85. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1

5038. Subject: New British Government’s Policy re Persian Gulf. Ref: London 4791.2

Unexpected Conservative election victory3 brings into play Tory Party’s east of Suez policy including commitment to re-examine UK plans for withdrawal of military forces from Persian Gulf. FonOff Arabian Dept sources are up to their ears in doing briefing papers and oral briefings of new FonOff leadership (one officer admitted that he and his colleagues had not really anticipated that briefings for a new government would be necessary). However, we have had opportunity for brief low-key talks with Arabian Dept officers and have gleaned following re probable unfolding of Tory government policy re Persian Gulf:
First, our impression is that Arabian Dept staff is somewhat more at ease with new leadership, and relieved that withdrawal policy is to be re-examined.
Arabian Dept is satisfied that new govt’s initial step re Gulf will be restricted to careful consultations with littoral states, including most particularly Iran, and with top British officials in area. This may or may not involve visit to area by new minister.
First public statement of new govt’s plans re Gulf will be brief mention of proposed area consultations during Queen’s speech July 2.
In personal view of Arabian Dept officers, HMG’s Gulf consultations will result at most in “some” delay in withdrawal process.4
FCO officers say that Trucial States now fully expect HMG to stay on. Indication of this is that sheikhs are now noticeably relaxing re FAA schedule. Arabian Dept expects to have difficulty in persuading them to feel any sense of urgency.
FCO officers have been following Iranian press campaign re Gulf.5 They understand clearly that campaign springs from GOI’s uncertainties re future HMG policies re Gulf but appear to feel that Iranians will become somewhat calmer as soon as consultation process gets under way.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 1 NEAR E. Secret. It was repeated to Jidda, Dhahran, Kuwait, and Tehran.
  2. In telegram 4791 from London, June 19, the Embassy reported that it expected the new Conservative government to play a more active and positive role in foreign affairs, including retention of a British military presence east of Suez and a careful probing of the situation in the Persian Gulf. (Ibid., POL 12–1 UK)
  3. In the June 18 elections, the Conservative Party under Edward Heath defeated Harold Wilson’s Labour Party. During his 1969 tour of the Persian Gulf as opposition leader, Heath had stated that the Conservative Party wanted to reverse Labour’s decision to withdraw British forces from east of Suez. (Telegram 3057 from London, April 22; ibid.Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 726, Country Files, Europe, United Kingdom, Vol. I)
  4. According to telegram 2787 from Tehran, June 29, Wright informed MacArthur that a “searching review” of UK Gulf policy was under way in London, but he doubted it would result in any significant change in policy given the Iranian position and opposition from the sheikhdoms. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 1 NEAR E) Telegram 780 from Dhahran, July 18, passed on the information that nearly 100 percent of all British regional posts said the UK should pull out. Regardless of whether the initial decision had been wise, it was now too late to change. (Ibid.)
  5. Iran’s press campaign reiterated the Shah’s stated opposition to any reversal of the British policy of withdrawal. (Telegram 2660 from Tehran, June 22; telegram 2690 from Tehran, June 23; telegram 2714 from Tehran, June 24; and telegram 2794 from Tehran, June 29; all ibid.)