241. Memorandum of Conversation1

[Omitted here is information unrelated to oil.]

On 17 November 1973 Kamal Adham, Advisor to King Faysal [1 line not declassified] made the following comments [less than 1 line not declassified] in Jidda concerning King Faysal’s position on the relationship of the oil embargo to U.S. efforts to effect a Middle East settlement.
When President Sadat visited Riyadh on 3 November, just before Secretary of State Dr. Kissinger’s visit, he (Sadat) made a “formal and official” recommendation to King Faysal that Saudi Arabia lift the embargo on oil shipments to the United States in a series of gradual steps commensurate in each case with prior advances made in the direction of achieving a peace settlement satisfactory to the Arabs. Sadat suggested, as an example, that the embargo be partially lifted in the first instance in response to a partial Israeli withdrawal in Sinai. Note that Sadat never recommended total lifting of the embargo; it was to be a gradual, step-by-step process contingent upon prior (repeat prior) Israeli action. Sadat made this appeal on the basis of recommendations offered by Isma’il Fahmi in Washington, who had been persuaded by Dr. Kissinger and President Nixon that the administration could not undertake the management of a Middle East settlement as long as it appeared to be acting only in response to Arab pressure.
King Faysal flatly rejected Sadat’s suggestion, saying that “a few miles of the Sinai desert” meant nothing to him; he would consider a step-by-step modification of the embargo only under two conditions:
Firm prior agreement from the United States that the final settlement would result in a “denial of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.” [less than 1 line not declassified] The negative formulation of this point implies tacit acceptance of the principle of internationalization—as distinct from Arab sovereignty—but Adham did not so specify.)
Secondly, such a formula of gradual, tit-for-tat concessions would have to have the full agreement of Syria and Kuwait in addition to Saudi Arabia and Egypt; [less than 1 line not declassified]. In response to a direct question, Adham discounted the agreement of Algeria as being of no consequence in this context; he said the Saudis are already assured that Algeria will go along with any formula adopted by Saudi Arabia because Algeria is “more than anxious” to renew full [Page 681] oil production in order to proceed with various expensive development projects.)
Dr. Kissinger’s subsequent visit2 confirmed President Sadat’s report that President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger were going to insist upon some Arab concession on the oil embargo as a precondition to full U.S.G. support for a political solution acceptable to the Arabs; King Faysal, while persuaded of Kissinger’s sincerity, remains adamant that no concession will be made except gradually and except under those conditions specified to Sadat.
Two days after Kissinger’s departure, King Faysal called a meeting of the Supreme Committee (Lajnat Al-Ulya) of Princes, neither Omar Saqqaf nor Zaki Yamani was present. King Faysal directed that Yamani be sent on a mission to Egypt, Syria and Kuwait to obtain the agreement of those heads of State to the proposition as he had defined it. If Yamani returns with a report that Egypt, Syria and Kuwait agreed, then (and not before) it would become Saudi policy. At that time, the U.S.G. would be officially informed of the decision. King Faysal would ask at that time for a commitment from the United States on the Jerusalem question; he may be willing to allow this commitment to remain secret for the time being, but Washington should understand that a major Israeli concession on Jerusalem is going to be King Faysal’s sine qua non, and that Faysal has already committed himself irrevocably on this point before all other Arabs.
King Faysal furthermore believes that if current endeavors to achieve a negotiated settlement fail, Egypt and Syria must renew hostilities. In the spring and throughout the summer and early fall of 1973, King Faysal was a persistent voice of restraint on Anwar Sadat; when the war broke out, Faysal regarded it as a disastrous error on Sadat’s part. Events proved otherwise, however; King Faysal now believes that military victories or defeats have no particular relevance except as a means of creating for the super-powers conditions of intolerable instability and threatened confrontation. To this extent, Sadat’s initiative was a brilliant success. If it does not result in favorable settlement, however, and if the situation recedes into stalemate, President Sadat will be under positive Saudi pressure, not restraint, to start hostilities again. King Faysal is out on a limb, having played the only really effective card in the Arab hand: oil. In the process, however, Saudi Arabia has had to jeopardize its highly-valued alliance with the United States. It troubles Faysal acutely to read that the Philippines and Singapore have declined to fuel the 7th Fleet “because of the Arab boycott,” and that Italy cannot supply the 6th Fleet for the same reason. Saudi Arabia, [Page 682] despite its differences with the United States over Israel, nevertheless considers itself a staunch partner of the U.S. in the fight against international communism, and King Faysal is deeply disturbed at any representation of his policy as an obstacle “preventing the United States from deploying its power effectively in defence of the Free World” (Exact quote from Adham). Nevertheless, Washington must understand that Faysal cannot and will not take one step to modify the oil embargo until a full program is laid before him consisting of definite steps leading to Israeli withdrawal and including denial of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. Unless that is the case, hostilities will renew.

[1½ lines not declassified]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Nov–Dec 1973. Secret; Sensitive. Transmitted to Kissinger on November 17.
  2. See Document 238.