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

765. Subj: King Faisal: Progress Toward Golan Disengagement a Precondition for Lifting Boycott. Ref: (A) Jidda 0764; (B) Amb’s Flash message to Sec from Riyadh CG 2030 GMT; (C) Secretary’s Feb 6 message to Ambassador in Riyadh; (D) Jidda 0629.2

Summary: King Faisal told Ambassador Feb 15 Algiers summit conference had decided in principle to lift oil boycott against U.S.3 Arab Oil Ministers conference postponed for two weeks, and King hopes U.S. in meantime will be able to achieve enough progress toward disengagement in Golan to allow Ministers to implement this decision by public announcement. Ambassador replied administration could not be expected to continue peace initiatives while boycott remained in force. He argued boycott now best weapon in hands of Israel and asked how could Arabs allow themselves to be stampeded into positions so harmful to their interests by Mrs. Meir’s deliberately provocative statements? Basic question was did Saudis trust word of President Nixon or not? Saudis uncomfortable, and would probably work for announcement boycott to be lifted if even at least an agreement to disengage appeared imminent. End summary.

Ambassador accompanied by DCM had audience with King Faisal 1900 GMT February 15. Also present on Saudi side were Special Advisor Prince Nawwaf and Advisor Rashad Pharaon. Minister of Interior Prince Fahd entered mid-way through meeting which lasted one hour and fifteen minutes.
Ambassador began by expressing hope King’s visit to Algiers had been useful; he had not heard of conference’s results and would [Page 907] be most interested in any information or conclusions His Majesty would care to impart.
King said that at Algiers he had noted Saudi Arabia and others present were coming under considerable pressure and criticism from other Arabs. At same time, he believed that Arabs in general wanted good relations with the U.S. and only hoped U.S. would act in such a way as to give Arab good will a chance to manifest itself freely. Furthermore, he said that at one meeting (restricted to the four Chiefs of State) Sadat, Boumedienne and al-Asad had all strongly expressed their wish to improve relations with the United States and to distance themselves from the Soviet Union.
King also had some information of a special nature to impart to Ambassador: it had been decided in principle to lift the oil boycott. This decision, however, had originally been taken by the Arab Petroleum Ministers and by rights it should be countermanded by them. Saudi Arabia had insisted on postponing the Petroleum Ministers meeting (scheduled for Tripoli, Feb 14) and they would now reconvene in two weeks. It was King’s hope that in the meantime enough progress would have been achieved toward disengagement on the Syrian front to enable the Oil Ministers to implement the Algiers decision and publicly announce the end of the boycott. If disengagement not begun, lifting the boycott would be difficult.
As an earnest of the SARG’s serious intent, King stated Syrians had or would soon provide U.S.G. with list of names of Israeli POW’s. It was hoped that with this step, the negotiation process with Israel which the Ambassador had outlined in his previous visit, could begin. (Ref C and D).
Ambassador replied that if he understood correctly the Saudi position was the same as at the last audience. The King agreed that it was essentially the same. In this case, the Ambassador continued, it would be impossible for President Nixon and Secretary Kissinger to work for disengagement on Syrian front as long as boycott remained in force. Both the President and the Secretary were being attacked severely by pro-Zionist elements for their peace efforts so far. Ambassador cited recent Harris Poll (USIS Bulletin 2/14/74) as showing substantial majority of U.S. public rapidly becoming more critical of Arabs and opposed any action by the U.S. that could be construed as a concession in response to pressure from the oil boycott. For the President to defy such strong and mounting anti-Arab feelings in the public at large would be to invite a setback to his personal prestige and a rebuff to his Middle East policies.
Ambassador said frankly he was distressed by news King brought him. He agreed with much of what His Majesty had said in past about Israel’s reluctance to withdraw from occupied Arab territory. [Page 908] Why then had the Arabs by their decision in Algiers played so openly into Israel’s hand? Did they not know that Mrs. Meir—because she feared American pressure—hoped the boycott would go on forever; that the boycott was now the best weapon in Israeli hands because so long as it continued our policy toward the area would remain on dead center? Why had the Arabs allowed themselves to be stampeded into such a negative position by Mrs. Meir’s provocative remarks on Golan? The Ambassador feared that if the Arab position must remain as described by the King, Israel had reason to rejoice.
The Ambassador fully understood the Arab position and even that of President al-Asad. But issue in its essentials was a matter of trust in United States and in the word of its President. His Majesty had President’s oral and written commitment to work for a just and lasting peace in M.E. Several such assurances had recently been provided the SAG at its request; in particular, Ambassador referred to Middle East reference in the President’s State of the Union message and the President’s communication on the eve of the Algiers conference.4 The Ambassador wondered what further assurances could one expect from the President of the greatest power in the world? At this point the Ambassador paused. The King, Prince Fahd, and Prince Nawwaf remained silent. Rashad Pharaon played with his beads.
The Ambassador went on: what kind of action moreover did His Majesty expect the U.S. to take in the next two weeks to justify the lifting of the boycott? Implementation of withdrawal? Beginnings of withdrawal? Or agreement to the form of a withdrawal—that would begin almost immediately? Ashort discussion ensued between the King and Rashad Pharaon. The consensus seemed to be that if agreement on the modalities of withdrawal could be reached, or were even imminent, this might be enough for the Arab Oil Ministers to announce a lifting of the boycott. The King added it would be most helpful also, if the Secretary could come out in person to the area in the next few days to lend his personal prestige to diplomatic exchanges between Israel and Syria. Rashad Pharaon agreed and said that in the two weeks before the Oil Ministers met again, much could be accomplished.
The Ambassador recapitulated the many difficulties the President and the Secretary would have in undertaking any peace efforts given the status quo. The King listened impassively. He then said that the Arabs needed some indication that United States diplomacy could [Page 909] be effective on the Syrian as well as the Egyptian fronts. As for the internal difficulties such an effort might cause the President, the King was sure that in the event God would succour and sustain him.
As Ambassador took his leave, King remarked that press accounts stating MinState Saqqaf and Egyptian FonMin Fahmy were stopping in Paris for consultations with French before proceeding to Washington were mistaken. The only reason, he said, Saqqaf and Fahmy were in Paris was to change planes.5
Post would appreciate receiving relevant telegrams from Algiers and State, including perhaps State 030197 and 030331.6
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Kissinger Office Files, Box 139, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Feb 74–July 74. Secret; Niact; Immediate; Cherokee; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 764 from Jidda, February 15, recounts a meeting in which Yamani told Akins that the Algiers conference had failed because of Asad. According to Yamani, Asad had said that the “Israelis had just announced they would ‘never’ withdraw from Golan, that the U.S. was unwilling go on record opposing this, and that Arabs should not give up their strongest weapon—oil boycott—until U.S. shows it can force Israeli withdrawal from Syrian front.” (Ibid.) The Ambassador’s Flash message is Document 303. For the Secretary’s February 6 message, see Document 304. For telegram 629 from Jidda, see footnote 2, Document 312.
  3. The heads of state of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Algeria met in Algiers after the Tripoli conference was postponed.
  4. The President’s message on the eve of Algiers conference was not further identified.
  5. Following his meeting with the King, Akins met with Kamal Adham and Prince Saud to get the details of the Algiers conference. They also explored means by which Saudi Arabia unilaterally could lift the oil boycott. (Telegram 766 from Jidda, February 16; Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 207, Geopolitical Files, Saudi Arabia, Feb 7–Feb 28, 1974)
  6. Telegrams 30197 and 30331 to Paris, February 14, provide details on Fahmy and Saqqaf’s trip. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files)