244. Editorial Note

In an October 27, 1973, press conference, Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger announced that U.S. forces had gone on alert, initially without President Nixon’s knowledge, following a Soviet warning that it would take unilateral action in the Middle East if the United States did not restrain Israel from cease-fire violations. (The Christian Science Monitor, October 27, 1973, page 1, and The New York Times, October 27, 1973, page 10) In a telephone conversation that evening, White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig told Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that Schlesinger had mentioned “putting troops in crucial states to get oil.” Kissinger responded: “He is insane.” Haig commented: [Page 691]“He (Schlesinger) thinks forces should be put in.” Kissinger: “I do not think we can survive with these fellows in there at Defense—they are crazy.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 23, Chronological Files)

Secretary Schlesinger discussed the issue of the use of military force to secure Middle East oil during bilateral meetings on energy issues with members of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group, November 5–8, including Dutch Prime Minister Joop den Uyl and the Defense Ministers of the United Kingdom (Lord Peter Carrington) and Germany (Georg Leber). Schlesinger emphasized that “the United States did not repeat not intend to be driven to the wall in this situation.” (Telegram 4914 from The Hague, November 8; ibid., RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files) Schlesinger’s meeting with Den Uyl is reported in telegram 4939 from The Hague, November 12. (Ibid.) Although no separate record of his meetings with Defense Ministers Leber or Carrington were found, Secretary Schlesinger told Dutch Foreign Minister Van Der Stoel that the “U.S. is not concerned about supply of oil and is determined that neither it nor the West be driven to the wall. While U.S. is not advertising this position, we want it clearly understood that we will not tolerate this kind of blackmail and it would be most helpful if our partners were not so willing to pay it.” (Telegram 4916 from The Hague, November 9; ibid.)

British Ambassador to the United States Lord Cromer informed Foreign Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home that Secretary Schlesinger’s statements on oil and force to Lord Carrington needed a response. Ambassador Cromer therefore met with Secretary Schlesinger in Washington on November 15 to defend Britain’s Middle East policy, citing its obvious dependence on Middle East oil. Secretary Schlesinger asked whether the European “overt acquiescence in Arab bullying” had not increased the strength of the “Arabs’ whip-hand.” He stated that Evelyn Baring, the First Lord Cromer, would roll over in his grave. Ambassador Cromer replied: “We were not living in the 19th century, when gunboats were in fashionable use.” Secretary Schelsinger argued that the Arabs “had probably not expected Europe to crumple so easily. They would certainly now use similar tactics in the future. Surely the lesson for the future was that the Alliance must stick together and protect its own interests actively.” Schlesinger then told Cromer that “it was no longer obvious to him that the US could not use force. An interesting outcome of the Middle East crisis was that the notion of the industrialized nations being continuously submitted to whims of the underpopulated under-developed countries, particularly of the Middle East, might well change public perceptions about the use of the power that was available to the U.S. and the Alliance.”

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Ambassador Cromer concluded: “Within the wider context of our conversation, including such chance remarks as why had we not finished the job properly at the time of Suez, the implication that the Alliance should be readier to use the force available to it to secure its objectives came through very strongly. It is worrying.” Subsequently, the British Joint Intelligence Committee prepared a paper on December 28, entitled “The Middle East: Possible Use of Force by the United States.” It speculated on “the political and military options” open to the United States if it decided to use force in the Middle East and the likelihood of American requests for British assistance. (Record of meeting by Lord Cromer; Public Records Office, PREM 15/1768)

The question of whether the United States was willing to use force occurred in the midst of what Kissinger, in Years of Upheaval, pages 878–879, referred to as “a series of Saudi communications that, reflecting the various pulls on Saudi emotions, seemed to cancel each other out.” Kissinger was describing communications printed here as Documents 239 and 241. He also referred to a November 12 press conference he held in Beijing during which he provided a general and standard statement accepting the principle of withdrawal but not the specifics. He also referred to the contents of telegram 5095 from Jidda, November 18, which reported information from an aide to Prince Fahd, and a November 21 memorandum to Fahd. In this memorandum, Kissinger invited Fahd to Washington and wrote: “it will be very difficult for us to be as helpful as we would like in the negotiations ahead if we remain under the threat of a continuing oil boycott. It will be very difficult to explain in the United States that the continued shut-off of oil supply is the act of friends in the Middle East. In an atmosphere of confrontation, it will be hard for us to muster support for the posture that we shall have to adopt if the negotiations are to have any chance of succeeding.” (Both in National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Nov–Dec 1973)

Secretary Kissinger publicly aired the idea of a possible U.S. use of force during a November 21 press conference: “if pressures continue unreasonably and indefinitely, then the United States will have to consider what countermeasures it may have to take. We would do this with enormous reluctance, and we are still hopeful that matters will not reach this point.” (The Washington Post, November 22, 1973, page A1) In his memoirs, Secretary Kissinger emphasized: “These were not empty threats. I ordered a number of studies from the key departments on countermeasures against Arab members of OPEC if the embargo continued. By the end of the month, several contingency studies had been completed.” (Years of Upheaval, page 880) For these contingency papers, see Document 255 and footnote 2 thereto.

Kissinger also recalled that he stated publicly in this press conference what he had so far only told the oil producers privately: [Page 693]

“Those countries who are engaging in economic pressures against the United States should consider whether it is appropriate to engage in such steps while peace negotiations are being prepared, and, even more, while negotiations are being conducted. I would like to state for the United States Government that our course will not be influenced by such pressures, that we have stated our policy, that we have expressed our commitments, and that we will adhere to those and will not be pushed beyond this point by any pressures.” (Years of Upheaval, page 880)

Kissinger’s press conference is printed in full in Department of State Bulletin, December 10, 1973, pages 701–710.

These public and private statements elicited an immediate response from the Saudi Government. Saudi Foreign Minister Sayyid Omar Saqqaf told U.S. Ambassador James Akins that he was “disturbed” by Kissinger’s comments. He said the embargo could be lifted and production increased as soon as there was some real movement toward peace. He thought that Secretary Kissinger’s statement made it harder for the Arabs to lift the embargo because the Zionists would “crow” that they had won a victory, the pressure on the Israelis would be relaxed, and the peace talks would collapse. (Telegram 5182 from Jidda, November 24; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 630, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. IV) Saudi displeasure was reaffirmed in a November 24 message that contained information that Royal Adviser Kamal Adham, King Faisal, and his advisers were “annoyed and distressed” by Secretary Kissinger’s press conference. (Ibid.) Kissinger’s response is in Document 248.

President Richard Nixon broached the idea of sending an emissary to Saudi Arabia. Kissinger told Scowcroft in a November 25 telephone conversation that Nixon “called me and he wants to send a special emissary to Saudi Arabia to get them to turn the oil on.” He added, “He does that and he is in deep trouble with me. We cannot have this now.” To which Scowcroft responded, “Oh, no. That would be the worst possible thing to do.” Kissinger then said, “Besides, aid will be refused. It will put us in the position of the supplicant.” Scowcroft agreed, and asked, “Where do you think he got that idea?” Kissinger: “Probably from some of his oil friends. No sense worrying about it. He will calm down, don’t you think?” Scowcroft concluded: “I would hope so. Goodness. That would be a disaster.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 24, Chronological Files) According to Years of Upheaval, page 881, Kissinger was able to “dissuade” Nixon from this course, which he felt was “hardly the best way to convey imperviousness to pressure, which was essential to the success of our policy.”