212. Memorandum From Secretary of State Kissinger to President Ford1


  • Visit of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos Ibn Al-bu Sa’id

I. Purpose

Oman is important to US interests because it is in a geographic position (with Iran) to control the Strait of Hormuz, through which two thirds of the world’s oil exports pass. Its stability is a matter of prime concern to Iran and Saudi Arabia. Underdeveloped and isolated [Page 667] diplomatically until Qaboos took power in 1970, Oman is the only country in the Arabian Peninsula confronted with a guerrilla insurgency, which has been underway in its southwestern province of Dhofar which borders Marxist South Yemen, the principal supporter of the rebels.

Sultan Qaboos comes at a time of rapid economic development in Oman made possible by increased oil revenues, and continuing but slow success in the war against communist-led guerrillas. He will be here on a nominally private visit, but sees this as an opportunity to strengthen his relationship with American leaders and to burnish his own image as a traditional but progressive monarch both at home and in the Arab world generally. For us, it provides a chance to strengthen our ties with one of the Persian Gulf states, show our interest in Oman’s efforts to develop its economy and defend its territory, and indicate our appreciation for the Sultan’s own efforts in resisting communist-backed subversion emanating from South Yemen.

Your purpose in this meeting will be:

—to reassure Qaboos that we value our historically friendly relations in Oman;

—to encourage him to continue his struggle against the insurgency in Dhofar, looking to friendly regional states for support;

—to compliment Qaboos on his determination to pursue a policy of rapid economic development and reiterate our willingness to cooperate in providing technical assistance on a reimbursable basis;

—to assure him of your personal commitment to work towards a just and lasting settlement of the Arab-Israel conflict.

II. Background and Strategy

A. Background. There are no issues dividing our two governments, and our involvement with Oman has been limited. Oman supports the Arab cause on Israel, but dispassionately. While it complied with the Arab oil boycott, it did not reduce its 300,000 barrel per day production. The Omanis want a Middle East settlement primarily because they feel it will undercut radical influence in the area. Petroleum, produced primarily by a British-led consortium, accounts for almost all of Oman’s exports and revenues. Oman is currently earning $800 million from its oil; however, it is not a member of OPEC and plays a passive role on oil prices.

For over 150 years British interests, both commercial and military, have been paramount in Oman. The British still have an air base there. The Sultan himself studied at Sandhurst. The Commander in Chief of his armed forces is a seconded British Major General. His de facto Minister of Finance and Development is an expatriate Australian, and his special personal advisor is an expatriate Canadian and former [Page 668] Sandhurst classmate. The Omani Army is led by some 300 British officers—about half on contract and half seconded from the regular British army. We support the continuing British involvement in Oman since it: (a) helps to assure the continuation of a moderate and pro-western regime sharing control of the entrance to the Persian Gulf with Iran, and (b) serves as a bulwark against the expansionary revolutionary designs of the Marxist regime in neighboring South Yemen.

The Omani armed forces obtain most of their military equipment from Britain. However, Oman has sought to purchase some US military items, and our policy has been to be as forthcoming as our own supply situation permits in the context of Oman’s legitimate needs. However, three months ago we had to turn down an Omani bid to buy 100 TOW anti-tank missiles because we did not have them available.

We do not have an aid program in Oman, other than some 30 Peace Corps volunteers involved in such things as development of agriculture and water resources, nursing and public health. Oman has increasingly asked for technical assistance on a reimbursable basis through the Government-to-Government channel, and in such cases we try to be as helpful as possible. At the present time, for example, we are arranging to send to Oman (at Oman’s expense) three air control specialists from FAA and a rural electrification expert. Direct private American business involvement in Oman is growing as well in such diverse fields as food processing, port construction, fisheries development, and legal assistance, and Sun Oil is currently preparing to explore promising areas off Oman’s southern coast.

In line with the growth of our relations with Oman, we appointed a resident US ambassador to Muscat for the first time in July of this year. Our relations go all the way back to 1833, when we signed a treaty of friendship and navigation with the Sultanate.

B. Strategy. Our basic policy towards Oman has been to support the country’s economic development efforts and its fight against foreign-backed insurgency in Dhofar without ourselves becoming directly involved in that conflict. We have successfully followed this policy through support of continued British involvement in Oman and encouragement of regional military assistance (primarily from Iran, but also to a limited degree from Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia). The Iranians, at Omani request, have an expeditionary force in Dhofar, currently consisting basically of one infantry brigade with air support. The Jordanians have provided an expert military engineer company.

Sultan Qaboos appreciates our active encouragement of the regional support he has been receiving. He is reassured by the fact that British military involvement in Dhofar has not been affected by the recent Wilson Government Defense Policy Review. He is likely to [Page 669] be looking for an affirmation from you of our continued support of his government’s counterinsurgency efforts in Dhofar through encouraging regional cooperation and direct sale of military equipment needed and not readily available from other countries. I believe our strategy should be to reassure him on this point and on our general desire to be as responsive as possible (on a reimbursable basis) to any Omani request related to the country’s economic development.

III. Talking Points


—We appreciate your dynamic leadership in meeting the threat of subversion emanating from South Yemen; Oman is the front line for peninsula security.

—You are to be complimented on the rapid progress Oman has made since you came to power in 1970 and began to earn substantial oil revenues. Your economic development in the last four years has been very impressive. I applaud your concern that this development serve the well-being of all your countrymen.

—Let me assure you of my personal commitment to a just and lasting Middle East peace. The United States will continue actively to work towards this goal. We appreciate Oman’s understanding of our approach, which we believe in the present circumstances must continue to be a step by step one.

US-Omani Relations

—First, I wish to emphasize my Government’s basic policy and desire to promote increasingly close relations between our two countries and to foster mutual cooperation, especially in the economic and developmental field. As you know, we have 30 Peace Corps volunteers in Oman.

—Your Government has approached us on several occasions seeking technical assistance, on a reimbursable basis. We will continue to be as helpful as we can and seek to locate personnel with the technical skills you desire.

—We are also very much aware of heartening progress Oman is making in meeting the challenge of externally supported subversion in Dhofar. We see encouragement of regional cooperation as the best way for the United States to support Oman in its courageous response to this threat. Thus, as you know, we have given diplomatic support to the efforts of Iran and the UK, as well as Jordan, Saudi Arabia and other friendly states, in helping Oman to meet this problem.

—If at all possible, the United States is prepared to sell Oman military equipment needed for its defense. We support Oman’s strategy [Page 670] of pacification in Dhofar. We know from our experience in Vietnam that there can be no ultimate “pacification” until the local population is closely integrated with the national government and benefiting from this connection through economic development.

—Britain is a traditional ally of Oman. We have no desire to displace it in Oman or even compete. On the contrary, we will continue to urge the British to keep up their support. We think they are doing a creditable job. Where we can be of supplemental help—with technical assistance and weapons—we will do our best, but we think you can be the best judge of when and where we are needed.

—I would be interested in your views on the possibility of an eventual political settlement of the Dhofar insurgency with South Yemen. We, ourselves, have no influence with the South Yemen regime, and that regime has shown no real signs of interest in improving relations with us despite our receptivity to the idea. But we could help line up international support for you and help you coordinate any initiative with other states in the area, if you so desired.

IV. Participants and Press

A. Participants. Sultan Qaboos will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Zawawi, his uncle and personal advisor Sayyid Tarik, and Oman’s Ambassador Macki. I also intend to be present. An interpreter will not be necessary, as all speak fluent English.

B. Press. The meeting has been announced; since this is an essentially private visit, there will be no arrival ceremony; there will, however, be a photo session at the start of your meeting.

  1. Summary: Kissinger provided background information and talking points for President Ford’s meeting with Omani Sultan Qaboos ibn Sa’id al ‘Bu Sa’id.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Middle East and South Asia, Box 26, Oman (2). Secret. Attached but not published are biographic sketches of Qaboos and Sayyid Tarik, and a short paper summarizing the rebellion in Dhofar. For the memorandum of conversation, see Document 214. Helms recommended the visit in backchannel message 38 from Tehran, December 3, 1974. (Ibid., Oman (1))