214. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting with Sultan Qaboos


  • His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id
  • H.E. Sayyid Tarik, Personal Advisor to the Sultan
  • H.E. Qais Zawawi, Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Ambassador Ahmad Macki
  • The Secretary
  • Deputy Secretary Ingersoll
  • Under Secretary Sisco
  • Assistant Secretary Atherton
  • Ambassador William Wolle
  • NEA/ARP Country Director Dickman

The Secretary: Welcome Your Majesty (pointing to a painting on the wall). What do you think of my abstract painting?

The Sultan: It is very nice.

The Secretary: Some people think that it is the organization chart of the State Department (laughter). I apologize for having delayed this meeting. I have been working with the President on a speech he is going to give Sunday night on energy.

The Sultan: I quite understand. I know how busy you must be.

The Secretary: Happily, our relations with Oman are good. There are not too many problems between us that I am aware of that need solution. On the question of scopes for rifles that you raised with the President yesterday, these have been approved. Defense has also said that it would approve the sale of a few TOWs and some military training for Omanis in the United States. You will be hearing this when you visit the Defense Department this afternoon and you should deal with Deputy Secretary Clements about this. I have spoken to Mr. Clements about this and he has agreed in principle.

The Sultan: Thank you. This is something which we really need.

[Page 676]

The Secretary: One thing we would like to know is whether US aircraft which operate from our carriers when they are in the Indian Ocean could land at Masirah.

The Sultan: There would be no problem, just work it out with the RAF.

The Secretary: When we have carriers in the Indian Ocean, occasionally a reconnaissance plane needs a place to land for emergency reasons or refueling. If some contingency arrangement could be worked out between our two countries, it would link us much more closely.

The Sultan: (nodding his head in approval)

The Secretary: (hearing the chant of a demonstration by the Eritrean Liberation Front outside of the State Department) You hear the noise outside. They are protesting against our policy in Ethiopia. (Turning to Mr. Sisco) Do we have a position on the Eritrean Liberation Front question?

Mr. Sisco: Yes.

The Secretary: At least its not a demonstration against me. Every time there is a demonstration against me, half of my associates in the Department go out and join them. (laughter)

The Sultan: Perhaps they think this will please you?

The Secretary: At least it gets my attention (laughter). I was hearing complaints the other day that a leak concerning American weapons supplied to another country had come from the State Department. I said that as long as the leak was not directed against me, it could not possibly have come from the State Department. (pause)

The Secretary: How did you sleep. Did the building shake from the traffic?

Sayyid Tarik: I had difficulty. I could not adjust to the time frame. I woke up early this morning.

The Sultan: I had no trouble but I did stay up late watching your television.

The Secretary: I thought Your Majesty was going stronger at 11:00 p.m. last night than at 4:00 p.m. yesterday afternoon (laughter). I read in the newspapers that I had asked you to help me in finding a solution to the Middle East war. I do not want to disappoint anyone and if you can help, I would like any assistance you can give. What is your assessment of President Sadat? Do you think he will make a further move?

The Sultan: You know President Sadat better than I do. My own assessment is that Sadat is sincere. He wants to move the situation forward. There is no doubt he will make the effort towards a real settlement but whether he will risk everything with Syria without the [Page 677] Syrians agreeing to a certain extent to what he is doing is risky. It is a risky thing for a person in his position to act unilaterally.

The Secretary: This is one of the damnedest negotiations I have ever been engaged in. The two sides do not want to talk to each other but want me to do the talking for them. Now I have to be a psychiatrist. As I told His Majesty last night, I will write my memoirs only on Arab Chiefs of State and Arab Foreign Ministers. They are all dominant personalities. As I told His Majesty last evening, when Saudi Foreign Minister Saqqaf came to Washington last year on one of his visits, the coffee maker in the aircraft blew up shortly before the plane landed at Dulles. Saqqaf was convinced that it was a Zionist plot and he wanted police protection (laughter).

The Sultan: Did you like Saqqaf?

The Secretary: I liked Saqqaf very much. We were very good friends and got to know each other well. I once told him that I would like to be able to lead the life he led, to look the way he did—slightly dissipated. (laughter) Speaking of Foreign Ministers, I recall another example when after a tour through the Middle East, one Arab Foreign Minister went around to check to see what I had said and drew the conclusion that I had lied because I had told them all the same thing. (laughter) I tell you, these Arab Foreign Ministers are not persons of weak personality. Would you agree Your Majesty?

The Sultan: We come from desert background and that perhaps is the explanation.

The Secretary: Once after I talked to King Faisal, I felt that it had not been the best of conversations and told Saqqaf so. The King had just told me that he was not going to lift the oil embargo. Saqqaf told me that because the King had said this, in fact he was going to lift the embargo. Saqqaf proved to be right. At first, when I would meet with King Faisal, he would not look at me but would pick lint off his robes. Now he looks at me. Does he look at you?

The Sultan: (nodding affirmatively)

The Secretary: I guess I will know I have a real friend in Faisal when he starts picking lint off my coat (laughter). Seriously, however, I am a great admirer of King Faisal. He is shrewd and intelligent. He has seen Saudi Arabia through many great difficulties.

The Sultan: Do you think that your effort in the Middle East will be successful?

The Secretary: Sometimes I wish there was a dispute between Norway and Denmark which I could help mediate, among people who are calm in character. I feel there is some movement in the Middle East. I sense we are moving toward a settlement on the Egyptian side. I am like Faisal—the evidence is the opposite—but my instinct tells me that it is moving at least on this side.

[Page 678]

The Sultan: What about the future of Jerusalem?

The Secretary: I hope to pass this problem on to my successor. It is an insoluble problem if handled in isolation, but I believe its future can be worked out as part of a West Bank settlement. If there is a settlement of the West Bank, Jerusalem will follow logically. I have all along felt that given Israel’s strong emotional feelings over the issue, it was better to make it a part of the West Bank settlement rather to make it a separate issue. I have explained this to King Faisal. He may or may not agree but he has accepted my explanation.

The Secretary: (moving in his chair with some stiffness)—Your Majesty talked so much about horseback riding last night that I wrenched my back (laughter).

The Sultan: In your approach on Jerusalem, have you considered the city under some kind of a trust with Muslims, Christians, and Jews administering the city on a religious basis?

The Secretary: Are you talking about the whole city or the old city?

The Sultan: The old city. It would not be a political administration but a religious one.

The Secretary: I have always felt that if the Israelis were imaginative, they could contact the Arabs and discuss the possibility of some kind of condominium in the old city. But Your Majesty has presented an interesting thought of a religious rather than political administration—a rather interesting idea.

The Sultan: What do you think of the situation around the Gulf?

The Secretary: Our interest is to keep this region peaceful and stable. We are strongly opposed to the efforts of the radicals, especially South Yemen, to extend their influence. I do not know if the Iraqis are very active. Our relations with Iran are very good. The Shah is a friend and we support his efforts to maintain the integrity of Oman. The Saudis are always rather apprehensive about the Iranians, however.

The Sultan: That is true.

The Secretary: There has been a lot of discussion about my Business Week interview. I said we would not use force over the question of oil prices but no one can believe that there would not be consequences in case of a total embargo where there is strangulation of the industrialized world. There are now a lot of cowards in Europe who hope to impress the Arabs but if they are hurt, they will be the first ones to come to us. To portray this as a threat against the Arabs is ridiculous. I have been the greatest advocate for improved relations with the Arab world. In the Persian Gulf, we want to expand our commercial relations and our economic ties. And in the case of Oman, we have a great interest in the progress and independence of your country.

The Sultan: I appreciate this very much. We will always want to work closely with you.

[Page 679]

The Secretary: I am sorry that I have not been able to visit Oman. I had planned to do so last May but the negotiations took so long and our security people were nervous—not about Oman—but in other Gulf states because of their Palestinian population.

The Sultan: They were very wise.

The Secretary: Would there be a problem in Oman?

The Sultan: Not in Oman but in the other countries.

The Secretary: (turning to Sayyid Tarik)—Your uncle looks like a man who should be able to take care of security matters.

Sayyid Tarik: Security in some of the Emirates is very lax. Subversives are not under control. Although in Bahrain there is greater concern now, the Bahrainis have yet to take this very seriously.

The Sultan: One or two states in the Gulf which I should have visited, but which I have avoided are Kuwait and Bahrain. My security people feel they are not quite safe.

The Secretary: I was told Kuwait was not safe but I had not heard this was the case for Bahrain.

Sayyid Tarik: The rulers there have not been tightening the screws on subversives because they do not feel strong enough to deal with these groups. This is true in Kuwait and in Bahrain.

The Secretary: King Hussein has told me that he brings his own security when he visits this area. He advised me not to visit Kuwait.

The Sultan: He was right.

The Secretary: Is Iraq active in the Gulf?

Sayyid Tarik: Yes, the Iraqis support some of these subversive groups, they promote their Baath ideology.

The Sultan: Iraqi activities are under the guise of the branches of their commercial bank. In Bahrain the authorities recently captured weapons being smuggled in from Iraq. At first, the Bahrainis thought they were for use against them but were told no, they were in transit for use in Oman. In Dubai, the same thing has happened. There are also activities as far as Pakistan with the support of the Baluch.

The Secretary: Do you know President Bhutto? He is a very interesting man.

The Sultan: Yes, I know Bhutto. I have visited him and he has visited me. When one talks about stability in the Gulf region, it is difficult to do as long as the people are not aware of the threat. Once they are aware, then they know what to do.

The Secretary: In the US, psychiatrists are always trying to operate on the theory of making individuals aware of problems they did not know about before to explain their behavior. My problems are based on the things that I am aware of (laughter). But I agree, awareness of [Page 680] the essence of countering subversion and how subversives operate is important. An insurgency has to be captured very early, otherwise it becomes difficult to control.

The Sultan: This is what we have told the Iraqis who always try to claim that they are friendly with us while at the same time they are supporting South Yemen. We have told them that as long as they do this, we will not exchange Ambassadors. At one time, the Iraqis tried to force the issue by sending an Ambassador to Muscat, staff and all.

The Secretary: Without an agreement? I hope you sent him back.

The Sultan: Exactly. We sent him back.

The Secretary: What about your relations with Syria?

The Sultan: We have not exchanged Ambassadors but we are friends of the Syrians. The Syrians are different than the Iraqis and have to be dealt with in a different way. The Syrians, however, just as the Kuwaitis, have given some support for South Yemen. At the same time, South Yemen is trying to make itself more attractive with other Arab states, particularly in the Gulf, by changing the name of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf to simply the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman. They are getting some money out of the Kuwaitis and as a result of this action, they hope to get more money from the Kuwaitis and from other Gulf states.

The Secretary: Kuwait does this because of its domestic situation.

The Sultan: We do not like this because we think this aid makes the enemy (South Yemen) even stronger. It does not make him change his policy.

The Secretary: I agree it does not work. If they feel so weak that they try to buy them off, it is like blackmail.

The Sultan: The only way to change South Yemeni policy will be if all the refugees who have left—and many have a good, distinguished background—were allowed to return. If they could come back, this would not mean that the communists would fade away but they would offset their position and it would bring about a situation where peace and security could return to the region.

The Secretary: Your Majesty can count on our support and we will continue to keep in close contact through our Ambassador. We believe your visit has brought us an awareness of the reality of Oman. You will always be welcome here.

The Sultan: Thank you. I have seen so much that I want to come back and spend several weeks with my family.

  1. Summary: Sultan Qaboos met with Secretary Kissinger to discuss the state of U.S.-Omani relations, the Arab-Israeli dispute, and other topics of mutual interest.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P820123–1116. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Dickman. Copies were sent to S, S/S, and Scowcroft. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office. Kissinger and Qaboos met again on January 11 to confirm points regarding the TOW missile and Masirah Island discussed here and in the Sultan’s meeting with Schlesinger and Clements. (Ibid., P820123–1127) See Document 215.