86. Telegram From Secretary of State Rogers to the Department of State1

Secto 110/5496. Subj: Sec Visit: Discussion with Foreign Secretary—Persian Gulf.2

Sir Alec said that the situation in the Gulf presented a complicated problem. The basic UK purpose was to contribute to stability in the area. The previous government had tried to employ shock tactics in the hope that the Gulf rulers would be obliged to work out their [Page 273] differences and move toward some effective arrangement. Sir Alec thought the Labor Government’s main mistake had been that they set too short a time frame.
Sir Alec said the general aims were to get local disputes settled, to assist in the formation of a federation or confederation and to provide for the establishment of a security force of some kind.
Sir Alec had seen the Shah on the previous day.3 The Shah was adamant that Iran should have control over the three disputed islands in the Gulf (the Tunbs and Abu Musa). If diplomatic efforts did not result in giving satisfaction to Iran, the Shah would take the islands by force. Such a situation would mean that Britain would be bound to resist the Iranians; consequently, the UK intended to make maximum diplomatic efforts to influence the Gulf rulers concerned and Saudi Arabia to agree to some arrangement to satisfy the Iranian demand on the islands. If the island question could be settled, the Shah would then cooperate with British efforts to promote stability in the area. The Shah would support some form of union of the Emirates and British plans for providing a security force for the union. Sir Alec thought British officers could be seconded to such a force and that British training missions might also be provided. It was hoped that the Trucial Oman Scouts could be installed as the security force for an FAA. The Shah also suggested that a continued British naval presence in the Gulf be effected through expanded British participation in CENTO. This could provide for more frequent visits by British naval units and participation in collective training exercises.
Sir Alec said that one of the principal obstacles to achieving this rather complicated design was the hopeless incompetence of the Arabs. This was particularly true with the Saudis.4 Faisal was getting old and was inclined to do things without telling his subordinates; furthermore, he did not have people around him capable of giving good advice. The UK intended to make an intensive diplomatic effort with the Arabs. There would soon be a new British political adviser in the Gulf and Sir Alec also intended to send a personal representative to the area.5

The Secretary inquired what the publicly announced British policy would be in the circumstances described. Sir Alec responded that the British presence would be indirect and that the main visible presence would be naval. Sir Alec went on to indicate his conviction that the Gulf rulers concerned, as well as the other Arab nations, would not publicly state that they wanted the British presence to remain, although some of the Gulf rulers would say so privately. Sir Alec thought it unlikely that the British presence could remain much longer than about six months later than the withdrawal date originally set by the previous government.

The question was raised whether a treaty arrangement under which a union of Emirates would express their desire to receive a British force might be feasible. Sir Alec thought it might be worth trying but that it would be difficult to insert a British presence anew. He thought he could begin to see the outlines of an arrangement which would involve mainly the Trucial Oman Scouts serving as an organ of the Emirates and a British naval presence under the umbrella of CENTO.

The Secretary said the U.S. would like to see as much British presence in the area as possible. He thought that if a naval presence were to be maintained under CENTO, it should be done in a regular way and not intermittently. In response to Sir Alec’s request, the Secretary indicated that the U.S. would be prepared to help with the Shah.
Department repeat other posts as desired.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, ORG 7 S. Secret; Exdis. Rogers was in London July 10–12 to meet with Heath and Douglas-Home.
  2. Telegram 11787 to Tehran, July 22, summarized the meeting between Rogers and Douglas-Home. (Ibid.) Freeman met with U. Alexis Johnson to provide detailed information on current British thinking about the Gulf prior to Rogers’s visit. (Memorandum of conversation, July 2; ibid., POL UKUS) Between this meeting and Rogers’s meeting with Douglas-Home, the Foreign Office completed its review of Persian Gulf issues, emphasizing its expectations of trouble with both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and its need for U.S. support for British efforts with both countries. (Telegram 5379 from London, July 8; ibid.,DEF 1 NEAR E) Both MacArthur and Eilts agreed with this British assessment, but believed it was necessary for the British to make every effort to work with Iran and Saudi Arabia. (Telegram 2659 from Jidda, July 9, and telegram 2972 from Tehran, July 10; ibid.)
  3. A summary of this meeting was transmitted in telegram 5406 from London, July 9. (Ibid., POL 33 PERSIAN GULF)
  4. Telegram 5591 from London, July 14, relayed the information that Faisal had refused to meet with Douglas-Home despite repeated requests. (Ibid., DEF 1 NEAR E)
  5. Geoffrey Arthur, Assistant Undersecretary in the Foreign Office, became the Political Resident in the Gulf, and Douglas-Home appointed Sir William Luce on July 30 as his personal envoy to the Persian Gulf. The primary objectives of the Luce mission were the creation of a federation of nine states that could guarantee post 1971 stability against subversion and the settling of outstanding disputes. (Airgram A–1233 from London, July 30; ibid., POL 17 UKFAA, and telegram 6281 from London, August 10; ibid., POL 33 PERSIAN GULF)