215. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting with Sultan Qaboos of Oman


  • Oman Side

    • The Sultan of Oman—His Majesty Qaboos ibn Sa’id Al Bu Sa’id
    • Personal Advisor to the Sultan—His Excellency Sayyid Tarik Bin Taimur
    • Foreign Policy Advisor—His Excellency Yahya Omar
  • United States Side

    • Secretary of Defense—Hon. James R. Schlesinger
    • Deputy Secretary of Defense—Hon. William P. Clements, Jr.
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near East and South Asia—Hon. James H. Noyes
    • Military Assistant to SecDef—Major General John A. Wickham, Jr.
    • Director, Near East Region—Major General Gordon Sumner, Jr.
    • Military Assistant to DepSecDef—Lieutenant Colonel Peter M. Dawkins
    • Protocol Officer—Mr. William Codus
    • Country Director, Oman—Commander Gary G. Sick

After opening pleasantries, Mr. Clements remarked that he had heard that the discussion with Secretary Kissinger had gone well and wondered if the Sultan would like to address some of the items which had been raised in that conversation. Sultan Qaboos replied that he had asked for several items of equipment and training and had been assured that the US was agreeable to providing these. Concerning the navy which Oman planned to establish, there were many details which would have to be worked out with the appropriate officials. The Sultan felt that some people should be sent out to Oman to study the situation and determine Omani needs, then liaison on how to proceed could be worked out with the Omani Embassy in London. He was particularly concerned with developing a program of training. He hoped that a group of Omanis could be trained initially and that these personnel could then provide training to others in Oman. The conversation with Secretary Kissinger had included mention of TOW missiles, telescopic sights, and US use of the base on Masirah Island. The details would have to be worked out.

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Mr. Clements inquired about approaching the British concerning use of Masirah. He assumed that if the Sultan had no objection to its use by the US that the British would have none. The Sultan confirmed that he had no objections and foresaw no British objection. Secretary Schlesinger inquired whether the USG should approach the UK initially. Sayyid Tarik replied that the Sultan’s party would take up the matter with the British and then “call on you.” Secretary Schlesinger noted the present UK role in training the Omani forces and wondered whether the UK would be concerned about US involvement. The Sultan foresaw no objection. He noted that the Navy had just been created and that it now included some Pakistanis who had not proved fully satisfactory. The Navy currently had only three or four ships; it was hoped in the future to raise this to a total of eleven vessels. There was certainly “room for another friend to help.” The Sultan asked that all defense matters be coordinated with Mr. Omar in London, and that any team going to Oman stop in London for coordination on its way out.

In response to the Secretary’s question about the Air Force, the Sultan noted that at present it was operating almost exclusively with British assistance. He saw no immediate need for US assistance, perhaps later. “When we get to the point of having our own people doing operations and when there is more money, perhaps we might want to buy your aircraft.” However, he was interested in assistance on the Navy immediately. Secretary Schlesinger noted that in view of the British presence we would want to insure that our actions were carefully coordinated. The Sultan expressed an interest in sending people to the US for flight training. He agreed that it must be handled carefully to avoid bad feelings with the UK. Sayyid Tarik stressed that the group which visited Oman should assess Omani needs. They are short of equipment, and the group should produce a list of recommended equipment and confirm their defense needs. The Sultan added that they would also need people to come in and show them how to use the TOW. Mr. Clements noted that the TOW was very easy to use, but that training would be provided.

Secretary Schlesinger inquired about the tank threat from the PDRY. Sultan Qaboos noted that the PDRY now has a lot of tanks, mentioning first 200 then 136. SecDef recalled that the PDRY had had tanks spread out on the YAR border some 18 months ago and inquired whether it would be difficult to move the tanks to the Omani border. Mr. Clements noted that it was very difficult and that our latest reports indicated some 12–15 tanks in the Oman border area. Sultan Qaboos indicated that South Yemen is trying to move more forces into that sector. At Soviet suggestion, they are rethinking their total force structure and are considering dividing them into three self-sufficient sectors: one force in the east near Dhofar, one on the YAR border, and one for the [Page 683] Hadramaut or central sector, with security forces in and around Aden. Each of these forces would have its own tanks and air support. Although the USSR does not give much money, it does provide a great deal of equipment, and the PDRY was becoming a real threat militarily. The battle in Dhofar Province was going well, especially with Iranian assistance, but his concern was that as the tide turned against the rebels there would be a move to divert attention to other areas, perhaps to Habarut in the north where tanks can be used. The TOW would be particularly useful to counter such an eventuality. Asked if he was satisfied with the prospects in Dhofar, he replied that he was. The Iranians had never fought a guerrilla-type war before and that they had had to learn some lessons the hard way by taking some initial losses “which shouldn’t have occurred.” There are very few guerrillas, but they can position themselves to snipe or can operate from concealed positions with mortars or Katyusha rockets. Consequently it is dangerous to operate except in small groups.

In response to a question about helicopter support, the Sultan noted that Oman has Augusta-Bell helos which are quite satisfactory. Helo support is absolutely critical given the very difficult terrain. Iran has its own helo support. “We may ask you for them some day.” Sayyid Tarik mentioned that Bell 205 transport helos were presently on order, with the first deliveries scheduled for August and September. Yahya Omar mentioned that the Italian Air Force had made twelve helos available from stock. SecDef suggested that the Soviets might be tempted to introduce SA–7 missiles against the helicopters. Sultan Qaboos noted that the helos had been fired at with small arms but no missiles to date. He also noted that the PDRY had bombed Omani positions on one occasion using ILYUSHINS. A total of eight bombs were dropped. They could attack overtly in this manner since they could always claim that they disagreed with the border location. However, they had never used close air support against Omani forces. They did have extremely long-range artillery which could fire across the border. (In a side discussion, Generals Sumner and Wickham stated that the reported 30 km. range was compatible with the Soviet 130 mm. gun.) Omani artillery could not reach the PDRY sites in Hauf. The Yemeni artillery was quite accurate, and General Sumner concurred noting that our own experiments with this weapon had shocked the US artillery experts with its accuracy at very long range. The Sultan noted that the Omanis had tried to convince the Iranians to reply with air strikes but they were unwilling to do it. British aircraft never fly operational missions in Oman due to the political sensitivities in the UK, though he (the Sultan) certainly would not object to direct British air support. He also pointed out that the excellent air defenses on the Yemeni side would make a strike by Omani Strikemasters suicidal.

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Asked by SecDef whether the Yemenis were moderating their policies, the Sultan replied that it was all appearances. They had cut the “Arab Gulf” off the title of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arab Gulf in order to permit more friendly relations with the gulf states. The Sultan said he could take little comfort in that since it left Oman as the sole target. He believed the current strategy was to bring down Oman first then turn to the gulf. He noted that he had confronted the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister with this at the Algiers Nonaligned Conference and he had discounted it as a rumor. Several months later it happened. “The Kuwaiti policy of trying to buy their enemies is wrong.” SecDef noted that our reports indicated that Kuwait was funding a fair amount of subversion in the area, which can be interpreted either as “buying time or a bigger noose.”

The Sultan noted that President Sadat of Egypt was trying to help. Egypt attaches great importance to the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, however, so they must maintain a relationship with the Aden regime. They have worked out an arrangement on Perim Island for a 99-year Egyptian lease which will be financed by a payment of ±50 million sterling to South Yemen (40 million from Saudi Arabia and 10 million from Abu Dhabi). The Sultan considered this “crazy” since it bought time for the Aden regime and permitted it to strengthen itself. Moreover, the island is of no consequence. The North Yemenis hold land overlooking the island which dominates it militarily. They would have been better off giving the money to the YAR and achieving the same objective. This was suggested, but no one paid any attention. Yahya Omar noted that the Soviets are waiting to get their hands on the money. SecDef joked that we have some islands of our own that we might be willing to rent at that price. More seriously, he found the present situation distressing. The gulf states which finance subversion are courting their own destruction—either from the Soviets moving down to the South or their own downfall from within. The Sultan commented that some people seem to enjoy making trouble for others. The Yemenis realize that if they controlled the Strait of Hormuz, they could move to take over the whole area. The Soviets play on this dream of incredible wealth to strengthen their own position.

SecDef noted US concern over the buildup of the Soviet Navy in the Indian Ocean. It had been slow and steady, but we fear and expect further expansion in the area, particularly when the Suez Canal opens. We must balance Soviet power in the area. The problem is convincing the people on the Hill.

Mr. Clements asked the Sultan for his views on the Soviet presence in Somalia. The Sultan replied that he was “not at ease” with the situation. He had seen the Somali President in two meetings and was assured in each case that Somalia was an independent nation which did not [Page 685] want to be a “tail” to anyone. However, they feel the need to strengthen themselves and were forced to turn to the Soviets for assistance when the West failed to provide support. In the Sultan’s view, whether or not they are aware of danger, the Soviet presence doesn’t “put anyone at ease.” The Soviets have Aden and Somalia, and therefore the entrance to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. In Berbera, the Soviets have “all they want at the moment” in the way of access, though their tactics may be not to ask for too much at any one time. In answer to a question he said he did not know whether Somalia would permit the USSR to conduct unilateral operations from Berbera without Somali permission. Sultan Qaboos mentioned that in his recent visit to Somalia and Aden, Soviet Admiral Gorshkov had talked of British naval help in building up the Omani Navy. This was not true. SecDef remarked that this sounded like a pretext for expanding the Soviet naval presence and assistance in the area and noted that we should review carefully what Gorshkov had said. He noted that the Soviets were worried about their forces possibly being caught south of the canal in a crisis and that their interest in bases related to this concern, suggesting that this subject deserved more study. He noted that the Soviet presence in Aden could be compared to their previous activities in Cuba where the relationship with the USSR led to the export of subversion to other states in Latin America. A review of the Cuban experience would reveal a blueprint for similar Soviet operations from Aden.

The Sultan asked, in the event of physical intervention by the USSR, could a US reaction be anticipated? SecDef replied it would be very quick. The Soviets must be warned off. Soviet domination of the Middle East would be a catastrophe for the industrialized states and the world as a whole. The USSR has gradually reduced its problems with China and in Southeast Asia. As a result, they are increasingly able to focus on the Middle East which they recognize as a fertile area for them over the next decade. In view of the high payoff potential and if they are given the opportunity, it seems reasonable that they will get increasingly involved. We expect a dramatic increase in activity by the Soviets in the Middle East. They consider this compatible with their view of “détente.” In fact, the Soviets do not speak of détente; instead they speak of “peaceful coexistence”, which is a term coined by Lenin to describe a policy of lulling the West into inattention and inaction. He told a story of two tourists at the Moscow Zoo who are shown a cage in which a Russian bear and a terrified lamb live in “peaceful coexistence.” When the tourists find this remarkable, the guide says that indeed it is, but of course they have to put in a new lamb each day. In the Soviet view, détente permits probing in the Middle East. Comparable activity in Europe might be more costly since it would risk galvanizing the Europeans. Nations such as Iraq and Kuwait should [Page 686] recognize the peril in playing the Soviet game. The Sultan noted that there are a number of communists in the Kuwaiti Parliament.

Mr. Clements asked how soon the Sultan would like to receive the group to study Omani defense needs. The Sultan suggested “next month.” SecDef said we could not promise, but that we would coordinate with the State Department and move as rapidly as possible. The Sultan asked how soon he could expect to receive TOW. SecDef said we would examine the Army inventory, consider any training lead time, and do our best to give them an answer shortly. He noted that TOW had gone from being unwanted to being so popular that it was a continuous drain on our resources. However, we understood the Sultan’s concern and realized that the sooner we could provide this system, the better it would be.

  1. Summary: Sultan Qaboos of Oman met with Secretary of Defense Schlesinger and Deputy Secretary of Defense Clements to discuss Omani defense needs and U.S. strategy in the region.

    Source: Washington National Records Center, OASD/ISA Files: FRC 330–78–0038, Box 22, Oman 000.1, 1975. Secret; Sensitive. Drafted on January 20 by Cmdr. Gary Sick (OSD/ISA/NESA); approved by Noyes. The meeting took place in Secretary Schlesinger’s office at the Department of Defense.