303. Backchannel Message From the Ambassador to Saudi Arabia (Akins) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Eyes Only Dr. Kissinger. Refs: A. Department 022671. B. DCI Memo Feb 4 “Arab Oil Policy.”2
Sayyid Omar Saqqaf, Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, flew with me to Riyadh this morning (0600 GMT 5 February 74).3 I told him I had received instructions from Washington yesterday after I had seen him. They were even stronger than I had told him they would be. I said I had considered giving him my interpretation of the message, with my paraphrases, but I was afraid that he might allow his personal feelings of friendship to put a rosier color on the message than Washington intended. Accordingly, I said, I wanted to read the message to him as written.
He said that the oral message I had brought previously was harsh enough;4 that if he had reported it verbatim to the King, Faisal would have been furious. Saqqaf could not see how my formal instructions could be worse. I then read the telegram. He was silent for a long time. He asked if the drafter of the message had taken leave of his senses. The Secretary, he said, was far too wise to have drafted or even authorized the message which was so mendacious and so insulting that it could only be interpreted as a decision by the United States to terminate its influence and abandon its interests in the Arab world.
He said he was amazed at the suggestion to publish the exchanges of messages between the President and the Secretary and the Saudis. He had concluded that these messages in their hands constituted an immense power over American politics—a power, he said, which Saudi Arabia would under no circumstances have ever used. Every message from Washington, he said, every conversation with the Secretary or with me, was basically a plea to protect Richard Nixon; there was no reference in Washington’s messages to the need to help [Page 853] the United States; there was not even any indication that the oil boycott was hurting the United States. It was just that the Arabs had to take action to protect the Presidency of Richard Nixon. How, he asked, could the administration seriously consider releasing these exchanges. But if they want to, the Saudis will have no objection. They will also release any parts of the exchanges which Washington omits.
Furthermore, he said, a reading of the messages and an account of the meetings with Secretary Kissinger will reveal how far the Saudis have moved in response to U.S. wishes. The King had started by saying the boycott will be maintained until the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem, are restored. He then said that it would be sufficient for the USG to form a plan for the complete Israeli withdrawal and then guarantee it. This was eroded further when the SAG said that Israeli withdrawal beyond repeat beyond the Mitla Pass in Sinai would be sufficient. Finally they accepted the Israeli Egyptian disengagement agreement and they agreed, as the King had informed you, to try to persuade the other Arab countries to approve lifting of the boycott now. They had hoped that this action would be taken; they had tried very hard to get acceptance of the principle but they had failed. (See also ref B).
They had thought that they had achieved a lot in getting general agreement from the Arabs to lift the boycott once disengagement on the Syrian front begins—particularly as the Syrian demands were modest. Sayyid Omar thought the suggestion that the SAG give a written guarantee of this would have been accepted eagerly by Washington. The Saudis will not of course or will they ever send such a message. He said he regrets my raising it with Washington.
He said that he and the King had trusted the Secretary and the President explicitly; but this trust was not widely shared in the Arab world. They had tried to convince other Arabs that they were right; that peace in the Arab Middle East depended on the efforts of the Nixon-Kissinger team, but they were quite obviously wrong to have tried to do so. This hostile reaction from Washington could only be interpreted as Washington’s acknowledgement that it does not really intend to put pressure on Israel; and the USG will never be able (or even willing) to get Israel to withdraw. The other Arabs will have to draw their own conclusions.
After a long and painful pause he continued with an account of his regard for the Americans and for their institutions. He said he knew the Americans have often accused the Arabs of acting irrationally. I had myself, he said, accused the Arabs of behaving irrationally in not lifting the boycott last week. Now it was the Americans who were acting strangely. Never, he said, had the Arabs acted in a manner so obviously contrary to their own interests as were the Americans now.
He then asked if the United States had any idea of what it was about to lose. What other friends does the United States have in the Middle East? Only Israel, it seems. And Israel and the Soviet Union may be on the verge of achieving their long term goal of polarizing the area into two hostile blocs. Did not the United States understand what its political and economic interests were? Was it deliberately writing them off? Or was it just that the United States was even more totally enslaved to Israeli wishes and Zionist pressures then the Arabs had believed?
He said it would be difficult for the SAG to accept the contention that the U.S. could not move within ten days. It could do so in ten minutes if it wanted. The Arabs were not asking for Israel’s destruction. They were only asking that it withdraw from Arab lands and there could be any manner of security guarantee the United States or Israel wanted. Why would the American public or the American Congress not accept this?
He said the Saudis too will have to start their own reassessment of their position. The US-Saudi military association will have to be reviewed—this will cause no problem; many European countries are anxious to replace the Americans. Saudi Arabia will have to consider starting withdrawing its funds from American banks, and the United States can forget about participating in any of the large development programs in the Kingdom. He said this last part pained him particularly; he reminded me of frequent conversations on the subject and said he had agreed with me completely on the desirability of forming a giant economic cooperative organization including the United States, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. The United States would have been given a preferred position in Saudi Arabia, since it has the largest economy, the most developed technology and the most trustworthy businessmen. It was the United States that Saudi Arabia wanted to depend on.
Now he said it seemed this was now finished if the United States really is taking the position implied in the message. Saudi Arabia would also have to review its relations with Aramco. In any case Saudi Arabia would now contact those European countries and Japan who have approached them with proposals for bi-lateral deals and start working out programs for industrialization and investment in return for Saudi oil. “We can live without you altogether, you know.”
He finished and we sat in silence again. I repeated that there was very little new of substance in the message. I had told him everything myself or I had warned them that it would be coming from Washington. The tone may have been harsher than I had used but the substance was not very different. We must not allow temper on either side of the water to destroy the first real chance for peace in the area we have had in over a generation. The United States must continue its [Page 855] peace efforts or there will be no peace; and Saudi Arabia must also understand the political realities in the United States. The President had believed that Saudi Arabia would be successful in its efforts; he had also received very encouraging signs from Egypt to this effect. He had announced to the world that he had good reason to believe that there would soon be movement on the boycott. Now there was to be none. He would look foolish and he would be further weakened. Like it or not, the Nixon-Kissinger team was almost certainly the only combination which could bring off a peace in the Middle East with which the Arabs could live in dignity and honor. They must not be weakened. I repeated my plea, for the hundredth time, to lift the boycott now. There could be no rational reason for maintaining it.
Could the Saudis not inform Syria and the other Arabs that they had firm assurances from the Americans that they would work for peace, and specifically for a disengagement on the Syrian front? Could they not then ask the other Arabs to share the Saudi trust in the United States?
He replied that the letter had been written and sent to the President.5 There would be no backing off. They still know that the United States would try to achieve the disengagement but if it stopped its efforts so be it.
He said that there was a wide and growing feeling in the Arab world—particularly in Egypt—that Sadat had been taken in the negotiations. Israel had given up nothing; it still held almost all of the Arab lands. It even had the Egyptian oil fields. Egypt was neutralized and Israel was in a very strong position vis-à-vis Syria and Jordan. This feeling of frustration was accompanied by a feeling that there must be another war, and another and another. Israel now too was losing its golden opportunity. The Syrians were spoiling for another round and so was the Egyptian army. The announcement of the new American policy would even endanger the government of Sadat.
He then paused for a long time and asked if I knew what the King would do when he informed him of the message. I said I thought it depended largely on how it was presented. He said there could be only one way as there was only one point. Hadn’t we yet learned that the King reacts to gentle persuasion—and he asked if I had forgotten how he had mellowed during my last call. Threats turn him in on himself and he always reacts negatively.
He then asked if the United States could not reconsider; if it could not withdraw this message. I said I would ask Washington, and [Page 856] asked that he not mention it to the King until I had a response. I said I would hope to have it by opening of business tomorrow (0500Z GMT, February 6).
I saw Saqqaf early this afternoon (1100 GMT) and read the foregoing to him to make sure it was an accurate reflection of his views. He suggested a few changes which were incorporated.
He seemed in a less tense mood; in fact he said I seemed too discouraged and told me to cheer up; things weren’t all that bad. The United States would survive; and Saudi Arabia would probably survive too. There would just be another relationship.
I said the survival of either country was no cause for worry. What concerned me was that the sole chance of peace in the Middle East now seemed to be slipping away, for reasons which were so unimportant in the broad context of peace and war.
He then said he thought I should see the King. He said he didn’t think I had any chance of moving him from this position, but “you never know.” In any case, I should try. He said he would set up a meeting for tomorrow evening (probably around 1600 GMT, February 6).
I will see Princes Sa’ud (Deputy Minister of Petroleum) and Turki (Deputy to Kamal Adham), both sons of King Faisal, this evening. I am scheduled to see Prince Musa’ad (Minister of Finance) and Royal Advisors Prince Nawwaf and Rashad Pharaon tomorrow morning. I will make the same pitch. I should point out however that all the Oil Committee present in Riyadh and all the Royal Advisors approved King Faisal’s letter to President Nixon of February 4.
Comment: Saqqaf again seemed tired and discouraged and again soundly condemned the Egyptians for yielding too much to Israel for too little in return. This view somewhat paralleled by Prince Fahd (see following telegram)6 and we hear such talk increasingly frequently. I doubt if there is much chance of getting the King to budge now but I will try. I will not read him the message but will give him the points in reftel A, with as much force as I can while still retaining his attention.
Action requested: That the Department consider “recalling” the message. I can assure you that the points were very well made; in fact Saqqaf copied down fifteen specific points I read to him. They will not be forgotten regardless of any subsequent message.
I hope I can have some new mitigating words to use with the King tomorrow. Ideally I would like to have a letter from the President in answer to his, thanking him for his efforts, but expressing our grave disappointment at his lack of success of his efforts, and the embarrassment it has caused him (the President) to have relied on the assurances he had received from the King and his other Arab friends. It was especially painful to learn that they had yielded to the pressure from the radicals who have never had Saudi Arabia’s interests at heart. The letter (if there can be one) should include everything we have done on Syria and everything we are planning to do.7
In the absence of such a letter please send me urgently everything on Syria I can use in talking with the King. I have all the other arguments well in mind, but I do not know what we are doing in Syria, what we have told Asad, what position we have taken in Israel on this matter and what hopes we have. Asad has given the King a full briefing on what the Secretary told him, and I need our version to give the King.
  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; Flash; Cherokee; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 22671 is Document 300. The memorandum transmitted an intelligence report; see footnote 3, Document 298.
  3. In telegram 720 from Jidda, February 12, Akins expanded on the impressions he received from his visit to Riyadh February 5–7. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 631, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Vol. V)
  4. See Document 298.
  5. See Document 298.
  6. Not further identified.
  7. Kissinger and Nixon discussed a letter to Faisal that evening. Kissinger stated that Faisal “has himself locked in concrete” and that there was “absolutely no assurance” that Syrian disengagement would lead to an end to the embargo, adding: “We are there on a roller-coaster. We have their solemn assurance in writing that they would lift the embargo. This is not our imagination.” He told Nixon, “I doubt, Mr. President, we should continue running around under these conditions.” Nixon: “You mean you just leave the status quo?” Kissinger: “Who else is going to get disengagement?” (Telephone conversation, February 5, 5:35 p.m.; National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Telephone Conversation Transcripts, Box 24, Chronological Files) Kissinger then told Atherton to add a statement in the letter “that when all the tactical matters are said and done what the continuation of the embargo amounts to is an expression of lack of confidence in the personal assurance of the President of the United States on innumerable occasions.” That, he said, “is the most unacceptable part to us.” (Telephone conversation, February 5, 7:45 p.m.; ibid.) The letter was sent to Riyadh on February 6; see Document 307.