254. Minutes of Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1

    • Middle East and Indochina, (see separate minutes for Indochina portion)
    • Chairman—Secretary Henry A. Kissinger
    • State
      • Kenneth Rush
      • Joseph Sisco
    • DOD
      • William Clements
      • Robert C. Hill
    • JCS
      • Adm. Thomas H. Moorer
      • Vice Adm. John P. Weinel
    • CIA
      • William Colby
      • Samuel Hoskinson
    • NSC Staff
      • Major Gen. Brent Scowcroft
      • Harold Saunders
      • Jeanne W. Davis


It was agreed that:

… an SR–71 photo mission would be flown over the area from the U.S. next week; thereafter the flights would originate from the UK;

… the Defense Department should evaluate the present Egyptian and Syrian military equipment situation in relation to the October 6 level;

… Defense would review the latest Israeli requests for military equipment and prepare some options including various packages of equipment and rates of delivery.

Secretary Kissinger: (Commenting on ticker item that the Egyptians had pulled out of the military talks with the Israelis at Kilometer 101) I think this will work out all right. The Israelis made a proposal they never should have made, then they pulled back from it. I think they will stagger along until the Geneva meeting is over.

Mr. Sisco: I agree. It won’t be easy, but with the Secretary talking in the area and my contacts…

Secretary Kissinger: The Egyptians will get in touch with me if they have a real axe to grind.

[Page 714]

Let me review the diplomacy. (to Clements) Your Saudi Arabian friends were not as upset by my press conference as you were.2 The intensity of their correspondence with me has not slackened. I think things are on track for the December 18 meeting in Geneva at the Foreign Minister level. Both we and the Soviets have received substantially the same reply. There is agreement in principle but everyone is nit-picking. (Israeli Foreign Minister) Gazit is the worst. He is insisting that “contending parties” be mentioned one more time in the first paragraph when it is already mentioned six times. Joe (Sisco) is trying to put it in once more. The Egyptians have made what they call “suggestions”. Dobrynin told me the Syrians had mumbled something about other countries participating. We had already heard this from the British. The Egyptians are violently opposed. So, unless Egypt and Israel blow up between now and December 18, things are on track. We have used Saudi Arabia as an intermediary with the Syrians. The Saudis wanted to play that role, but the Syrians won’t answer us through the Saudis. They insist on coming back directly to us. We have pretty good contacts with the Syrians now. Incidentally, the Saudis are financing Syrian resupply and rebuilding.

On oil, there is more going on than the formal statements would indicate. I don’t think Yamani had full instructions. He’s coming over here next week. We’ll have a fuller report once the conference is set.

On possible countermeasures, we should review when would be the time to implement them, if ever. Let me make clear our strategy on the oil embargo. We think if we yield to the embargo in the sense of bargaining with the Saudis on the specific terms for the conference, we will get ourselves on a hopeless wicket. It would take too long. It would make the Saudis responsible for every point and they would be driven by their radicals. The British and French would be given an incentive to leapfrog.

Every producing country would set up its own OPEC for the purpose of blackmailing us. Our position with the Saudis is that they have demonstrated their power. They have moved us off our position of letting things take their natural course. We have assumed a major responsibility for the negotiations, which they wanted. Now it is their turn to help. To take action which would inflict harm on segments of the American population before we have had an opportunity to develop something in the negotiations is unacceptable to us. They may have a monopoly on oil but we have a monopoly on political progress. They have already done everything to us that they can. On the basis of regular exchanges we are having with the Saudis, I’m confident this [Page 715] message is getting through. All of you should stick to this line. What we are going to have to do in the negotiations will be painful and difficult for some segments of the American public. If, on top of that, we have serious fuel shortages, it will make our position impossible. If we drop a hint now and then on what actions we might take in return, it might worry them a little. We’re getting through; they are definitely thinking about what we might do. When Yamani comes over next week, we should stop commiserating with him on his problem and talk about our own. I really think we are going to make it. What do you think, Bill (Colby)? Joe (Sisco)?

Mr. Colby: I agree, on the basis of the messages I have seen.

Mr. Sisco: So do I.

Secretary Kissinger: We’re really making progress.

Mr. Sisco: Despite what some people may believe, I think this thing will work out.

Mr. Clements: (to Secretary Kissinger) I have great confidence in what you’re trying to do. But I can’t agree, as Bill (Colby) can, on the basis of messages that I haven’t seen. I think there is one thing missing from your equation, and it is very difficult to understand unless you have been deeply involved in all these questions of dislocation, redistribution, etc. I can’t emphasize how important the next five weeks are for the well-being and security of the United States.

Secretary Kissinger: But there is nothing we can do in five weeks to get Israel back to her 1967 borders.

Mr. Clements: I don’t agree. I think we must make some responsible move toward an attempt to get that valve cracked open. If we do not have a new line of communication opened with some oil flowing to us before Christmas, that 17% short-fall the President talks about will be 23%.

Secretary Kissinger: What would be a responsible move?

Mr. Clements: Send someone over there who can look (King) Faisal in the eye and talk to him. Yamani is a ribbon clerk compared to Faisal, Fahd and Sultan.

Secretary Kissinger: Those are the people we are in touch with. What would you tell them?

Mr. Clements: Tell them that we’re hurt. Tell them: You’ve made your point, but there is a point beyond which you can’t push us without its being counterproductive. You’ve proved your point; that’s reflected in Wall Street. Just look at the Saudi investment in relation to six weeks ago. Say, as a matter of good grace, and in your position, you should restore relations with the U.S. It is unbecoming and un-productive for you to pursue this line. You need to assume a larger stance and open the valve. From a technical standpoint, your position will be just as good a year from now, if you want to close it again.

[Page 716]

Secretary Kissinger: I agree with that strategy. That gives me no problem.

Mr Clements: But he can be told that this week. Nothing will be lost. And it can’t be done in one hour or even in one day. You would have to give Faisal time to consult with Fahd and Sultan and mull it over in his own mind. It could be done on a very low key basis, with no advertising. We could use a cover story, and Tom (Moorer), Bob (Hill) and I have a perfect reason for being in Saudi Arabia. We’ve got $2 billion worth of equipment for their Navy and National Guard on the rocks over there. We’re trying to get over there to see if we could get things moving. We could play the whole thing in a very low key. If we were successful, then you (Kissinger) could come over for the closing bit. You could be the hero.

Secretary Kissinger: Now you’re speaking my language!

Mr. Clements: It should be the Secretary of State who does it. If we fail, we can just ugly off into the desert. No one will ever know and there will be no embarrassment. At least we will have accomplished something on our other problem. If we don’t do something on that, we will just foul up on the $2 billion we have been trying to use as a bridge to the royal family.

Secretary Kissinger: What $2 billion?

Mr. Clements: We’ve got a $700 million Navy modernization program. Also a modernization program for the Saudi National Guard—the outfit that protects the King. These programs have been underway for more than a year and they have never really gotten off dead center. The Saudis are beginning to think we’re not serious about them. They’re beginning to flirt with the French. The French Defense Minister has been over there and the French are busting a gut to take over from us in Saudi Arabia. If we’re successful on the oil issue, we will have cracked the valve and that feared shutdown, which would cut the flow to the Eastern seaboard by 50% until February or March, won’t happen. We have a responsibility to do everything we can as quickly as we can to alleviate this situation.

Secretary Kissinger: I have heard this same line in Japan. Everyone who is in a jam says we must do something. But the question is whether certain actions are more likely to get it done or not. We’d be nuts to send a mission to Saudi Arabia before our talks with the various emissaries who are coming over here. After those talks, we can sit down and discuss what to do next.

Mr. Clements: We’ve already wasted too much time.

Secretary Kissinger: Before the Arab summit meeting, we might have done it but it would have made no difference at all. The Saudi Arabian problem was to align itself with enough other Arab countries so it wasn’t out in front. After that, it’s a matter of tactics.

[Page 717]

Mr. Sisco: And they did that through the Arab summit meeting.

Secretary Kissinger: Yes. Let’s wait and see what the emissaries bring us. After that, we may decide that a mission to Saudi Arabia is important.

Mr. Clements: I can’t say any more.

Secretary Kissinger: But you can’t say we have wasted two weeks.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to the oil embargo.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–117, Washington Special Action Group, WSAG Meetings Minutes, (Originals), 10/2/73–7/22/74. Top Secret; Nodis; Codeword. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room.
  2. Kissinger is presumably referring to his November 21 press conference; see the Department of State Bulletin, Vol 69, July 2–December 31, 1973, pp. 701–710.