told Sultan that Rogers planned to stop in Bahrain to indicate U.S. interest in the Gulf but would not have time for a stop in Saudi Arabia. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 7 SAUD)
  4. Nixon’s letter to Faisal, July 21, is ibid.
  5. Apparently a reference to the policy paper summarized in Document 160.