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

552. Subj: New Arab Condition for Lifting Oil Boycott. Ref: A) Jidda 529; B) State 22597.2

Summary: King Faisal is sending a letter to President Nixon in which he says that Saudi Arabia has contacted other Arab states and has found no support for the Saudi proposal to lift the oil boycott now. Most of the Arab states agree with Syrian President Asad that this action cannot be taken until disengagement of troops begins on the Golan Heights. The Saudi Foreign Minister said that the Saudis were supported only by Qatar and Egypt, and said that Syria is now the key to peace in the area.3 He said this letter does not mean that there will be an unending series of new demands, and agreed to send another letter to the Secretary or the President very soon stating explicitly that the boycott will be lifted when disengagement in Golan begins. End summary.

1. Sayyid Omar Saqqaf, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, asked to see me at 1 p.m. this afternoon (Feb 3, 1000 GMT). He had just returned from Riyadh and gave me a message from the King. Its translation follows:

“His Excellency President Richard Nixon, President of the Republic of the United States of America.

Your Excellency, the President:

“We informed Your Excellency previously through your Ambassador in Jidda that we had begun our contacts with the Arab oil producing states; we have discovered, however, that most of these states are unwilling to lift the boycott on the United States of America until [Page 837] after agreement (is reached) on the disengagement of Syrian and Israeli forces on the Golan front.

“We understand from President Hafiz al-Asad that the Syrians presented Secretary Kissinger a proposal for the disengagement of forces. Until now no reply has reached them. Since the review of the question of lifting the boycott at the meeting of Petroleum Ministers in Tripoli on February 14, 1974 will not be positive if agreement has not been previously reached on disengagement on the Golan front and implementation has begun, we strongly hope that you will attempt to attain this goal before the meeting of Ministers of Petroleum convenes in order to assist us in achieving that.

“Please accept, Excellency (my) best wishes for continued health. Faisal, Riyadh, 3 Feb 1974.”

2. I told Sayyid Omar I was most distressed; I was sure that both you and the President would be alarmed and angered, and there would be no comprehension whatever in Washington of this new demand. I reviewed all earlier Saudi statements about lifting the boycott. I said that the lifting of the boycott, to have had its most positive effect in the U.S. and the world, should have been accomplished when the Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement was signed; the next moment would have been when disengagement began; and it certainly should have been lifted before the President gave his State of the Union message on January 30.4 Every delay weakened Arab position in the U.S.; every further condition they imposed reduced the will of the United States even to try to reach a just peace in the area.

3. Omar Saqqaf agreed with every point but said that we had unfortunately not been so persuasive as other Arab capitals. He said that Algiers, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi all agreed completely with Syrian President Asad’s position that the boycott should not be lifted until disengagement begins on the Syrian front, that Asad had just come to Riyadh to reinforce his case with King Faisal. Saqqaf said Libya and Iraq do not want the boycott lifted at any time. In fact, the only support Saudi Arabia got was from Qatar, “which doesn’t even count.”

4. I asked about Egypt’s position. He replied that Egypt would agree to lift the boycott immediately; “Egypt doesn’t count crisis issue either.” He said the Arabs were dismayed at the withdrawal agreement which left only token Egyptian forces on the East Bank of the canal. He said this came as a complete surprise to the Arabs; the Egyptians had told the Saudis in November that your understanding with the Israelis was that two-thirds or three-fourths of Egypt’s Second and Third [Page 838] Armies would stay in place. There was a widespread belief in the Arab world, he said, that the Egyptians had been had.

5. I said that the King’s letter was exactly what I had reported to Washington might happen—we would meet one demand, and then another would be made. I was not pleased to have my prediction fulfilled so solidly. What guarantee could we now possibly have that a disengagement agreement on the Syrian front would not be followed by other demands?

6. Sayyid Omar said that President Asad of Syria had told the King explicitly that he would favor lifting the boycott as soon as the disengagement begins; that he was sure other Arabs would agree (excepting Iraq and Libya) and that he could give me his word that Saudi Arabia would lift the boycott at that time.

7. I said I was not questioning his integrity, but we had heard other Saudi expressions of goodwill before, and Saudi Arabia had shown that it could not deliver its Arab brothers. What would happen if Kuwait, for instance, would say that it wanted concessions to be made on the Jordan River? I asked if he or the King could send a letter to you or to the President referring to today’s letter and stating explicitly that when disengagement on the Syrian front begins the oil boycott definitely will be lifted. He said yes, unequivocally, and asked me to draft a letter. He said he would fly to Riyadh with it; he would get the King’s approval and we could have the signed letter in a day or two.

8. I said I had no idea whether the idea would be in any way acceptable in Washington. In any case I was sure it would be unreasonable to expect any movement on the Syrian-Israeli front before February 14, and that you had asked me to tell him explicitly that you would not be able to continue your peace efforts if the boycott lasted beyond the Tripoli meeting.

9. I told him I thought today’s meeting had strong overtones of tragedy. The Syrian-Israeli disengagement was surely high on your list of priorities; and you had fully intended to continue working not only for this, but for the general peace settlement. I asked how the Arabs could risk such great stakes for such negligible potential gains. And I asked if he could think of any rational reason for continuing the boycott now or any way the Arabs could benefit by it. I said I would be pleased to report anything he told me. He said nothing.

10. There was some justification, I said, in the Arabs’ accusations against the U.S. until six months ago that we didn’t take the Middle East seriously, that we were not making adequate efforts to bring peace to the area. There was no way that they could continue this accusation. Now it was clearly up to the Arabs to take the next step.

11. I reminded him that we had both said repeatedly there was a real chance of peace in the Middle East now for the first time in 20 [Page 839] years. We must not allow it to be squandered now through the shortsighted actions of Algeria, which is irrelevant to the Middle Eastern scene, and the rantings of the pipsqueak Foreign Minister in Kuwait.5 Saudi Arabia was in an extremely powerful position; it shouldn’t be asking Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Algiers for their concurrence to its proposals; it should be telling them what to do.

12. Again Saqqaf said he agreed with everything I said; he said the Saudis depended on me for advice and they certainly knew that everything I had told them about reactions in the U.S. public and Congress was correct. But I was asking too much, he said, in suggesting that they could stand up against all of their Arab brothers. He asked specifically that I remind you of his several statements that the key to peace in the Middle East lay not in the hands of the Egyptians but in Damascus. Saudi Arabia could not now do something by itself which Asad had asked the Arabs not to do.

13. Saqqaf said he was not suggesting a new U.S. initiative; disengagement talks in Syria had already begun as part of earlier talks. Asad had given you the details of the Syrian disengagement proposal and Saqqaf said he considered it very reasonable (he defined the Syrian proposal as Israeli withdrawal from the 1973 salient and a further withdrawal of 5 to 7 kilometers back from the 1967 truce lines). He said that many Arabs feared that the USG would never be able to move the Israelis on the Syrian front. They believed that this must be demonstrated before full confidence in the U.S. can be restored. The Syrian proposal was modest, Asad had told them and if the U.S. is unable to get Israeli agreement to it, the American inability to move Israel to serious concessions will have been exposed. This was the reason for Asad’s insistence, and why most of the Arabs agreed with him.

14. I will see Saqqaf again tomorrow (Feb 4) and then will go to Riyadh on Tuesday (Feb 5). I will try to meet Adham (if he is back from Cairo), Prince Fahd (Minister of Interior) and Prince Musa’ad (Minister of Finance), who is also on the oil committee. I will make the points made in the reference cables unless instructed otherwise.

15. Comment: I believe Sayyid Omar has given me an honest account of events, and that the letter was written only after the Saudis [Page 840] got negative responses to their initiatives. I do not know, however, with what vigor the Saudis pushed for an immediate lifting of the boycott. I fear that as soon as they were accused of being tools of the Americans they wilted. I also assume that Saqqaf’s quotation of Asad’s views is correct and that a disengagement on the Golan front could well result in the lifting of the boycott. I did not imply to Saqqaf that I would urge you or the President to take any further action before the boycott is lifted. In fact, I said I strongly feared that you could not or would not do anything. Every time I mentioned our withdrawal from peace efforts it was disconcerting to see him shrug and reply “so be it” or “perhaps there must be another war anyway.” He also mentioned, as he has several times recently, that he was tired, that he didn’t like fighting his own people, and perhaps he should resign.

15. Action requested: (A) Shall I continue to make the strong approach in Riyadh as suggested above and in reftels? (B) Is there any possibility of movement on the Golan front and what can I tell the Saudis? (C) If there is possibility of movement there, do you have suggestions on what could be included in the next Saudi letter to you? I expect to see Saqqaf tomorrow evening (Feb 4, 1500 GMT) and to leave from Riyadh at 0400 GMT, February 5.

  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. See Document 297 and footnotes 25 thereto.
  3. Asad told Kamal Adham in a January 30 meeting that he was firmly opposed to lifting the oil embargo on the basis of disengagement at Suez only, and that Boumedienne supported him. During their meeting, Asad called Boumedienne on the phone to get confirmation. On February 3, Asad told Faisal in Riyadh that he wanted disengagement on the Syrian front first, and that Kuwait, Algeria, and the United Arab Emirates “firmly supported” this stance. Faisal was “deeply disturbed” at having failed to get the embargo lifted in response to disengagement in the Sinai, but not willing to oppose Syria unilaterally. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Dec 73–Feb 74)
  4. See Document 292.
  5. According to telegram 22524 to Kuwait, February 2, the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister had stated publicly that he was not aware of any impending meeting on the oil embargo, nor did he see any change until Israel left all occupied Arab territories. Kissinger conveyed his “strong concern,” stating that Nixon’s State of the Union address (see Document 292) was a “faithful and precise reflection of assurances” and that the Foreign Minister’s remarks could only be interpreted as an attempt to dissuade other Arab countries from normalizing their economic relations with the United States, “an attempt which we find totally inappropriate.” (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 620, Country Files, Middle East, Kuwait, Vol. I)