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

379. Subject: Saudi Position on Lifting of Embargo. Ref: (A) Jidda 329; (B) Jidda 331; (C) State 012869; (D) State 013410.2

Summary: On January 22 and 23 Ambassador discussed need for prompt lifting of oil boycott against US with King Faisal, Minister of Interior Prince Fahd, Minister of State Omar Saqqaf, and Royal Intelligence Advisor Kamal Adham. King’s initial view was that Saudi Arabia wished boycott to be lifted promptly, but would have to wait until Israeli evacuation as prescribed by disengagement agreement was complete, and US had announced that this was only the first step toward bringing Israeli occupation to an end. In course of hour and a half’s debate, Ambassador repeatedly pointed out that any further delay in lifting boycott would weaken position of President Nixon, embolden critics of the administration and its Middle Eastern policy, and suggest lack of faith by Arabs in reality of US commitments and Secretary Kissinger’s negotiating achievements. In view of imminence and importance of State of the Union message—due to be delivered on January 30—it was essential that President by then have some positive word to report to Congress and the public. King finally agreed that (A) as soon as Israel has begun its withdrawal from Arab territory, i.e. tomorrow or Friday, he would immediately contact other Arab governments, (B) a favorable decision on the boycott should at that time be possible, and (C) President could therefore expect to affirm in State of the Union message that Arab boycott will be lifted. King agreed that announcement of boycott’s lifting should be made simultaneously by President and Arab governments, and will see that Embassy remains closely informed. During meetings with Saqqaf and Adham—which preceded audience with King—both urged that arguments for lifting of boycott be kept free of threat or menace. Otherwise, they were certain King would freeze into a negative and unhelpful posture. Saqqaf, moreover, advised that presentation would be most appealing to King’s amour propre if it involved no mention of efforts or achievement of [Page 812] President Sadat. Saqqaf stated also that SAG debating whether lifting of boycott—when it takes place—should be complete or up to level of September liftings (in either case for limited trial period of 90 days); alternatively, it could be lifted partially (50 percent) without terminal date and with production to rise further as steps towards peace are implemented. On January 22, Prince Fahd expressed his full support and sympathy with USG position on boycott, but noted that decision involved other figures in SAG as well. He promised his follow-up support to Ambassador’s démarche with King. Ambassador recommends letter be sent from President to King reaffirming our understanding of SAG position on boycott. This may keep SAG from slipping backwards; draft follows septel.3 End summary.

On January 22 and 23 I called on King Faisal, Minister of Interior Prince Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz, and spoke also with Minister of State Saqqaf and Royal Intelligence Advisor Kamal Adham, about necessity that SAG act promptly to relieve or lift oil boycott. Summary account of conversations follows.
Audience with King Faisal: at 1100 hours local (0800 GMT) January 23, I had hour and a half audience with King Faisal (DCM Horan accompanied). In my introductory remarks I thanked His Majesty for the courtesy and attention he had shown to numerous recent congressional visitors, and added that I believed these visits—especially most recent Codel headed by Senator Paul Fannin of Arizona—had been of considerable value to US-Saudi relations. King stressed that it had been his pleasure to receive U.S. legislators and that he hoped to meet more in the future.
I then took up question of the oil boycott. USG believed the time was propitious—now that we had obtained Egyptian and Israeli agreement to a disengagement of forces along the canal—for the Arab oil boycott immediately to be lifted. We knew that the disengagement of forces along the canal would only be a first step, but that so long as the boycott continued, the President would continue to be under pressures which in the long run could only weaken him politically. The King replied Saudi Arabia wished it could lift the boycott immediately; he hoped, therefore the U.S. would announce that the disengagement of forces along the canal was simply the first step toward the complete end of Israeli occupation. Once this announcement was made, Saudi Arabia would have what it needed to influence other Arabs to join it in a lifting of the boycott.
I replied that the agreement of January 18 itself had made clear that disengagement was only a first step toward a more complete [Page 813] resolution of differences between two sides. In view, also, of Israeli resistance to our efforts for solution, a prompt lifting of the boycott was important to the continued momentum of the President’s efforts. We understood of course this decision might require consultation between His Majesty’s Government and that of some of the Arab states; I was concerned, however, to learn from Minister of Petroleum Zaki Yamani that this consultation could not take place until sometime in February, after conclusion of his current trip to Japan. Could not this consultation be accomplished by the meeting of Arab Oil Ministers now going on in Cairo? Could not Minister Yamani be brought back to attend such an important occasion? I told His Majesty that when factories were closing and people were freezing in the United States, my government could not understand why such a routine matter as a trip to Japan had to take precedence over the much more important issue of lifting the boycott.
King Faisal said the conference in Cairo was aimed primarily at coordinating oil policy between the Arab producers and the African states; the boycott would not be one of its responsibilities. In any event, the presence or absence of Zaki Yamani was irrelevant, since decisions on petroleum were taken not by individual ministers but by His Majesty’s own government. The King then added that all that was necessary for the Arabs to lift the embargo was for the Israelis to complete their withdrawal as specified in the disengagement agreement. Once this was accomplished, Saudi Arabia would be better able to win the other Arabs to its own views on the boycott.
I replied that I had no doubt that Israel would withdraw as called for by the agreement, and that for the Arabs to put off acting on the boycott until withdrawal was complete would place the President in an impossible predicament. Indeed, it might hazard all that had so far been achieved. The State of the Union message—the President’s most important address of the year—would be delivered on January 30. At such a time the President could not avoid mentioning the boycott, and both his friends and his enemies would be listening eagerly for what he had to say. Could he not announce at that time that the Arabs have assured him they would lift the oil boycott since Israel had begun to withdraw from occupied territories? Once again the King replied that it was his understanding that when evacuation called for by the January 18 agreement was complete, the Arabs would decide to lift the oil boycott.
This, I pointed out, would entail a delay of at least 28 days. It was clearly necessary that urgent action be taken to alleviate this situation now. Could there be any doubt on the part of the Arabs that the United States—having achieved so much—would allow Israel not to live up to its formal, written commitments? Especially since the oil weapon was always handy and could be used again? I was most [Page 814] reluctant to report to my government that despite the assurances that had been communicated to His Majesty by both President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger and despite the considerable achievement of the disengagement agreement, the Arab side was apparently uncertain that we would abide by our commitments.
The King appeared troubled, and remained silent for a time. He then said that Saudi Arabia of course wanted to do what it could. He was in fact working with the Arabs to win their support to the lifting of the boycott, but without actual withdrawal how could Saudi Arabia induce other Arabs to follow its lead?
I told the King the logic of the case his government could make to fellow Arabs was powerful: His Majesty had repeated American assurances of support for an overall settlement; a disengagement agreement—most significant in itself—was now in hand. If Israel subsequently refused to withdraw, Secretary Kissinger, President Nixon, the United States would be revealed to the world as powerless. I could not envision any American administration allowing this to happen. Therefore, should not the agreement to disengage be a sufficient pretext for an Arab lifting of the boycott? If the boycott continued, moreover, I could—speaking as a good friend—again most earnestly assure His Majesty that the position of the President would be weakened, and that critics of the administration would expand their attacks to our policy and relations with Saudi Arabia, and to those Americans responsible for its execution.
Accordingly, in view of the importance and imminence of the President’s State of the Union message, would His Majesty agree to my telling the President (A) as soon as Israel has begun its withdrawal from Arab territory (on or about January 25), His Majesty will begin to contact other Arab governments; (B) a favorable decision on the boycott will at that time be possible; and (C) the President should therefore be able to affirm in the State of the Union message that the Arab boycott is being lifted? I repeated this statement twice to the King through his interpreter, so that there could be no misunderstanding. The King agreed. He said what I had proposed sounded possible, and that if the Israelis in fact begin their evacuation as scheduled, the SAG would begin contacts—aimed at lifting the boycott—with the other Arab governments this Friday.4 11. I thanked His Majesty for his decision. I asked if I could be informed in advance when the decision to lift the boycott had been made. Because for it to have the most favorable impact, the announcement should be made simultaneously by the President (perhaps in his “State [Page 815] of the Union” address) and by the Arab governments themselves. The King assured me I would be kept informed.
Meeting with Sayyid Omar Saqqaf, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs: at 1000 hours local time (0700 GMT), just prior to my meeting with King Faisal, I met with MinState Omar Saqqaf. Saqqaf said he had given the King the full account of his earlier conversations with me (all points in ref D—which was received after the meeting—were covered except the statement Israel might not start withdrawal unless the boycott is lifted). He also had an urgent request to make: go easy on the King; make no threats; only point out the difficulties the U.S. and President Nixon would have with a continuing boycott. Under no circumstances, moreover, should I mention any commitments made by Egyptian President Sadat to Secretary Kissinger. Saqqaf said that the boycott was the most effective weapon the Arabs had; it was imposed by the King and would be lifted by the King. For me to imply that the decision on lifting the boycott could be made by anyone else would not help my case.
Saqqaf said that the King had given written orders to Yamani on the Saudi position on lifting the boycott: there were two possibilities; the first would be to give the United States “most favored nation treatment,” i.e., to allow the U.S. its September liftings or just to lift the boycott completely (the Saudis favored this latter variation) but in either case the boycott would be lifted only for a specific period, i.e. 90 days; the second possibility would be to lift the boycott partially, i.e., 50 percent with no terminal date and with the understanding that as further steps toward peace were made the percentage would be increased.
I said I thought the boycott should be lifted with no terminal date; that we would have great problems with any specific timetable, and we certainly would be amazed and hurt if there were only a partial lifting. As the Secretary had said repeatedly to His Majesty, the boycott could be reimposed if there were no further steps toward peace. Why spell this out?
Meeting with King’s Intelligence Advisor Kamal Adham: minutes before my meeting with the King, Kamal Adham, King’s Intelligence Advisor, asked me if message for the King were as tough as had been relayed to Saqqaf the day before.5 I told him it was. Adham said the points had already been made to the King, and he would strongly advise me to treat the King with honey not onions; the King, he assured me, would simply stiffen and freeze in a negative posture if he [Page 816] detected any sense of threat or menace in my message. I said I would bear this in mind.
Meeting with Minister of Interior, Prince Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz. During meeting with Prince Fahd 2100 hours local (1800 GMT) Jan 22, I explained to him our feeling of urgency that the oil boycott be promptly lifted. My presentation more or less followed the lines of that which I was to make to King. I stressed how important it was that decision be taken to permit its announcement in President’s State of Union message. Fahd was in complete agreement. “God willing,” he said, “lifting of the boycott will take place by the end of the week.” He said I knew how favorably disposed he was on this matter and added if the decision had been his, I could be sure that Minister of Petroleum Yamani would be back in Cairo now coordinating with the other Arab ministers a prompt ending of the boycott. Fahd added, however, that he was “only one person,” and that “there were others.” He was happy that I would be seeing King on Jan 23, and urged me to argue the USG’s case with the same persuasiveness I had with him. He was leaving that evening for a couple of days in Riyadh, but I could be assured of his continued support as matter debated by SAG.
Comment: Fahd’s support and sympathy—as always—cannot be questioned. I have some doubt, however, of how effectively he can deploy his influence and argue his case before King and other ministers—especially when he is opposed by aggressive and well-spoken commoners such as Zaki Yamani and Minister for Planning Hisham Nazer. The King’s initial positions obviously reflected the concern of these latter two ministers for Saudi Arabia’s standing in the eyes of its fellow Arabs. By the end of my audience with him, the King had allowed himself to be persuaded to adopt a more forthcoming position (though still not as forthcoming as we might have hoped). Yamani and Nazer are both out of the country, but at least Nazer is expected to return soon. It may therefore be important for us to act so as to keep Faisal from sliding back into his original position. I strongly recommend that the President send the King a message that will express gratification with understanding reached para 10 above. Proposed text for such letter follows septel. This will help to freeze the Saudis into this position.6
  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; Niact; Immediate; Cherokee; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 329 from Jidda is Document 284. For telegram 331 from Jidda, see footnote 4 thereto. Telegram 12869 to Jidda is Document 285. Telegram 13410 to Jidda, January 21, provided Akins with talking points for use with Faisal and other senior Saudi officials as appropriate. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Feb 74–July 74)
  3. Telegram 380 from Jidda, January 23. (Ibid., Box 631, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. V)
  4. January 25.
  5. Presumably the message in Document 288.
  6. After receipt of this telegram, Kissinger told Nixon, “If you write a letter tomorrow that, then, over the week-end we can work out so that you can announce it [the end of the embargo] in your State of the Union address.” Nixon responded: “This is the greatest thing we could possibly do. Apart from the damn embargo, it [the State of the Union address] wouldn’t amount to anything anymore.” (January 23, 7 p.m.; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 24, Chronological Files)