276. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State1

5770. Subj: Saudi Reactions to President Nixon’s and Secretary Kissinger’s Letters. Ref: A) Jidda 5706; B) Jidda 5705; C) Jidda 5704; D) Jidda 5703; E) State 251946; F) State 251342.2

Summary: On December 29 Ambassador Akins presented Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Omar Saqqaf, with Secretary’s letter (ref E) and asked him transmit President Nixon’s letter to King Faisal (ref F). King in Mecca and will be unavailable until O/A Jan 6. That night, after having reviewed letters with King (Sadat’s advisor Ashraf Marwan also present for much of meeting), Saqqaf informed Ambassador that King had expressed concern over tone of Secretary’s letter to Saqqaf; wondered why U.S. resorting to threats. According to Saqqaf, King said U.S. knew SAG wanted to end oil boycott ASAP but also said that it could not act without some prior signs of Israeli movement. Otherwise lifting of boycott would be taken by Arabs (and even Westerners) as Saudi capitulation before U.S. pressure. King noted he had been assured Israeli move from canal imminent anyway; if this truly the case, King wonders why USG cannot afford endure continuation of boycott for additional brief time (presumably). Also on boycott, Saqqaf said Saudis justified easing pressure on Europe and Japan because even though they could not help against Israel they at least had not harmed Arab cause as USG had. Re price increases, Saqqaf stressed SAG had been against them and Shah chiefly to blame. He urged that we make strong representations to Shah but doubted whether USG willing to confront H.I.M. personally. All in all, Saudis becoming uneasy and apprehensive about lack of visible progress; if there were some part of Secretary’s or President’s letters that could be released, Ambassador could explore with SAG if this might constitute basis for easing of boycott. But SAG would probably demand some sign of Israeli movement first. End summary.

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Omar Saqqaf, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, told me yesterday morning Dec 29, that I would not be able to see King Faisal until after the Moslem feast, i.e. about Jan 6 for the reasons given earlier (ref E).
Accordingly, I saw Saqqaf at 4:00 Dec 29 (1300 GMT) and gave him the President’s letter to the King.
Before giving him your letter I told him it was approximately what I had told him your reaction would be. You were surprised at the Kuwait Oil Ministers’ taking no action on behalf of the United States. The President was being hurt by the continuing oil crisis in the United States and his power to act constructively in the Middle East was therefore also being weakened.
Saqqaf made no comment about the President’s letter other than to remark on its friendly tone. But he said your letter was hostile; it appeared threatening and he should not accept it.
He asked what you meant by lifting the boycott “immediately”; he said his English was weak but he assumed it meant “now,” “this minute.” I told him this was true, literally, but I thought that under the circumstances it would mean a day or so. I had earlier urged him to lift the boycott before the Israeli elections. I had thought that the Arabs, by such action, could win considerable support in the United States and the world; it would also help you and the President and it might even help the moderates in Israel. I was sure this was what you meant, as the Israeli elections were only two days off.
Saqqaf then left to see the King and Egyptian Presidential Advisor Ashraf Marwan who had just come to Jidda.
I saw Saqqaf again at 11:00 last night Dec 29 (2000 GMT) and he gave me a full account of the evenings’ discussions. He said the letters were discussed with the King and briefly with Marwan who asked for copies. They were not given to him but he did read them and he left after a few minutes. Saqqaf stayed the remainder of the evening with the King. The King made no comment about the President’s letter other than to ask what was meant by an “immediate” lifting of the boycott; he said the President must know such action could be taken by only an Arab consensus and it could not be achieved today. The King read your letter to Saqqaf and asked why the U.S. was making these statements and threats; why did it not get Israel to move as you had said it would.
Saqqaf said there was no difference between his position and that of the King. He said both wanted to lift the boycott and raise production but they had to have some reason for taking the action. He asked if the U.S. were really trying to destroy Saudi Arabia or drive it into the camp of the radicals. This being a rhetorical question (I think), I did not respond.
Saqqaf went through litany of promises made to the Arabs by Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon; he said President Nixon had told him in 1969 that the Middle East problem would be solved within a year. I commented that I was sure this was a hope not a commitment; that the letters from President, the King, and your statements were in an entirely different category. He didn’t reply but continued with quotations of statements made by Secretary Rogers on his interpretation of Resolution 242. Saqqaf concluded this thought by agreeing with me that the situation was different today, but asked how could the Arab peoples or even the Saudis know this?
The King, he said, had private assurances from you in person and through letters from you and the President. But none of this had been made public. You had assured the King that you had done far better than getting Israel to withdraw to the Oct 22 peace lines; you had gotten their agreement to withdraw completely from the canal and all the way to mountain passes in Sinai. Yet nothing had happened; in fact the Israelis were still squabbling about their troops around Suez City.
If the Saudis were to lift the boycott now, he said, it would appear as complete surrender to American pressure. Israel’s American defenders would boast that they had brought Saudi Arabia to its knees; that the Arabs had once again demonstrated that they could not be resolute and therefore there was no reason to make any concessions to them. And the reaction in the Arab world against the King and against Saudi Arabia would be even stronger.
He said that all the Arabs had seen so far was President Nixon signing into law a massive new aid bill for Israel.3 He asked if I considered this to be pressure. I replied that I knew how the aid bill was viewed in the Arab world, but it was indeed potential pressure. The President is not required to give the aid; he is authorized to give it and if Israel is unreasonable the aid can be withheld. Saqqaf asked if this had been made clear to Israel and to its friends; I said it was implicit in the bill. He asked why there could not be a public statement to this effect.
Saqqaf then said your comments on the U.S. being the only country to help the Arabs were true; but he added the U.S. was also the only country to give Israel massive assistance. The restrictions on oil deliveries to Europe and Japan were not lifted because of any action they had taken on behalf of the Arabs, the Saudis had no illusions about this. They knew the statements of the EEC and Japan were worth very little. But neither had those countries hurt the Arabs and therefore it would be wrong and impolitic for the Arabs to continue hurting them.
He said the King had told the President in his last letter that he didn’t want to dwell on the past; Saqqaf said that neither did he. He could go back to Truman, if he wanted, but such a debate would be sterile. We had to work with what we have today, and today the Arabs have nothing from the United States they can work with.
He said, again, that Sadat had told you he would come to Riyadh to convince the King to lift the boycott if this were not done by the Saudis themselves when disengagement was achieved. Saqqaf said again that this would not be necessary; Saudi Arabia would be disposed to lift the boycott anyway. He asked how you could expect Saudi Arabia to move before the Israelis did, and he asked if appropriate pressure was being put on the Israelis to withdraw, as you said they would. Again I said I could infer that this was being done, but I did not know.
Saqqaf said he assumed similar letters had been sent to all the Arab oil producing states; that he would be checking with them soon. You would see that their reactions would be even stronger than had been Saudi Arabia’s. (Saqqaf goes to Aswan today to see Sadat and promised to brief me as soon as he got back to Jidda.)4 I said I did not know if there were other letters; these letters had been sent to the King and to him because they were the Chief and the Foreign Minister of the country which was by far the most important in oil production and which we considered our closest friend in the area.
Saqqaf then turned to your remarks on the price increases. He asked if I had not reported what had happened at Tehran. He said even if you did not believe my accounts, you must know from the newspapers and from your reports from Iran that it was the Shah who had insisted on the increases in prices; that Yamani had been instructed to hold out for much more modest increases and he had indeed achieved some success in that the increase was far less than the Shah initially demanded. He asked if we had made similar demands on the Shah and then answered himself: “Of course you haven’t, the Shah would never accept such statements; he would expel your Ambassador.”
Saqqaf commented that he was puzzled by the urgent tone of both letters, he wonders why the U.S. cannot wait a few more days until [Page 787]Israel withdraws. He said he is almost forced to conclude that Israel is not going to withdraw. If they do not, he said, if the right wing parties win in the Israeli elections, if Dayan carries out his threat to mobilize the American Jews against President Nixon and if then no pressure is put on Israel, and Israel does not withdraw, resumption of hostilities will be inevitable. And the boycott, if it were lifted now, would just have to be reimposed. I replied that this was the old chicken-egg problem I had discussed with him and with the King before the latest Kissinger visit. Our position was clearly that the lifting of the boycott should come first. Had this happened President Nixon would have been strengthened and we would now be able to put more pressure on Israel. This was all you were saying in your letters.
Comment: There may have been some misunderstanding here of the Egyptian position, but the Saudis clearly still believe that Sadat does not want the lifting of the boycott before there is Israeli troop movement. Neither do the Saudis. They are also certain that you know this. The Egyptians, or so the Saudis believe, favor lifting the boycott when your disengagement plan is implemented. The Saudis would agree to this and they are certain you know this from Sadat.
The Saudis are concerned about two things: first, lifting the boycott for no obvious reason would expose them to attacks from other Arabs—perhaps even from Sadat—and all the old accusations of their being tools of the Americans would be revived. Second, they do not want to lift the boycott and then have to reimpose it. They feel this would have to be done if there is no Israeli withdrawal.
On the question of price, the Saudis have taken the mildest position in OPEC and if the other main producers, notably Iran and Venezuela, are willing to consider a decrease in prices now, coupled with a phased price increase over the next decade, the Saudis would support the action and would be able to carry along some of the less important producers.
The King is very sensitive to threats and he gets stubborn when he feels he is being pushed. Appeals to their friendship and better nature are more effective, not threats of countermeasures. Saqqaf commented several times that your letter contained only appeals to help the Nixon administration, not to help the people of the United States or the American economy. (I explained that the letter was very limited in scope; it addressed itself to the question of pressure on Israel. Your ability to do so was weakened by the continued boycott.)
I am sensing a growing feeling of unease here. The Saudis, as you know, expected very quick results. The King said in November that he saw no reason why, if the United States really wanted it, Israel could not have withdrawn fully by the end of the year. Now with the continuing fussing around on the West Bank of the canal and with no [Page 788]apparent Israeli movement; with Golda Meir’s statements that the Israelis would “never” withdraw from Golan or even discuss Jerusalem, the Saudis are wondering if anything will happen. I can talk about the electioneering all I want but it doesn’t get through. The Saudis are feeling very uneasy. The Israelis may be bothered by a Masada complex; here it is more “Goetterdaemmerung,” or mixing my periods, a feeling that the Saudis are Samson in the Temple of Gaza; if pressures on them become intolerable (and they still are also clearly afraid of a military attack), they will be destroyed, but the world will also suffer horribly.
Can I give the Saudis any word on impending Israeli withdrawal? Is there any part of your statements or your letters, or the letters of the President I could tell them they could release as justification for easing the boycott?5 I’m not sure even this would work, but I could try it out. I fear however that we will just have to wait for the Israeli withdrawal; Saqqaf reminds me that you said this would be achieved very soon and they wonder why the urgency for action on their part now, if indeed Israel is about to withdraw. They seem to be concluding that we might just be trying to trick them into lifting the boycott now, counting on Saudi reluctance to reimpose it if the Israelis don’t move. They ask why we can’t wait two more weeks, as surely the withdrawal must have taken place, if it is really to take place, before then.
In any case because of the pilgrimage I will now lose contact with the King for a week or ten days and with Saqqaf and other ministers for a good part of this time.
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dec 73–Feb 74. Secret; Immediate; Cherokee; Nodis.
  2. Nixon’s letter to King Faisal, transmitted in telegram 251342 to Jidda, is Document 274. Regarding Kissinger’s letter to King Faisal, sent from Lisbon, see footnote 1, Document 267. Telegram 5706, December 26, transmitted the King’s thanks for Kissinger’s letter. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 630, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. IV) For telegrams 5704 and 5705, see Document 272 and footnote 3 thereto. For telegram 5703, see footnote 4, Document 271. Telegram 251946 to Jidda, which transmitted Kissinger’s letter to Saqqaf, is Document 273.
  3. In the amount of $492,800,000.
  4. After this meeting Faisal sent Saqqaf to meet with Sadat to discuss Nixon’s and Kissinger’s letters. According to Saqqaf, Sadat reiterated that he would try and convince Faisal to lift the boycott once disengagement was completed, but not until then. Saqqaf also told Akins that the first decision on the boycott, made by the Petroleum Ministers, was “botched,” because the Petroleum Ministers were “foolish to have said that the boycott would not be lifted until Israel had withdrawn to the pre-1967 borders.” Now that the Arabs had backed off from this position, they looked “weak.” (Telegram 5793 from Jidda, December 31; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 630, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. IV)
  5. Kissinger wrote Saqqaf, December 30, stating that he was “replying immediately from San Clemente because I sense from your reaction that there may be some misunderstanding of what I intended to convey in my letter.” In arguing for an end to the embargo, Kissinger wrote, “during January the pressures on the President from groups in America seeking to defeat his policies will increase as the Congress reconvenes. If he can be attacked for having failed in his unprecedentedly even-handed approach to the Middle East problem, it will severely hurt his ability to carry forward the policy which I have outlined to His Majesty and to you.” (Telegram 3 to Jidda, January 1, 1974; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dec 73–Feb 74) Akins reported Saqqaf was “delighted with both the tone and the contents,” adding “it did soothe the savage beast.” (Telegram 9 from Jidda, January 2; ibid.)