328. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Your Luncheon with John Freeman2

Attached at Tab A is a paper on the Persian Gulf which Hal Saunders did.3

I would make three general points:

a. Labor or Conservative, Britain is a waning power; we will be deluding ourselves if we depend on the UK to play a stabilizing role in the Persian Gulf for any length of time. Moreover, the Iranians don’t like it, unless the messy island issue is solved.4

b. Any extensive prolongation of UK military presence—probably not in the cards, anyway—is going to run into budgetary binds and affect UK commitments to Europe, where they are a lot more important to us.

c. We and the UK have differing interests on the opening of the Suez Canal. (This is not raised in Hal’s memo or in the Secretary’s talk with Alex Douglas-Home5 but is worth keeping in mind.) They want the Canal for commercial reasons; for us the Canal gives our principal international adversary a short route into the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.

On other matters you might raise with John, you might ask him very personally just why we should continue with the Berlin negotiations when there is almost no prospect for success and the only likely outcome is that we will be blamed by the Germans for torpedoing their Ostpolitik.

[Page 984]

Incidentally, you might also broach the [less than 1 line not declassified] weapons question in view of the change of Government in London.

On meeting Heath, while I take it this has already been generally discussed, I would think this should be steered in the San Clemente direction where there would be most time to talk and least need for pomp and circumstance.

British presence in Persian Gulf.6 The issue is not whether the British should stay on in the Persian Gulf after 1971 but in what form. Even the Labor Government planned a substantial residual presence in the form of continuing political residents and military advisers. What they did plan to end was British treaty—and therefore military—responsibility for the shaikhdoms. It appears that even the conservative government is not likely to reverse that plan.

The U.S. argued against the original British decision and has consistently urged the British to play as large a role as possible in the Gulf after 1971. We certainly welcome experienced help. In addition, any buffer between the Iranians and Arabs seems an advantage. We have staked our policy on Saudi-Iranian cooperation, but Iranian power and ambition may make that a weak reed. The British between have helped prevent Iranian-Arab frictions from getting to the point of confrontation.

But the U.S. has also recognized—as have many members of Mr. Heath’s own party apparently including Douglas-Home—that the Labor announcement of withdrawal, once made, was in some ways irreversible. Principally, the Iranians have been given hope of becoming the big power in the Gulf and have made clear that they will not react kindly to any reversal of that trend. Even the shaikhdoms—although anxious to retain as much British help and protection as possible—have set their minds on building their own federation. A change in direction could make them the targets of Arab radical attack.

The net judgment in State has been that—apart from a small stretchout in the timetable—it would probably create an unwanted new anti-Western issue on which even Iran would be on the other side if the new UK Government reversed the Labor Government’s decision. That is not to say the British should not be active in maximizing their presence after the end of their formal treaty responsibilities. There are a lot of things in the intelligence, anti-subversion and political fields that we are not equipped to do.

[Page 985]

The question, therefore, is not so much whether the new British Government should think in terms of reversing Labor’s decision as it is what the British can do to build a substantial residual presence, strengthen indigenous forces as much as possible and remove as many causes of friction as possible before the end of 1971. [Having settled Bahrain, they are now working on Iranian claims to Arab islands and a dispute over the Buraimi oasis.]7

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 727, Country Files—Europe, United Kingdom, Vol. III. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the first page reads: “HAK has seen.”
  2. No record of this meeting was found.
  3. Not printed.
  4. Reference to the Shatt al’Arab.
  5. See Document 327. Rogers’s meeting with Douglas-Home was reported in telegram Secto 110 from London, July 12. It is printed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Document 86.
  6. For documentation on the British withdrawal decision and the U.S. response, see Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, volume XII, Western Europe, and ibid., 1969–1976, volume XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970.
  7. Brackets are in the original.