30. Editorial Note

On January 3, 1975, The New York Times reported that Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, in an interview with Business Week magazine shortly before Christmas, said that he could not rule out the use of force against oil-producing nations. He made clear, however, that such action “would be considered only in the gravest emergency.” “I am not saying that there’s no circumstances where we would not use force,” he said, “but it is one thing to use it in the case of a dispute over price; it’s another where there is some actual strangulation of the industrialized world.” Asked about the interview, Kissinger remarked: “I have said it would not come to that point, and that the oil problem would be dealt with by other methods,” but he reiterated that “there’s no circumstances where we would not use force.” The December 23 Business Week interview was reprinted in Department of State Bulletin, January 27, 1975, pp. 97–106.

The Embassy in Saudi Arabia reported that King Faisal and the Saudi Government were “disturbed” by the “threatening implications” of the statements that Kissinger made during the Business Week interview. A Royal adviser told Ambassador James Akins: “This represents a complete change in American policy and we must therefore revise [Page 109]our own policy toward the United States.” Akins responded that there was “no change” in U.S. policy and that he “had made the same statements” himself in a Foreign Affairs article 2 years before. He also reminded the adviser that he had declared, both publicly in the United States and privately in Saudi Arabia, that “invasion would be madness but when countries are reduced to desperation they take ‘mad’ actions.” To help alleviate Saudi concerns, Akins requested additional information from the Department or a message from the Secretary. (Telegram 32 from Jidda, January 4; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750004–0636)

The Ambassador sent another telegram the following day informing the Department that Minister of Petroleum Sheikh Ahmad Yamani told him that the King was “depressed and worried by ‘American threats’ against Saudi Arabia.” Yamani also said that he had never seen the King “so worried and so questioning of his relationship with the United States.” Later that day, the King himself told Akins that he was “extremely disturbed” by the “series of ‘American threats’ against Saudi Arabia” that culminated in the Business Week interview. As for the prospect of occupying the Saudi oil fields, Yamani said that doing so would be “very difficult,” that the fields could be “sabotaged easily,” that a “‘quick surgical operation’ would be impossible,” and that the result would be the “loss of Saudi production for years.” Akins believed, however, that Saudi officials would “calm down” once they digested the Arabic translation of the complete text of Kissinger’s statements. That said, he also thought that the Kingdom would be “stirred up again” when the next newspaper or magazine article reported that the United States proposed occupying Saudi Arabia or any other oil-producing country. (Telegram 67 from Jidda, January 5; ibid., D750004–0773)

On January 8, the Department instructed Akins to tell the Saudi Government that the question about military action “arose with specific relation to oil prices,” and that the Secretary “made it clear that we did not consider military action to be an appropriate response to oil prices.” The Department also instructed the Ambassador to point out that the question itself was a hypothetical one regarding a “deliberate attempt” by oil producers to “strangle the industrialized world”—the “gravest emergency”—which Kissinger said did not apply to the “present situation,” adding that he “did not foresee such a situation arising.” The Department told Akins to point out that Kissinger never mentioned the possibility of an invasion of Saudi Arabia in particular, and that he had highlighted the “importance of maintaining the relationship of friendship between Saudi Arabia and the US.” (Telegram 1955 to Jidda; ibid., D750004–0717)

Kissinger replied personally in a note to Prince Sultan regarding the Business Week interview (telegram 7266 to Jidda, January 11; ibid., [Page 110]P850106–2309), a gesture for which the Prince expressed “deep appreciation.” Sultan also said that he hoped that the Secretary’s note, and a similar note from President Ford to King Faisal (telegram 7265 to Jidda, January 11; ibid., P850106–2304) would result in “calming passions” in other Arab capitals. (Telegram 283 from Jidda, January 14; Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Middle East and South Asia, Box 29, Saudi Arabia—State Department Telegrams to SECSTATE–NODIS (3))

Although U.S.-Saudi tensions over the interview had dissipated by mid-January, Yamani warned Akins that the Saudi National Guard “had orders to prepare to blow up certain sensitive sections of the Saudi oil fields and to fire certain wells should there be concrete plans to invade and occupy them.” Yamani added that “there had been inter-Arab discussion on the matter and any invasion would be followed by cutoff of all Arab oil.” (Telegram 251 from Jidda, January 13; ibid., P850106–2311)