95. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State1

682. Subject: Persian Gulf Future. Ref: Tehran 0965.2

It is our feeling that British relinquishment of islands to Iran (para 4 reftel) would make Albion’s perfidy known to even remotest and smallest shaikh, and British prestige needed to fulfill ongoing obligations outlined in Foreign Secretary’s March 1 statement to Commons would be significantly undermined to detriment of UK, US and even Iranian interests. While Saudis might secretly welcome UK’s assuming obloquy of releasing Arab soil to Iran, Saudis would also find it useful as tool for belaboring British or as excuse not to accept British urgings in such matters as settlement of Abu Dhabi boundary dispute. However, we think our urging Saudis to mute their public reaction would probably be unnecessary.
We were encouraged by UK FonSec’s firm reassertion of British intent to continue endeavors create Gulf federation. Accordingly, unless Dept perceives objection we intend indicate to Saudis in discussions here that we find Douglas-Home declaration heartening and positive evidence of British intention to leave Gulf in as good condition as possible and that we agree in general with policy Home’s statement lays down.
Fundamental problem with which we most concerned is that of future of FAA. Its defects are many and its progress has been slow, but alternatives seem far less promising. Without some such framework [Page 305]little states will become (with possible exception of Bahrain) punching bags for power politics of their neighbors, Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and perhaps even for USSR.
In their projections of Gulf’s future, Iranians seem to have downgraded federation’s possibilities to almost zero, but a system of undefined ad hoc relationships between Iran and little states does not, it seems to us, offer prospects of stability and security which our enormous interests in Saudi Arabia require. Saudis have been badly distracted by their deep emotional involvement in Arab-Israel situation, disappointingly slow in activating their own role in Gulf and are not as well informed as they should be. Yet, fact remains they have some very clear notions as to their own interests and rights in region. We have had intimations already that they might feel moved to assert rather vigorously what they regard as their just due.
In recent weeks Saudis have put their shoulder to wheel towards FAA’s realization, and we are optimistic that with British prodding SAG will make further moves towards assisting FAA to come to life. Such a trend draws Saudis into useful, constructive role in Gulf affairs, builds up concept in Saudi minds that co-existence rather than co-opting is best means for living with Gulf shaikdoms.
Comparison of proposed FAA with PDRY as probable sad sequel to British efforts in Aden seems to create automatic pessimism in many minds regarding FAA’s future. There are two important differences: FAA would have money with which to buy arms and/or mercenaries they need for defense. Secondly, the British are withdrawing voluntarily from Gulf rather than being driven out by well-organized, outside-supported, leftist elements who became inevitable successors in Aden.
Saudi regime, whatever its weaknesses and peculiarities, does have the power to play a useful role in supporting Gulf stability. Like Iran, it is overly pre-occupied at moment with a territorial matter—its dispute with Abu Dhabi. When it comes to matter of substance Faisal is still shrewd and preceptive, and it is worth noting that Saudi Arabia under its present system has enjoyed absolute quiet and security in recent months, whereas in Arab states elsewhere Palestinian guerrillas have disrupted some with acute insecurity and afflicted others with severe internal tensions.
We would still hope there might be some means of encouraging Iranian support for federation. If there is not, then in any case we believe US policy should continue urging collaborative UK–Kuwait– Saudi support for it and that we ourselves would recognize clearly that some form of federation is the only hopeful alternative we have for future of Gulf and correspondingly for protection our large interest in Saudi Arabia.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 629, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. II. Secret; Exdis. It was repeated to Dhahran, Kuwait, London, and Tehran.
  2. Dated March 1. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 33 PERSIAN GULF)