90. Telegram From the Embassy in Iran to the Department of State1

10090. Dept pass DOD for ISA. Subj: US-Persian Gulf Arms Policy. Ref: Jidda 6840.2

1. There are doubtless considerations that should enter into formulation of US arms policy in this area which transcend bilateral relations with any one country. Jidda’s reftel touches on this question and suggests need for some sort of qualitative parity between Iran and Saudi Arabia. From our perspective, it would seem several important questions should be examined before we reach such a conclusion.

2. First has to do with frequently heard assertion that Saudi Arabia and other Peninsula countries have “anxieties” about Iran’s long-term intentions in light of its military modernization program. While we obviously are not in best position to analyze sentiment on other side of Gulf, we wonder how widespread or deeply felt these “anxieties” may be. From reports of journalists and others familiar with Arab side, we get impression there is considerable ambiguity about Arabian Peninsula attitudes toward Iran and its growing military strength. Such concerns as SAG may harbor appear at least partially offset by comfort Saudis take in having strong non-Communist neighbor able to defend itself and thwart Communist ambitions in the area and also able and willing to play useful military role in Arabian Peninsula when asked to do so. As for concrete examples of Saudi sentiment, it would be interesting to know what Prince Turki thinks about Iran after his recent visit here. Also interesting would be Saudi reflections on recent Iranian Navy maneuvers in Straits of Hormuz which received such great publicity here. In short, we think careful assessment of Arabian Peninsula attitudes on regional security matters would be desirable and helpful.

3. As to question of achieving military parity between Saudi Arabia and Iran, we believe any such policy is foredoomed to failure. Obvious differences between their respective manpower, technical, and resource bases is too great to bridge within any foreseeable time [Page 273] frame. Further, there are inherent differences in defense perspectives and military requirements. For example, Iran sees need for defense facilities around its entire perimeter and need to connect these by modern military communications system utilizing satellites. Established population centers around this perimeter permit it to plan and implement such a policy. We wonder whether same is true on Arabian Peninsula, and if not, whether this is sufficient cause to deny what Iran desires.

4. Several years ago USG set policy of encouraging Persian Gulf countries to provide for their own defense in cooperation with each other. In doing so, we recognized there were differences which would persist in needs and abilities of each country. We also recognized there were historical and other obstacles to full realization of such a policy. Nevertheless, we have followed this policy and our efforts have not been without some success. Persian Gulf states are stronger than they once were. All seem more confident of ability to cope in an uncertain future. There has been appreciable growth in communication between two sides of Gulf on security and other matters. There has also been some disappointment, slippage, and diversions but from Tehran it would seem to be net gain on balance. This favorable but fragile trend can be easily reversed, however, and we think one of quickest ways to do so would be to begin to deny military requests from one country on grounds we are not prepared to satisfy similar requests from other countries in area.

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Middle East and South Asia, Box 14, Iran—State Department Telegrams, To SECSTATE–EXDIS (1). Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated Priority to Jidda and to Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, and Manama.
  2. In telegram 6840 from Jidda, November 21, the Embassy suggested that Saudi anxieties about Iran’s intentions in the Gulf could be partially allayed and Saudi-Iranian cooperation encouraged “by giving the Saudis the opportunity to buy those weapons systems made available to Iran.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D740337–0086)