72. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • USUK Talks—Persian Gulf

PARTICIPANTS (Morning Session)

  • UK
  • John Freeman—British Ambassador
  • Geoffrey Arthur—Asst. Under Secretary, Foreign Office
  • Sir Leslie Glass—Ambassador, Deputy Permanent Rep., UKUN
  • Edward Tomkins—Minister, UK Embassy
  • John Thomson—Counselor, Foreign Office
  • Michael Wilford—Counselor, UK Embassy
  • Alan Urwick—First Secretary, UK Embassy
  • Stephen Egerton—First Secretary, UK Embassy
  • US
  • Joseph J. Sisco—Asst. Secretary, NEA
  • Richard Pedersen—Counselor
  • Ambassador William Buffum— USUN
  • Rodger P. Davies—Deputy Asst. Secretary, NEA
  • Harold Saunders—White House
  • Elizabeth Brown—IO/UNP
  • William BrewerNEA/ARP
  • Theodore EliotNEA/IRN
  • Arthur Day—IO/UNP
  • John GatchNEA/ARP

Mr. Arthur said that there was such a short time left during the morning session to discuss the Persian Gulf that he was prepared to come back in the afternoon with whomever was interested and consider the rest of the agenda. Mr.Sisco said he was extremely sorry that he could not come back in the afternoon but asked Mr. Arthur to give him a succinct statement on the Persian Gulf, which Mr. Arthur could expand on in the afternoon session. Mr. Arthur said he would be glad to do this, noting that the UK had only three specific questions it wanted to have answers to. These concerned:

1)
US plans for MIDEASTFOR;
2)
US views on Saudi policy; and
3)
US plans for diplomatic representation in the Gulf.

Mr. Arthur then said that the important thing to remember about the Persian Gulf is that it is the dividing line between the Persians and [Page 227]the Arabs. The British have been there in some force for 100 years and have, in effect, frozen the situation at minimum cost. By the end of 1971 the British will have gone and there will be a serious danger of a confrontation between the Arabs and the Iranians. The main problem lies not on the mainlands of either side but is represented by the islands in the Gulf—Bahrain and the other smaller islands. Mr. Arthur said that if we can settle the problem of Bahrain, we can avoid a confrontation between the Arabs and the Iranians that could prove disastrous. Also, if we can settle the Bahrain question, the question of the other islands would be much easier to dispose of. The main British aim is to do what we can to avoid an Arab/Persian confrontation. The British believe the Soviets will not be able to penetrate the Gulf effectively if the Bahrain question is solved, because such a solution would foster Iranian cooperation with the Arab side and this cooperation would be an effective block to Soviet efforts. Otherwise, the Soviets would be able to play both sides of the Gulf and undoubtedly would be able to establish a position of some influence on the Arab side.

Mr. Sisco asked what the British can do to ensure that a settlement of Bahrain is reached prior to 1972. Mr. Arthur replied that the UK could not “produce” either side. He noted the Shah’s previous insistence on a plebiscite2 and British and Bahraini views of the dangers of a plebiscite. Mr. Sisco asked how a plebiscite would come out. Mr. Arthur said that perhaps a bit of background was necessary here. He said that the Shah does not really want Bahrain—it has a stagnant economy with small and diminishing oil resources. But the Shah regards Bahrain as a “jewel in his crown,” and he doesn’t feel he can give it up unless a way is found to save Iranian face. His first thought had been a plebiscite in which Bahrainis were simply asked whether they wanted to be a part of Iran or not. The British had discussed this with the Bahrainis who rejected it, as indeed had the Kuwaitis3 and as indeed would all Arabs. This rejection is based on both formal and practical grounds. The formal grounds are that, for the Ruler of Bahrain to allow a plebiscite, would be to admit that the Iranian claim had some validity. The practical grounds are that the social fabric of Bahrain is very fragile, made up as it is of about half Sunni and half Shia Moslems, between whom feeling often runs high. To hold a plebiscite would undoubtedly cause serious intercommunal disturbances in Bahrain. Moreover, Bahrain has never had any representative body in its history. A [Page 228]serious security situation could arise if a plebiscite were held. Added to this is the fact that the al-Khalifa ruling family is not basically strong.

Mr. Arthur went on to say that the Shah had backed away from his insistence on a plebiscite, and efforts involving the UK, Kuwait, Bahrain and Iran but not Saudi Arabia have been going on to find some other solution. One thing that has been suggested is to involve the UN, through the SYG, and appoint a representative to ascertain the wishes of the people of Bahrain. The real crunch, according to Mr. Arthur, is that the manner in which this representative would ascertain such wishes would have to be acceptable both to the Shah and to Shaikh ‘Isa, the Ruler of Bahrain. Mr. Arthur said that, before the Shah went on his skiing vacation, this approach (through the SYG) had appeared to be pretty much on the rails but, during the Shah’s absence, both Afshar in Tehran and Vakil4 in the UN had taken some backward steps, at least in the UK view. They both had talked about taking the Bahrain issue directly to the Security Council, a procedure which the British opposed. Mr. Arthur noted the British were very gratified for the line taken by Secretary Rogers and Deputy Assistant Secretary Rockwell with Iranian Ambassador Ansary when the latter had raised this possibility here.5

Mr. Arthur said that the British had not seen the Shah since his return from Switzerland on March 6 and had hoped that the Bahrain issue could be discussed before the Oil Consortium issue. The British are afraid of interaction between these two problems. Mr. Arthur characterized the position at present as not too bad, with the ‘crunch’ not yet reached. The UK realizes that it is going to have to exert pressure on Shaikh ‘Isa, even to persuade him to accept a representative from the SYG to ascertain Bahraini wishes.

Mr. Sisco asked whether a conference of all groups on Bahrain could not be convened to express such wishes. Mr. Arthur said that such a conference would be accused by unfriendly elements as being an instrument either for the Bahrain ruling family or for the British and would not be regarded as representative.

[Page 229]

Mr. Eliot asked Mr. Arthur to elaborate on the relationship between the Bahrain problem and the problem of the other islands—i.e. the Tunbs and Abu Musa. Mr. Arthur said these islands had historically been pirate islands used by the Qawassim. The Qawassim still are in control in Ras al-Khaimah and Sharjah. As far as he knew, Iranians have had nothing on the islands, at least in recent times. Nonetheless, the UK presently regarded Iranian claims to these islands as having more validity than the Iranian claim to Bahrain, although of course they could not admit this to the Iranians. In fact, last summer the British, as we knew, had been trying to arrange a package deal under which the Iranians would give up their claim to Bahrain in return for the Tunbs Islands, as part of a median line settlement. Iran had finally said no. Iran had subsequently been negotiating with Ras al-Khaimah about the Tunbs. SAVAK had become involved, heavy-handedly, on the Iranian side. Originally the UK had hoped that Ras al-Khaimah would acquiesce to the stationing of Iranian troops on the islands in return for some monetary contribution, with the issue of sovereignty left in abeyance. These negotiations had broken down in December.

It had been the Shah’s view that these smaller islands represented a separate issue from Bahrain, but recently there had been a retrogression in this Iranian position and now the Iranians have hinted that the settlement of the Tunbs and Abu Musa was a prerequisite to the solution of Bahrain. The British were nevertheless very much aware of the importance of their own relations with Iran and would go a long way to expedite a settlement of these smaller islands issues.

Mr. Sisco asked whether there was any possibility of having a third party come in to help settle the Bahrain question, noting this device had been used in Indonesia. Mr. Arthur said there had been some discussion about a ‘regional approach,’ an idea which originally had been the Shah’s. The British now like this idea but the Iranians have turned against it. Mr. Sisco wondered whether there could not be a variant where there would be three representatives, perhaps from Turkey, Scandinavia and some Southeast Asian country who would go to Bahrain and try to ascertain the wishes of the people. Mr. Arthur said that he thought the Bahrainis would accept this kind of approach, but reminded the group that the main problem always remained—i.e. that whatever means were used to ascertain the wishes of the Bahrain people would have to be acceptable both to the Shah and the Ruler of Bahrain.

Mr. Sisco thanked Mr. Arthur for his clear presentation and reiterated his extreme regret that he could not attend the afternoon session. He said he hoped the meetings of the last two days represented the first of many such meetings and that he looked forward to the closest of cooperation with the UK on these matters in future.

[Page 230]

PARTICIPANTS (Afternoon Session)

  • UK
  • Geoffrey Arthur—Asst. Under Secretary, Foreign Office
  • Michael Wilford—Counselor, UK Embassy
  • US
  • William BrewerNEA/ARP
  • Theodore EliotNEA/IRN
  • William Hallman—NEA/IRN
  • John GatchNEA/ARP
  • Thomas Carolan—IO/UNP

Mr. Arthur said that he wanted to fill the group in on the latest developments in the effort to settle the Bahrain issue. He said Sir Denis Wright in Tehran had been instructed to see the Shah as soon as possible and to point out to him that, in his absence, the Iranian position appeared to have gone backwards. Wright was told to point ou that the UK does not like the Security Council approach because it believes this would be an uncontrollable exercise. The British do not believe that Iran could get sufficient support in the UN to help its case. The UK wondered whether Iran was really serious in proposing this step. The Shah was to be told that the UK simply could not get Bahrain to agree to a direct approach to the Security Council. Sir Denis was also instructed to propose again either a pre-agreed approach to the SYG, or the regional approach. Sir Denis was instructed to say that a variant of UN endorsement. Mr. Arthur said that Sir Denis has not yet seen the Shah.

Mr. Arthur said that the British might have to take another look at the question of the Tunbs and Abu Musa in light of recent developments, particularly since the Iranians had now taken the position the settlement of these smaller islands was a prerequisite to the settlement of Bahrain.

In this connection, the British felt it was extremely important that the Bahrain issue be settled because of the future of the FAA.6 He believed the Shah could break up the FAA very easily and reported that the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister, Sabah al-Ahmad, had expressed his astonishment to Mr. Arthur last fall at the extent of Iranian influence on the Trucial Coast. This ability of the Shah to influence developments in the area is one reason why the British wanted to take quick action to get the Bahrain question settled. The British feel that it might be feasible and desirable to postpone action on the Bahrain issue for a little [Page 231]while except that the Oil Consortium negotiations were an added complication. The Shah might become so disturbed at the outcome of the Consortium negotiations that he would be unreasonable on Bahrain. On the other hand, if the British let consideration of Bahrain drag on too long, the Shah might accuse the British of shilly-shallying and put it directly to the Security Council. It would have to be a nice judgment on the part of Sir Denis Wright as to how he approached the Shah on these two matters.

Mr. Arthur said there was another possibility which had not yet been put to either side. Iran might renounce its claim to Bahrain but simultaneously conclude a close treaty of friendship with Bahrain under the terms of which Iran would be in a very favorable position in Bahrain. He did not contemplate that Iran would have military bases in Bahrain but would have almost any other concession that it wanted. Under this scheme the act of renouncement and the treaty of friendship could be presented to the Iranian Majlis at the same time.

Mr. Brewer asked how this would affect the rest of the FAA. Mr. Arthur said he did not think they would mind particularly and, in any case, the importance of a Bahrain settlement transcends the importance of the FAA at the moment. If the Bahrain issue could be solved at a cost of not having any FAA, it would be a risk worth taking. Finding a solution to the Bahrain problem was overriding.

Mr. Brewer asked Mr. Arthur for his assessment of what the Shah expects in the Gulf. Mr. Arthur said that the Shah wants to be “boss” of the Gulf and also wants the question of the lower median line settled on as favorable terms as was the median line between Iran and Saudi Arabia. He is also interested in increasing his influence around the Musandam Peninsula and down into Muscat and Oman.

Mr. Arthur then furnished details on the latest meetings in Geneva between the Bahrainis, Iranians and Kuwaitis (along lines previously provided by Mr. Urwick). He said the UK had a commitment to Bahrain and would never try to force the Ruler to accept a plebiscite. Aside from the moral aspects of the commitment, he pointed out that the British want to go to any length to avoid using the UK troops on Bahrain to quell the disturbances that would inevitably arise if a plebiscite were held.

He then discussed the other islands again. He said he had not mentioned the island of Sirri, which the British recognized de facto as belonging to Iran. Actually the British position was that Sirri, the Tunbs and Abu Musa all belong to the Qawassim, but the British felt that, if a satisfactory solution to the Bahrain issue could be found, the Arabs would not be too upset if the Tunbs or, for that matter, Abu Musa went to Iran. He had been assured along these lines by Badr al-Khalid of Kuwait. Realistically, the British expect that, when they go, the small [Page 232]islands will go to Iran. He then quoted a legal appraisal prepared in the Foreign Office regarding the Tunbs and Abu Musa: “We consider any international adjudication of the question of the Tunbs would have a 60–40 chance being decided in favor of Ras al-Khaimah. Likewise, we believe that the same odds would prevail in regard to Sharjah and Abu Musa.” Nonetheless he reflected a pragmatic view of the small islands issue, and said the UK might even withdraw protection over the Tunbs if Ras al-Khaimah were to prove unreasonable in failing to accept an Iranian offer with which HMG might concur. He implied as much with respect to Abu Musa.

Mr. Arthur said, of course, the UK does not want to go to law on these matters because this would have a very bad effect on UK-Iranian relations which the British value highly. He added that, since Iran wants to extend its influence around the Peninsula into Muscat and Oman, it would be bad for the Iranian position if the smaller islands were settled in favor of Iran without a Bahrain settlement. If this happened, the Arabs could say that the whole thing was an Anglo-Iranian plot to substitute Iranian influence for British influence on the Arabian side of the Gulf. This is why the UK wants to get Bahrain out of the way first and then get the other islands question settled. Curiously enough, there have been no negotiations between Sharjah and Iran over Abu Musa. The UK is not quite clear why, but Arthur noted that the Iranian Ambassador in London, Mr. Aram, had told him that the Abu Musa question was “easier.” Mr. Brewer noted that Afshar had told Sir Denis Wright that the Iranians had recently developed some new evidence that strengthened their claim to Abu Musa.

Mr. Arthur then turned to Saudi Arabia. He said the UK was puzzled by Saudi policy. The Saudis support the FAA but have taken no positive action. They have given the impression regarding the Buraimi dispute7 that they have temporarily inactivated their claim, but on all other fronts they have been passive in their relations with the Gulf. The UK Ambassador in Saudi Arabia had tried to persuade King Faisal to send Prince Fahd or someone on a mission to the Gulf to encourage the Shaikhdoms in their efforts to form the FAA, but Faisal had not responded to this suggestion. Mr. Arthur did note that Saudi inaction [Page 233]was perhaps helpful in a negative way. At least they were not causing problems.8

Mr. Arthur read a telegram that had just been received from London concerning the Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon Rumaih (Amb. Rumaih is the Saudi Government’s “expert” on Gulf matters. He was previously Saudi Ambassador in Kuwait.) According to this telegram, Rumaih had been in Abu Dhabi and had spoken quite sharply to Zayid on the Buraimi issue. Shaikh ‘Isa had urged Rumaih to talk to Faisal about further Saudi support for the FAA, and ‘Isa had also recommended that the British talk to Faisal again along these lines. Mr. Arthur said the British were not too sure of what Rumaih had been up to in the Gulf.

Mr. Arthur said that perhaps the UK had been too optimistic about Faisal’s position on Buraimi—i.e. that he was tacitly dropping the issue. He noted that Sir Stewart Crawford thought that there were several things involved in Faisal’s current attitude towards Buraimi. He was preoccupied with events on his own southwestern border, and might over-rate the Saudi potential to prosecute its claim to Buraimi later. Sir Stewart pointed out that Saudi Arabia lacked troop strength to take positive action to support its claim, and furthermore no longer had the financial potential to outbid Zayid in bribing the tribes.

Mr. Arthur asked what the US views were on the reasons for Saudi inattention to Gulf matters. Mr. Brewer said that we were not at all certain of all of the reasons; but thought perhaps that the Saudi attitude could be explained by a combination of slothfulness, statesmanship and preoccupation with other matters. Mr. Brewer recalled that Faisal had appointed Prince Nawwaf to keep a watching brief on the Gulf, but Nawwaf had not been active and lacked prestige. We did believe that Faisal had taken a statesmanshiplike attitude on Buraimi and that this had, in effect, helped the FAA. Mr. Brewer also noted that Faisal was extremely preoccupied with the Arab-Israeli issue—particularly the Jerusalem aspects of it, and was also paying large amounts of money to the UAR and Jordan. All of the foregoing added up to the fact that the Saudis were in fact playing an inactive role. We had, however, done what we could to encourage Saudi interest. Mr. Arthur replied that too much encouragement might be bad, since the Buraimi claim might be reactivated at the wrong time.

[Page 234]

Mr. Arthur said the Saudis were critical of the role Kuwait had played and felt that the Kuwaitis had interfered too much in Gulf matters. Mr. Arthur said he had responded rather sharply to Faisal on this matter last fall, and had defended the Kuwaiti role which he said had been a very helpful one.

In summing up this particular aspect of the picture in the Gulf, Mr. Arthur felt that we still must encourage Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to cooperate before any real progress can be made.

The discussion then turned to the FAA. Mr. Brewer asked Mr. Arthur what his assessment was of the chances of success of the FAA, putting the Bahrain question aside for a moment. Mr. Arthur said that everything really depends on Iran’s attitude. If Iran is against the FAA, it won’t work. Although the converse is not necessarily true, he believes that, if Iran does not oppose the FAA, it has a reasonable chance of success. He said that Zayid is the main worry. The British believe that Zayid wants an FAA if this means that he won’t be exposed on the Buraimi issue. The British believe Zayid thinks he can dominate the FAA and has been trying to moderate his ambitions. In sum, the British believe that things in relation to the FAA are much better than they possibly could have thought a year ago but they are still not overly confident that it will become a going organization. The two main stumbling blocks are Bahrain and Zayid. Zayid has to be persuaded to cooperate and not to dominate. The UK is in a difficult position because it is equally obligated to each member of the FAA.The British have a special responsibility to Abu Dhabi because of Buraimi.

Mr. Arthur then gave a state-by-state assessment of the Trucial States, Bahrain and Qatar.

Bahrain

There is a softness about the situation in Bahrain that is worrisome. There are many disparate elements in Bahrain including a growing number of semi-literate youths without jobs. The situation is potentially unstable and there are several subversive groups, including the NLF, present on the island, although there is a very good Special Branch on Bahrain which has countered these groups quite successfully. One point to remember is that potential subversives assume that the UK troops on Bahrain would be used to put down disturbances, although the British want to avoid this at all costs. The British believe that, left to itself, Bahrain has only a fair chance of surviving in its present form. The British feel, and the Kuwaitis agree, that the Khalifas are a poor ruling family and have not yet demonstrated their ability to stay on top of the situation. Naturally the most important thing to consider in relation to Bahrain’s future is whether Iran’s claim is settled.

[Page 235]

Qatar

The regime in Qatar is safe enough, and the British do not anticipate too much trouble there. This state of affairs is not necessarily because the Qatar rulers are more capable than the Bahraini ones, but simply because there is less inherent difficulty in the Qatar situation. Mr. Arthur noted that the Egyptian advisor, Hasan Kamel, apparently was providing the ruling family in Qatar with good service.

Abu Dhabi

Shaikh Zayid enjoys widespread popularity because of his great wealth. Abu Dhabi will shortly be equal to Kuwait in terms of per capita wealth and potential for development. The British believe Zayid’s position is stable and that Abu Dhabi will remain intact as long as he lives. The relationship between Zayid and Rashid of Dubai is important, and the British are encouraged by recent indications that the two are settling their difficulties.

Dubai

Rashid is in a strong position since he has built up a relatively prosperous country without oil income which is now in prospect. There are some subversives in Dubai but Rashid looks capable of controlling the situation. The most pressing need is for the modernization of Dubai’s administration, and some steps in this direction are being taken.

Sharjah

Sharjah has real problems and the future is uncertain. The danger to the ruling family lies more from its relatives than from any subversive forces.

Ras al-Khaimah

The ruling family has recently had serious trouble with one of the tribes. The Ruler’s unpopularity is not for anything he has done, but because he has been unable to placate the tribes with any kind of financial support. Abu Dhabi has not been helpful in this regard but here again there have recently been some helpful signs of reconciliation between Abu Dhabi and Ras al-Khaimah.

The British fear that Abu Dhabi will far outweigh the other FAA members, particularly in the military field, and this may make it difficult for it to succeed. Abu Dhabi has tried to attain a position of great superiority. The British have tried to moderate Zayid’s ambitions but his army stands at 2,000 now and he has plans to increase it to 3,500 which will make it twice as big as the Trucial Oman Scouts. Abu Dhabi already has a navy of seven fast patrol boats, and has ordered twelve Hawker Hunter aircraft. The army is officered by Jordanian, Pakistani, [Page 236]and UK seconded officers. The British Commander of the Abu Dhabi defense force, Colonel Wilson has recently retired and has gone to live in Buraimi. Mr. Arthur reported that the Abu Dhabians claim that they had received the approval of the other rulers for the acquisition of the Hawker Hunters.

Mr. Arthur then gave a rundown on other local military forces in the area. The Trucial Oman Scouts have a strength of 1,700. Bahrain has a national guard of two battalions, largely Jordanian-officered. Qatar has a police force of 1,850 under Maj. Cochran, a Moslem convert known as Mohammad Mahdi. Dubai planned a defense force of about 500 but is not pressing too hard to achieve this figure. Ras al-Khaimah has a police force of 220 to 300 now trained by the Trucial Oman Scouts. The Sultanate of Muscat has three infantry battalions of approximately 750 men each, mostly Baluchis. The Sultan has five Provost prop aircraft and has ordered six BAC–167s and four Beaver aircraft.

Mr. Gatch asked Mr. Arthur as to the extent of influence Nadhim Pachachi9 had over Zayid. Mr. Arthur said that Zayid took Pachachi’s advice on oil matters but doubted that Pachachi’s influence extended to the political field. Mr. Arthur said that Zayid does not really feel that he needs much advice in the political field, since he apparently is following successful policies of his own making.

Mr. Arthur then turned to the British military presence in the Gulf. He said there were now about 7,000 men and three naval frigates, one of which is always in Gulf waters. Mr. Arthur said that the military withdrawal schedule currently is as follows:

1)
In mid-1969, the Gulf frigates will become a part of the Far Eastern Command, although they will stay in the Gulf area.
2)
On April 1, 1970, thinning out of troops will start in Sharjah.
3)
On January 1, 1971, thinning out of troops will start in Bahrain.
4)
On May 13, 1971, the Kuwait commitment will cease.
5)
On June 30, 1971, all contingency plans will lapse which call for the use of British forces in the Gulf outside the Gulf area. The forces will have no further mission except to protect the Arab states of the lower Gulf.
6)
On October 1, 1971, UK forces will be reduced to the minimum necessary for their own protection.
7)
On January 1, 1972, the withdrawal will be completed.
8)
The Navy will be the last service to leave.
9)
The troops on Bahrain will probably be the last to go—i.e. the troops on Sharjah will leave first.
10)
Fixed assets of a military nature will be turned over to Bahrain and Sharjah after the British leave.
11)
The Trucial Oman Scouts (TOS) will remain in being. By that time arrangements should be in hand to make them self-supporting, the future of the TOS is very much bound up by the evolution of the FAA.

Mr. Brewer asked whether the British Government would help the TOS after 1971. Mr. Arthur said it depends on what kind of help was meant. He recalled that HMG had strongly opposed a suggestion that the British military presence remain in the Gulf but be paid for by the local states. The British would not want to have a direct financial or command relationship with the Trucial Oman Scouts after 1971. Mr. Arthur then turned to the subject of the UK diplomatic position after 1971. Subject to the way the situation develops, the British contemplate putting an Embassy in the capital of the FAA and a consul in each of the other member states where they now have political agents. He noted that the British Consulate General in Muscat is to be raised to Embassy status.

Mr. Brewer then raised, on behalf of Mr. Sisco, a question regarding future US representation in the Gulf. He said the US would appreciate UK views on when US planning to open an office could start. Mr. Arthur mentioned the difficulties that were inherent in the confused situation in the Gulf and said that it would not be advisable for us to put an office in until we knew where the capital of the FAA was going to be. All things considered, he felt we might start planning within a year. He added, however, that the UK was ready to review this question with us at any time and to facilitate the opening of a US office whenever we felt this to be an urgent requirement. It is clearly important that the US question was putting an office in the wrong place. Mr. Brewer said that we were, of course, awaiting clarification as to how the FAA might turn out. Mr. Arthur said that the UK would like to see a US resident representative in Muscat right now. He also said that the Rulers in Bahrain and Kuwait have both asked him to find out what the US position would be in the Gulf when the UK goes. They are both anxious to find out. He asked Mr. Brewer how he foresaw the US position after 1971. Would it be simply a modest diplomatic presence and MIDEASTFOR? He said for numerous reasons the British would like to find out what US intentions are regarding MIDEASTFOR. The British still want to give the US first refusal on the facilities on Bahrain and the sooner they could get an answer from us the better.

Mr. Brewer said that, as the situation in the area evolves, we will be looking at several possibilities for US representation. As of now, we feel that the FAA has a higher priority for our interests than Muscat. MIDEASTFOR, Mr. Brewer said that our current position is the same as it was last fall—i.e. we have no present plans either to augment or decrease MIDEASTFOR, and have no present plans to remove it [Page 238]from Bahrain after the British withdrawal. We are not yet, however, at a stage where we can determine what British facilities we might need. Time will be needed to consider this matter. Mr. Arthur thought that we could wait at least two or three months before the British have to say anything to the Bahrainis about the future of the facilities.

Mr. Arthur said the UK hopes to retain facilities at Masirah Island, including the airport and the BBC medium wave relay station. The British expect that the Sultan will want them to continue providing UK officers for his forces as part return for permission to keep these facilities. The British also hope to keep some minimum facilities at Muharraq airport on Bahrain, and to continue to enjoy landing and overflight rights. He suggested that, when the USG is ready to discuss MIDEASTFOR with the Bahrainis, we should then seek landing and overflight rights at the same time. In general, said Mr. Arthur, the British hoped the US would be in the Persian Gulf in as widely a representative way as possible, both militarily and diplomatically.

Mr. Arthur said he wanted to add one point which was embarrassing but he felt it necessary. The present COMIDEASTFOR had been quoted by Bahrainis as saying that the MIDEASTFOR presence on Bahrain was not only permanent but might increase. If this were in fact true the UK had no objection, but the UK was afraid COMIDEASTFOR might be creating a false impression among the Bahrainis.

Mr. Arthur then turned to a discussion of Muscat and Oman. He said that he knew the Sultan would welcome permanent US and Iranian representatives in Muscat. He said that the Iranians were currently trying to work something out but there had been a hitch because of Iranian reluctance to address the Sultan as Sultan of Muscat and Oman, rather than just of Muscat. Mr. Arthur noted that the Saudis have been taking a more reasonable position in their relations with the Sultan and had stopped supplying arms to the Omani and Dhofari dissidents. Mr. Brewer noted that one of our troubles in dealing with the Sultan was that he still remained in Sallalah.

In conclusion, Mr. Arthur said he wished to express a note of caution about the Persian Gulf. He said that the tentacles of the Palestinian problem reached far down into the Gulf and whatever happens in Palestine would have a profound effect on the Western position in the Gulf. The only exception to this would be Muscat and Oman under present management.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL UKUS. Secret; Noforn. Drafted by Gatch on March 17. Sisco provided Rogers a brief account of this conversation in a March 17 memorandum. (Ibid.)
  2. Apparently a reference to a statement by the Shah at a January 4 press conference in New Delhi.
  3. In airgram A–047 from Kuwait, March 18, Ambassador Cottam stated that the Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah, believed a plebiscite was not a good alternative and that perhaps the UN was a better one. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL KUW–US)
  4. Amir Aslan Afshar, Iranian Representative to the International Atomic Energy Vienna (and future Iranian Ambassador to the United States), and Mehdi Vakil, Iranian Representative to the UN General Assembly.
  5. Telegram 28291 to Tehran, February 22, relayed the information that Iran might take the Bahrain issue to the UN. Iranian Ambassador Ansary also asked for U.S. support in whatever steps Iran might take to solve the dispute. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 33 PERSIAN GULF) The State Department informed Middle Eastern posts: ‘Now that Iran has involved us directly by reason Ansary’s approach (State 28291), we informed UK we believed time had come put our principal officers in field more fully in picture.’ (Telegram 29573 to Jidda, February 25; ibid.)
  6. The potential members of the proposed Federation of Arab Amirates (FAA) were Bahrain, Qatar, and the seven Trucial States of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm al-Qaiwain, Ras al-Khaimah, and Fujairah. According to airgram A–008 from Dhahran, January 19, 1972, after 1968 the British referred to the United or Union of Arab Emirates or UAE, in contrast to the American usage of Federation of Arab Amirates or FAA. (Ibid., Central Files 1970–73, POL 16 UAE)
  7. The Buraimi oasis had been an area of contention for various tribal groups in the eastern portion of the Arabian Peninsula for centuries. Most recently, Saudi Arabia claimed the oasis in 1952, sending troops through Abu Dhabi to capture it. The Saudis withdrew under international pressure, a blockade, and military action by regional expeditionary forces. Arbitration resulted in the establishment of a Saudi police post in the oasis, but by 1955 Abu Dhabi and Oman, with British military and political support, expelled the Saudi police. Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia continued to claim Buraimi.
  8. In telegram 1120 from Jidda, April 3, Eilts wrote that Saqqaf described Saudi policy Sheikh Zayid of Abu Dhabi and possible in the Gulf as “conscious self-restraint” to allow the Shah time to find a solution to the Bahrain problem and to cement Saudi-Iranian relations. Saqqaf also noted that Saudi Arabia was concerned about the activities of NLF subversion. He also recognized that Saudi Arabia suffered from limitations such as Faisal’s reluctance to delegate authority, a shortage of qualified personnel, and an unprogressive image. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 1 NEAR–SAUD)
  9. Iraqi adviser to Shaikh Zayid, representative to OPEC for Abu Dhabi, and Secretary General of OPEC, January 1971.