23. Minutes of Senior Review Group Meeting1


  • Regional Strategy and the Arabian Peninsula/Persian Gulf NSSM 181–182


  • Chairman:
  • Henry A. Kissinger
  • State:
  • Kenneth Rush
  • Joseph Sisco
  • Alfred Atherton, Jr.
  • Thomas Thornton
  • DOD:
  • William Clements
  • Robert C. Hill
  • James H. Noyes
  • JCS:
  • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
  • Vice Adm. John P. Weinel
  • CIA:
  • Lt. Gen. Vernon Walters
  • Samuel Hoskinson
  • John Waller
  • Treasury:
  • Gerald Nensel
  • NSC Staff:
  • Brig. Gen. Brent Scowcroft
  • Harold Saunders
  • Harold Horan
  • Col. T. C. Pinckney
  • Mrs. Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

—the Working Group would prepare a paper spelling out in more detail what we might actually do under the different approaches to the problem, both in terms of an overall U.S. strategy in the area and in a contingency sense, both in Saudi Arabia and in the Emirates;

—Defense and the JCS would consider the role of a naval presence;

—State would do what it could to upgrade U.S. representation in the area.

Mr. Clements: The Shah wants to ride in an F–14 while he is here. It’s operational now, and he has indicated he wants to buy a squadron of F–14s and F–15s at some point.

Mr. Kissinger: Do you not want him to fly? I’ll call their Ambassador and tell him that we would feel better if he did not fly in a U.S. Government aircraft while he is in the U.S.

Mr. Clements: No, I don’t want you to. He really wants to fly it. He is a professional—he’s no kid.

[Page 71]

Mr. Kissinger: Ken (Rush), what do you think?

Mr. Rush: I don’t think he should fly in any U.S. military plane while he is here.

Mr. Kissinger: Dick (Walters)?

Gen. Walters: The Crown Prince is only 13 years old.

Mr. Kissinger: If he wants the aircraft he will buy it whether he flies it or not. He’s not a child; he’s a highly intelligent, cold-blooded, calculating, tough man. I can call his Ambassador and say the President is worried about his flying in this plane. It can be done so that it flatters him.

Mr. Sisco: I agree that it should be done as you describe. I recommend you make the call.

Mr. Hill: What if he comes back and says he still wants to fly it?

Mr. Kissinger: Of course, we can say that if he has his heart set on it, okay. But the President would feel easier if he did not have that one worry in 10,000. The Shah will be flattered.

Adm. Moorer: And then he will fly it. That way we get the best of both worlds.

Mr. Clements: You have to consider his motivation. Not only is he interested in the weapon, but this is also a great image builder for him. A demonstration of his virility.

Mr. Kissinger: We won’t stop him, but we’ll just say our minds would be easier if he didn’t do it.

I thought we might have a follow-on today of last week’s discussion, focussing on the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, and on the Saudi Arabian contingency paper which I want to discuss briefly.2 Dick (Walters), do you have a briefing for us?

Gen. Walters briefed from the attached text.3

Mr. Kissinger: Joe (Sisco), do you want to discuss the State Department paper on a basic approach?

Mr. Sisco: This paper tries to analyze how we believe Moscow looks at the region as a whole. It outlines two approaches from our point of view: 1) as a Soviet-American issue which includes the element of détente in Europe; and 2) the area viewed as a whole but also as sub-regions in which we should consider the various indigenous [Page 72] forces. We come out with an inevitable mixing of the two strategies. There is no easy, simplistic, one-course response. Our strategy could manifest itself in bilateral state-by-state relations. The two strategies are not mutual exclusive. But we would like to explore whether you (Mr. Kissinger) feel, given our evolving relationships with the Soviet Union and the PRC, that there is any new kind of leverage to move from a policy of détente in Europe and non-confrontation in this region—to move to active cooperation to stabilize the area. We have serious doubts if the Soviets want to go beyond the avoidance of war and confrontation. This situation gives them an opportunity to probe for soft spots and exploit any opportunity.

Mr. Kissinger: I’m not astonished by PRC activities in this area. This will sort itself out—we can handle it. With regard to the active cooperation of the Soviets, it would be difficult to obtain in Moscow and it might bring the Chinese in in a more active way. I believe the Soviets would go along with non-confrontation, but it depends on the definition of non-confrontation. The problem is whether the objectives of Soviet policy can work adversely to our interests. If there should be a successful Iraqi association with the Soviet Union, we could get the evolution General Walters described at the meeting last week (SRG meeting on NSSM 182, July 13, 1973). If non-confrontation makes the friends of the Soviet Union pay a heavy price for that friendship and strengthens the countries which are supporting stability in the area, then it is in our interest.

Mr. Sisco: We have some real assets in various places.

Mr. Kissinger: We should be careful not to draw the Israelis in. We don’t have to pay any additional price for their being strong.

Mr. Sisco: That makes a great deal of sense. We can continue our support to Iran and Jordan but keep the door open to Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Kissinger: But make them pay a price. Keeping the Kurds active in Iraq would not be contrary to our interest.

Mr. Sisco: Not at all—it would be helpful. With regard to the Aden regime in South Yemen, Saudi Arabian equipment is now going into North Yemen, and we hope Jordan will help too. Jordan, Iran and others are involved in Oman, where there is a Dofar rebellion supported by the Soviets. They’re paying a price. We’re doing it by stimulating our regional partners. Of course, there is an incremental element. We have to do something to sweeten the pot to get them to move. I was struck by the statement of an Iraqi leader three days ago in which he said he would welcome an opportunity to talk to us.4 Our man in Baghdad has been very limited in his contacts.

[Page 73]

Adm. Moorer: We have intelligence reports indicating that the Iraqis are easing back some on their involvement with the Soviets.

Mr. Sisco: We’re recommending a quiet chat with the Iraqi man here.

Mr. Kissinger: I got in trouble when I used the word “expel” in 1969, but if we could get the Soviets to suffer a mis-adventure in Iraq it could curb the Soviet appetite in the Middle East.

Mr. Sisco: I wouldn’t be so modest in using the word “expel”. There are signs that Iraq, as a minimum, is trying to keep the door open to the West. As a maximum, they’re trying to loosen their link with the Soviets. I don’t want to overdraw this situation, though.

Mr. Kissinger: If that happens, what?

Gen. Walters: The Iraqi Government has just agreed to work more closely with the Iraqi Communists.

Mr. Sisco: They added two members to the Government, but they also talked about adding Kurdish members—a tripartite arrangement.

Mr. Clements: There are 2½ million Iranians in Southern Iraq. The Shah should be encouraged to stimulate them.

Mr. Kissinger: Every time he has tried it the Iraqis have known about it.

Mr. Clements: You can’t do it without some risk. He should stir the pot.

Mr. Rush: We hope to stir the pot in our direction.

Mr. Kissinger: What should we discuss with the Shah when he is here? What do we want from him?

Mr. Sisco: We may find him concerned that we’re preoccupied with détente in Europe and not sufficiently vigorous in recognizing and countering Soviet machinations in his area. Any assurances we could give him in this regard would be very desirable. We should emphasize that the Shah is a primary element of stability. We can understand his exasperation and irritation with King Faisal, who is dragging his feet, and we’re relying on the Shah to draw out Faisal and move him toward greater cooperation. But, remember, power both attracts and repels. Faisal doesn’t mind a strengthened Iran but is worried about Persian power; but the Shah can deal with this.

Mr. Clements: This Shah-Saudi relationship is overplayed. Faisal is looking for signals from the U.S. He is worried that his direct communication with us is not as strong as Iran’s. It’s improving and he hopes in time it will be equally good. But he has serious misgivings about an Iranian battalion in Oman. These cables talking about how the Shah and [Page 74] Jordan could take over Saudi Arabia in case of a rebellion are bad business.5

Mr. Kissinger: Why is it bad business?

Mr. Clements: We can get in an awful jam.

Mr. Sisco: The point is to stress to the Shah that he should do everything he can to strengthen cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Rush: The Shah wants an alliance with Faisal. Faisal is torn between the dangers of a leftist rebellion and being swallowed by the Shah. The Shah thinks he and Saudi Arabia would be a powerful base if they could get together. We could talk to the Shah in a low key about his concern that we and the Soviets are doing something that might affect him.

Mr. Kissinger: Like what?

Mr. Rush: Something on the Persian Gulf, oil in the Middle East, Pakistan. We could assure him that our dealings with the Russians have nothing to do with him.

Mr. Sisco: And that we are alive to the Soviet threat in the area.

Mr. Rush: He thinks India and the Soviet Union are anxious to foment difficulties on Baluchistan and Pushtunistan.

Mr. Kissinger: Particularly now with the change in Afghanistan.

Mr. Rush: Yes. He thinks India and the Soviet Union want to break up Pakistan.

Mr. Kissinger: Iran can play a regional role. You could argue that it would not be in Saudi interest to get it involved in this kind of foreign policy issue. It might undermine the monarchy if we pushed too much. They are interested in South Yemen and Oman. In the general scheme of things, maybe the best thing Saudi Arabia can do is to stay alive in its present structure.

Mr. Clements: Absolutely. They have all the fish they can fry at home.

Mr. Kissinger: But as a concept, what’s wrong with the cable? If a version of Quadhafi takes over in Saudi Arabia, what do we do? Do we negotiate with him? This should be prevented. As Saudi Arabia modernizes, with our help, the probability of revolution increases. If a Quadhafi takes over, what course should we take?

Mr. Rush: We don’t consider the Saudi Arabian situation so precarious.

Mr. Kissinger: Fine. But what’s wrong with the contingency planning in the cable? We’re not promoting or advocating the contingency. [Page 75] We should try to prevent the contingency, but what do we do if Radio Jidda announces a take-over by a group of left-leaning Colonels?

Mr. Rush: We should give careful attention to the various contingencies.

Gen. Walters: History doesn’t wait.

Mr. Clements: It’s not our place to make history.

Mr. Kissinger: What does that mean?

Mr. Clements: The Shah has got the big eye on the whole area. He would like nothing better than for us to include him in U.S. contingency plans in a hiatus. He will make the hiatus.

Mr. Kissinger: Suppose he doesn’t, and it occurs. What do we do?

Mr. Clements: We should be giving more attention to Saudi Arabia itself. There are many things we could do to strengthen its position. The Shah is telling everyone how unstable Saudi Arabia is. He’s been forecasting doom for the last five years.

Mr. Kissinger: The problem is to get our government ready for a contingency when it arises. We shouldn’t make it or encourage the Shah to make it.6 But we want to get some basic thinking on our choices, should it happen. This is a good paper.

Mr. Sisco: We tried to develop honest choices. It wasn’t easy.

Mr. Kissinger: What are the basic types of approach?

Mr. Sisco: We see three contingencies: 1) gradual deterioration, 2) civil war, and 3) a successful coup.7

Mr. Kissinger: Would we know the nature of the coup? Could we identify the possible effect on U.S. interests in a short time?

Mr. Sisco: I’m not sure.

[Page 76]

Mr. Kissinger: We really wouldn’t know?

Mr. Sisco: If you ask me the worst thing that could happen, it would be a take-over by radical elements without any prior knowledge. Our options would be 1) American intervention, where the difficulties are obvious; 2) consultations with the Shah on the contingencies: if it occurred, what would you be willing to do? what is your capacity? what prior preparation would be required? and 3) involvement of Jordan in the discussions. But how would we prevent it from leaking? It would be compared to the 1956 French-British-Israel collusion. There would be charges of a U.S.-Iranian-Jordanian scheme to dismember Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Kissinger: We can do contingency planning in two ways: 1) what do we want to promote and what assets do we have, without discussing it with others; and 2) planning which includes others. If Jordan might play a role, we should keep this in mind in our arms policy, without telling the King of Jordan about it. He’s no fool.

Mr. Clements: I agree. If we start on that track he’ll be three jumps ahead of us.

Mr. Kissinger: The King of Jordan couldn’t take on Saudi Arabia without overwhelming problems.

Mr. Sisco: Syria and Iraq would jump in. Then Israel might. How could we contain such intervention without it’s spreading and involving all of the Middle East.

Mr. Kissinger: We wouldn’t give a damn about Saudi Arabia if it didn’t have most of the oil in the region. The question is what we should do if two years from now we find ourselves dealing with a Quadhafi.

Mr. Rush: Could we really consider a military option?

Mr. Kissinger: This is damned serious. Some problems are so essential to our survival that we have to consider it seriously.

Mr. Clements: I agree, we have to consider it seriously. But I haven’t even seen the paper yet.

Mr. Sisco: You have had the paper since it was finished. But we had a very short fuse on this.

Mr. Noyes: (to Mr. Clements) It’s the paper I showed you yesterday. I put it in your briefing book.

Mr. Kissinger: It’s our fault for the short fuse on this. But we wanted to have something if it were raised by the Shah. I see a problem about discussing it with the Shah—it might whet his appetite.

With regard to the general strategy, the paper lays out not so much alternative directions but alternative emphasis. We could do anything under either alternative. Assuming we don’t want a confrontation with the Soviets but that we want to make things difficult for them and help [Page 77] our friends, what should we do? Bill Clements has spelled out what he wants to do for Saudi Arabia. What should we do if one of the key countries, like Saudi Arabia, starts collapsing? The three alternatives are good, but can we spell them out in more detail? What would we do?

Gen. Walters: Plus preventive measures.

Mr. Sisco: We can do a little better.

Mr. Kissinger: There is enough here to prepare the President for his talks with the Shah. We should not discuss this with the Shah. But we should get this spelled out both in terms of overall strategy and in the contingency sense. Let’s do the same thing for the Emirates. What would we do in a contingency, if anything?

Mr. Clements: We should consider their vulnerability. The Shah wants an unstable situation here. If there were trouble, he’d be in in five minutes. There are strained relations between some of these rulers and Iran.

Gen. Walters: Iranian military intervention in the Peninsula would arouse the Arab world.

Mr. Kissinger: Could Admiral Moorer and Defense include some thinking on the role of a naval presence as we evolve a strategy.

Adm. Moorer: We might beef it up some.

Mr. Kissinger: Dick (Walters), you have a look of doubt?

Gen. Walters: In any paper on the United Arab Emirates, you have such a disparity of conditions, dynastic rivalries, their childish displays with Saudi Arabia over infinitesimal areas of territory.

Mr. Kissinger: But what developments there might threaten our interests? Let’s try to identify them and know what we would do.

On another matter, I’ve heard complaints about our representation there.

Mr. Rush: Dick Helms says our representation is too low; that we’re hurt by not having Ambassadors there.

Mr. Kissinger: How about the quality?

Mr. Rush: It’s both titles and quality.

Mr. Sisco: We’ve recommended upgrading our representation, but it’s a Congressional problem. Fulbright is against it.8

Mr. Kissinger: Are we short in Saudi Arabia too?

Mr. Clements: We’re short of people and quality—State [less than 1 line not declassified] and the military are in the same boat. We’re short of budget and equipment.

Mr. Sisco: I agree.

[Page 78]

Mr. Kissinger: Let’s include considerations such as these.

Mr. Clements: Can State transfer people from one area to another with a higher priority?

Mr. Rush: Yes, we do it all the time.

Mr. Sisco: The response to NSSM 181 makes a concrete recommendation for upgrading our personnel.9

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, TS SCI, Box SCI 18, SRG, February 1971–July 1973. Top Secret; Sensitive; Codeword. The meeting was held in the White House Situation Room.
  2. The SRG met on July 13 to discuss NSSM 182, May 10, “Implication for U.S. Policy of Probable Lines of Soviet Strategy and Policy in the Eastern Mediterranean, Near East, Arabian Peninsula, and South Asia.” The minutes of the meeting and the contingency paper prepared in the Department of State in response to NSSM 182 are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–9, Documents on Middle East Region; Arabian Peninsula; North Africa, 1973–1976.
  3. Attached but not printed.
  4. See Document 223 and footnote 5 thereto.
  5. Not further identified.
  6. In a July 23 briefing memorandum for Kissinger’s meeting with Helms (see Document 24), Saunders noted the “general feeling” at the SRG meeting that “Jordanian and Iranian involvement should not be encouraged and that this subject should not be discussed with the Shah, lest it encourage him to assume an Iranian role in the Peninsula that would not necessarily improve prospects for stability.” Saunders continued that despite Saudi limitations, “we do want Faisal to play an active role in contributing to stability in his own Peninsula.” Although circumstances could produce conflict between the two, “it does seem important to do what we can, if anything, to encourage a closer personal relationship between the Shah and Faisal.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 603, Country Files—Middle East, Iran, Vol. V, May–December 1973)
  7. In backchannel message 100 from Tehran, October 11, Helms wrote of his two sessions with the Shah on contingency planning for a potential crisis in Saudi Arabia, whether a military coup, a succession crisis following Faisal’s death, or a civil war between army elements and supporters of the Royal family. Although the Shah had “no intention of putting anything on paper until he sees what USG is prepared to do,” he was clear on U.S. responsibilities: identifying a Saudi political group willing to request Iranian military help; providing Iran with a heavy airlift capability, air refueling capacity, and the F–14; and dealing with any possible Soviet involvement. (Ibid., Box 425, Backchannel Files, 1973, Middle East/Africa)
  8. Senator J. William Fulbright (D–Arkansas) was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  9. See Document 22.