99. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Your Trip to London—Wrap-up on Persian Gulf

As you depart for London, the state of play in British efforts to organize the Gulf before withdrawing remains fluid. Since this is an issue on which the British are well-versed, you may find the following a useful summary of where matters stand at the moment.

Federation. You have seen the CIA assessment of the broader implications of British withdrawal,2 my background memo3 and the recent cables following William Luce’s latest swing through the area.4 As you know, on Luce’s advice the British decided to approach King Faisal directly to impress upon him the fact that a federation of all nine states appeared to be a non-starter and to seek his cooperation in getting the [Page 320]Bahrainis to go ahead with their intention to declare independence this summer. With that obstacle overcome, the British were hopeful that serious work would begin on forming a federation of seven states (presuming that Qatar would follow Bahrain on the road to independence).
  • —As you know from this morning’s briefing, King Faisal replied that his policy remains a federation of the nine and that the next step should be the convening of a meeting of the nine rulers to determine “who is cooperating and who is not.” [Tab A]5 With many fruitless rulers’ meetings behind them, the British appear exasperated at the thought of another one covering the same ground. At the moment, they are expecting the Saudi Foreign Minister, Saqqaf, in London for further discussions next week. They would like Bahrain to go ahead and declare independence without Faisal’s blessing, and think the King would be manageable.
  • —The Bahrainis have now expressed their unhappiness over Faisal’s intransigence. They have indicated they will continue to prepare themselves for a mid-summer declaration of independence, despite Faisal’s reaction, but want to avoid being blamed as the one Gulf state unwilling to cooperate in federation. They are exasperated that the other Gulf states and Arab states (except Kuwait) have not come to grips with the fact that a federation of the nine is not possible. Nevertheless, our consulate in Dhahran has pointed out that the Bahrainis are still very reluctant to move ahead without Faisal’s blessing. [Tab B]6 It remains to be seen whether they will do so before the deadline for U.N. membership applications in early August.
  • —State feels that Faisal is convinced that the British have not tried hard enough to demonstrate that a federation of the nine is dead. They believe that a rulers’ meeting, as Faisal suggested, with a public head count of “who is cooperating and who is not” would provide the King with the kind of tangible proof he needs to show from his Gulf colleagues— the results of which he could either publicly endorse, giving the go-ahead to Bahrain, or ignore and permit matters to move towards a federation of seven.
The Islands’ Dispute remains as described in our back-up papers.7 William Luce presented the Trucial States with the Shah’s compromise [Page 321]proposal and the matter was left that the Arab side would consider it— but there is little optimism that they can accept the Shah’s insistence on sovereignty. The atmosphere has been clouded somewhat by recent public statements in Kuwaiti press asserting that the islands are “Arab” territory [although privately the Kuwaitis have said they are less concerned about the ultimate disposition of the islands than the way in which a transfer is handled]. These have prompted sharp rebuttals in Iran. Comment: Knowing the Shah’s sensitivities on this question, these public exchanges are not helpful. Further, they may move Kuwait to a position much tougher than the one that they have privately taken. The Shah, like King Faisal, is also suspicious of the British at this point.

Other Issues

Conceivably, the following items may be mentioned in any discussion of the Gulf.

  • COMIDEASTFOR—As you know, we will be taking over the British naval facility on Bahrain and during the next fiscal year will probably qualitatively upgrade our presence by rotating in more modern destroyers and replacing the aging flagship.
  • U.S. Diplomatic Presence—The imminence of the “formal” British withdrawal—permitting the establishment of diplomatic presences of other nations—has set in motion processes within the bureaucracy relating to the establishment of a U.S. presence. State is preparing for consideration in the Under Secretaries Committee proposed staffing for the Gulf, focussed on Bahrain, Oman and one mission in the Trucial States. They are thinking of a lower profile presence at the chargé level, with our ambassador in Kuwait accredited to the three missions. They are also looking at the question of recognition of Bahrain in anticipation of its declaration of independence.
  • Yemen: As you know, after the long war of the sixties between Yemen Royalists (supported by Faisal) and rebels (supported by the UAR), Faisal finally reached an accommodation with North Yemen which brought into power moderates satisfactory to him in 1969. North Yemen has been and remains heavily in debt (especially to the Soviet Union and the Chinese) and despite the Saudis’ oft-repeated concern about radical elements in the Gulf, they have not been very forthcoming on financial assistance. The Yemenis have floated their interest in resumed diplomatic relations with the U.S. but are nervous about getting out in front of the UAR on this question. We have tried to impress upon King Faisal the importance of his following up North Yemen’s [Page 322]more favorable political situation with aid, but with little success. King Faisal continues to pursue a policy of confrontation with the radical South Yemen regime based in Aden. Currently, he is encouraging tribal dissidents, in part through North Yemen, but with little visible success.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 647, Country Files, Middle East, General, Vol. VIII. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information. Hoskin-son initialed for Saunders. A typed note indicates the memorandum was for the London Briefing Book.
  2. Document 96.
  3. Document 98.
  4. Attached but not printed are telegram 2079 from Jidda, June 18; telegram 2112 from Jidda, June 20; telegram 10991 to London, June 19; and telegram 826 from Dhahran, June 22, on which Saunders wrote: “Bahrain exasperated with Faisal’s intransigence.”
  5. Attached at Tab A but not printed is a June 21 paper prepared by Saunders for Kissinger, presumably for inclusion in the President’s Tuesday (June 22) briefing. All brackets are in the original.
  6. Attached but not printed at Tab B is telegram 826 from Dhahran; see footnote 4 above.
  7. The back-up material, sent to Kissinger under a June 18 covering memorandum entitled “The Persian Gulf: Back-Up,” included a June 11 paper entitled “The Persian Gulf”; NIE 30–1–71, Document 98; telegram 5363 to London, June 10, detailing a review session with British officials; and telegram 3243 from Tehran, June 17, which explored the historical basis for Iranian suspicions of British activity and warned of a possible Iranian-British crisis brewing over Persian Gulf issues. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1276, Saunders Files, Persian Gulf)