197. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Sisco) to the Deputy Secretary of State (Rush)1

Situation in Southern Arabia—Your Meeting with Deputy Secretary Clements

Sporadic fighting has been underway for some time in Southern Arabia as a result of the activities of the radical South Yemen regime, which is heavily supported by the Soviet Union and to a lesser extent by other Communist countries. With the help of the Chinese, South Yemen provides aid and sanctuary for Marxist rebels operating in the Dhofar region of Oman. It has also supported subversive activities in North Yemen, elsewhere in Oman, and in the newly independent states of the Gulf.

The Saudis, particularly since they have resumed relations with North Yemen in 1970, have increasingly focused their attention on means to contain and weaken South Yemen. The Saudis have provided economic aid to North Yemen and have directly financed South Yemeni exiles who have made raids into South Yemen from Saudi or North Yemeni territory. As a result of these activities, border warfare broke out between North and South Yemen last September and ended when [Page 646] both countries agreed to negotiate a unity agreement. Negotiations for unity between the two Yemens have not produced any results. South Yemen has taken advantage of the pause to build up its armed forces and it is scheduled to receive Mig–21 aircraft. Some 170 Cubans have also arrived to help train “worker militia” and act as pilots for the South Yemen Air Force. There is also a Soviet military mission of some 200. North Yemen, meanwhile, has sought to improve its military capability by seeking arms from Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis have continued their support of South Yemeni dissidents and have recently begun to coordinate their efforts with the Sultan of Oman, who also is seeking Saudi financial and military aid.

Recently, there have been two developments involving requests from Saudi Arabia related to US military equipment. The first followed the mid-March meetings in Riyadh between the North Yemen Prime Minister and Saudi officials, during which the gamut of Saudi-Yemeni relations were reviewed and the Saudis agreed to provide an additional $20 million in budget support and consider a lengthy shopping list of military equipment desired by the Yemeni army. The Saudis have asked the services of US military advisors in Saudi Arabia to participate with Saudi and North Yemeni officers in developing a well-thought-out plan for rearming the Yemeni armed forces with military equipment provided by the US through Saudi Arabia. We earlier informed the Saudis of our willingness to consider requests for transfer of suitable US-supplied equipment in Saudi inventories to Yemen. In response, we have told the Saudis we are prepared to have our advisors review the Yemeni requests with the Saudi officers but not to become engaged directly with the Yemenis. To do so would, we believe, encourage the North Yemenis to turn to us and seek a direct MAP relationship, which we are not in a position to establish. It would also be contrary to our policy of encouraging regional cooperation among the Peninsula states on security matters.

The second development occurred on March 22 when two South Yemeni Mig–17s attacked the Saudi outpost at Wudayah, located some 75 miles north of the border. The motives for the attack remain obscure but may be related to an incident earlier in the month when South Yemen’s President Salim Rubai Ali and National Front Secretary Abd al Fattah Ismail were reportedly ambushed during a tour of the Sixth Province (adjoining Oman’s Dhofar Province) and were forced to take refuge aboard a Soviet cruiser which was in the vicinity. It may also have been a reaction to the mid-March visit to Oman of the Saudi Minister of Defense, Prince Sultan (Saudi Arabia and Iran are providing helicopters to Oman).

The Saudis have reacted by moving their British Lightning jet interceptors to their southern base at Khamis Mushayt, some 300 miles [Page 647] west of Wudayah. The Saudis have also requested US assistance in expediting the supply of equipment, including munitions and rockets which could be used by their newly acquired F–5B trainer aircraft. We are urgently working with the Department of Defense on this request and have, among other things, asked our Embassy in Tehran to review the list in the event some items might be available in Iran which the Saudis could ask for directly. We are also sending, at Saudi request, our assessment of the Southern Yemeni situation and its possible relationship to recent border problems experienced by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with Iraq. At the same time, we are requesting a Special National Intelligence Estimate on the situation in Southern Arabia which will serve as background for our Program Analysis and Resource Allocation (PARA) paper that is being prepared for the Arabian Peninsula.

  1. Summary: Sisco provided a situation report on the southern Arabian Peninsula as background for Rush’s meeting with Clements.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files, 1970–73, POL 30, South Yemen. Secret. Drafted by Dickman. Davies concurred.