216. Memorandum From Robert B. Oakley and Clinton E. Granger of the National Security Council Staff to Secretary of State Kissinger1


  • Evolution of our Policy toward Oman

The visit of Sultan Qaboos has left behind some important questions about our future security policy toward Oman and the Gulf. A memorandum examining aspects of our Omani relationship is at Tab B. Briefly, these questions include:

—The purposes for which US military ships and aircraft need to use facilities in Oman, and the existence or absence of alternative facilities. (The Sultan in principle has agreed to a limited US use of the airfield on Masira Island. The British have asked us what use we might [Page 687] make of the island, noting the minimal facilities there and the need to supply even water by ship).

—Our interest in directly equipping, training or advising the Sultan’s forces. (During the visit of the Sultan we agreed to a study team for his forces which are, at present, almost entirely non-Omani in nationality. They are equipped, trained and advised by those states directly engaged in helping the Sultan defeat the rebellion.)

—The role of other states in Omani security and their attitudes toward more direct US involvement. (The Iranians, the British, the Jordanians and the Saudis are now deeply involved in supporting Oman, assuming the primary military role with our approval and encouragement in the context of our policy of maximum regional self-reliance. The USSR, with the help of Iraq and South Yemen, is supporting the Omani opposition.)

—The strategic and political importance of Oman for the Gulf and South Arabia. (The Sultan, who is reasonably well in control after two years of power when oil prices were rising, blocks certain radical and Soviet interests. Oman is, however, more of a dependent state than one which exercises influence of its own in the region. Oman also produces a small amount of oil for export.)

—The negative aspects of a deepened US commitment to Oman and the implications of a growing US military presence in South Arabia and the Indian Ocean.

The bases for US security policy and force deployment in the Gulf and Oman are NSDM 92 of July 30, 1970 and NSDM 186 of April 24, 1972 (Government Arms Sales to Oman), which directs that the primary responsibility for the security of the region should fall upon the states of the region, and that a continuing British role should be encouraged. An up-date is needed.

We believe that before we send the DOD study team for a survey of either the Masira facilities or the Sultan’s forces there should be a careful review of our present policy. To date, this has been remarkably successful in drawing others into cooperative security efforts in the Gulf as well as Dhofar. There are, however, signs of strain.

We may decide that we will want to proceed no further in deepening our presence in Oman—or, alternately, that we have fewer qualms now about replacing the British there. We may even want to seek a major role ourself in preserving Gulf security and positioning ourselves for other contingencies. However, we do not now want to move in either direction without considering how small steps relate to our overall strategic interests, without a review of other options for protecting these interests, and without considering what action we can take to minimize any unfavorable repercussions of a change in our present policy. The study is needed in the first instance to define the terms of reference of the DOD teams which go to Oman.

We should ask the USC to carefully review existing studies and the subsequent NSDMs, as they apply to Oman, taking into account the questions raised above. Because of widening publicity—both here and [Page 688] in the Arab world—about a military role for the US in the Gulf area, this study should be conducted on a very close hold basis.

At Tab A is a memorandum to the Chairman of the Under Secretaries Committee requesting that the study mentioned above be submitted for the review of the President in no more than three weeks. The memo directs that in the Department of Defense arrange the despatch of its teams to Oman so that they will follow the completion of the study.

RECOMMENDATION: That you approve the memo at Tab A.

Approve __________

Disapprove __________

Other (I want the study done, but the DOD teams can proceed to Oman without waiting for the conclusion of the study.) __________

Tab B

Paper Prepared in the Department of State


It appears that as a result of the visit of Sultan Qaboos to Washington, and of the US Navy’s interest in obtaining aircraft support facilities on Masira Island, the strategic positions of both the US and the UK in Oman are being altered, and the US may be undertaking—at least implicitly—a more direct military commitment in South Arabia in general.

What Qaboos Got

During his visit last week, Sultan Qaboos received US commitments for an immediate delivery of TOW anti-tank missiles (which he originally requested in July of last year), infrared night-vision equipment (which had been agreed to prior to his arrival), Claymore mines, and the possibility of pilot training in both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The latter question was discussed between Qaboos and Secretary Schlesinger, but was not pinned down in detail. In addition, DOD agreed to send a team of three officers to Oman to study the improvement of the Omani Navy, and possibly of Omani ground forces as well.

What Qaboos Thinks He Gave

In return, Qaboos consented to the use of Masira Island’s landing facilities (presently run by the RAF) by US reconnaissance aircraft in [Page 689] need of refueling or emergency assistance. As far as can be determined Qaboos did not ask, and was not informed during any of his meetings in Washington, about the types of US military aircraft which might avail themselves of Masira or the purpose and frequency of use, although the impression was given that this would be only occasional. He only asked that the USG make the necessary arrangements with the RAF.

What DOD thinks Qaboos Gave

Certainly, the US Navy is interested in Masira as a convenient emergency stop and a sometime refueling facility for aircraft in transit to other Indian Ocean facilities. It is also apparently interested in Masira as a possible regular-use airport for Lockeed P–3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft now stationed at Bandar Abbas, some 450 miles further north, and as a transit/refueling stop for CV support aircraft, such as the Grumman C–1, operating in the area. This question has taken on greater currency with the arrival of the Enterprise in the Indian Ocean, but the Navy’s interest is undoubtedly of longer duration than the Enterprise’s cruise.

A related factor is the interest of the US Air Force in using Masira as a landing point for F–111’s. In 1971 or early 1972, shortly after Qaboos took power, the British were sounded out about the possibility of a small group of F–111’s flying from Europe to Masira to demonstrate the US Air force’s ability to deploy into the Indian Ocean if necessary. The British deferred to Qaboos, who declined permission but did not shut the door completely. It is likely that this request will now be renewed by the USAF.

The Implications for the UK

Heretofore, our interests in Oman have been well served by our strategy of backing the continued military presence of the UK and encouraging Iran and Saudi Arabia (and to a degree Jordan and Egypt) to combat radical elements in the Gulf and support Oman’s military in its struggle with the South Yemen-backed rebellion.

The British have assumed the primary responsibility of advising Qaboos on both foreign policy and military affairs and have exerted strong influence over the direction of the Dhofar war. Although they have had a payback in prestige and money from military sales to Oman, late last year it took our strong urging to convince them not to abandon Masira as a British base.

The weakened position of the UK at home and abroad is undoubtedly not lost on Qaboos, who must certainly realize that before too long the British could well withdraw permanently their military presence from South Arabia. Reservations in his own mind about the desirability of maintaining the intimacy of his relationship with the British [Page 690] may already exist; there have certainly been costly errors of judgment committed by his military advisor, Major General Creasey, in the conduct of Qaboos’s forces against the Dhofari rebels; and Yahya Omar, the Libyan loyalist advisor to Qaboos, who accompanied the Sultan to Washington and is involved in all military matters, makes no secret of his intense personal dislike of the British.

If the Sultan is considering the possibility of eventually replacing the UK, his visit to Washington came at an opportune time. His perception of the willingness of the US to work with Oman must certainly have been reinforced by his conversations here, by the eagerness of DOD for access to Masira, by our immediate supply of hitherto unavailable TOWs and by our decision to send a military evaluation team to Oman in the next few weeks.

The British may also see the US as a possible replacement in Oman, given Labor policy of progressively phasing out military presence East of Suez. Turning the base and the burden for helping Oman control its rebellion over to the US could have a certain attraction, although there are also elements of jealousy and national pride which push the UK to stay. In regard to our use of the Masira airfield the British have asked several specific questions about the extent to which it will be used, as well as about our military supply relationship. They state that they are unable to logistically support more than occassional aircraft. They imply that anything greater would require US assistance and, very possibly, personnel.

Policy Implications for the US

The reasons behind keen DOD interest in access to military facilities on Masira are understandable, given our strategic interest in the Indian Ocean and the Middle East. Masira has an excellent location for surveillance and possible interdiction of hostile shipping, not only in the Indian Ocean but also the Persian Gulf and Straits of Hormuz (critical for oil shipments) and the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandeb (of importance vis-à-vis Israel and of even greater importance, particularly vis-à-vis the USSR, should the Suez Canal reopen). It provides an excellent link between Diego Garcia and facilities available to the US in Iran, Turkey and Greece. It is in a good position to support US Navy operations in the Gulf, Red Sea or South Arabia. It provides a good site for area familiarization and training and it would be a valuable staging area in event of a conflict involving US forces.

On the other side of the coin, however, US interest in Masira will in all probability generate pressures for an even closer US-Omani relationship, and requests from the Omanis for US assistance in weaponry and military advice which may require positive responses if the use of Masira, once gained, is not to be lost. In sum, the Island could [Page 691] become a static Omani quid for escalating US quos. More important, any reduction of British presence in Oman will place greater onus on the US to be the Sultan’s strategic ally.

At the moment, US involvement is still slight. The TOWs require only two US trainers on a non-government basis, and the occasional use of Masira by aircraft may not require US support personnel. Greater involvement, particularly that which may follow the visit of a DOD team, could well result in a semi-permanent US military presence in Oman.

The primary question that needs to be answered is whether the military reasons moving the US toward a deeper relationship with Oman are counterbalanced by an interest in staying out. Unless clearer guidelines are developed on the basis of such a policy examination, we risk slipping gradually and naturally into a relationship which will be seen by Oman, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq South Yemen, the USSR, the UK and others as being deeper than now foreseen.

  1. Summary: The NSC Staff examined for Kissinger the results of Sultan Qaboos’ visit to the United States and recommended an updated study of U.S.-Omani relations.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC Institutional Files, Box 13, NSSM 217. Secret; Sensitive. Tab A, attached but not published, is a January 24 draft memorandum, entitled “Security Policy Toward Oman.” There is no indication that Kissinger approved an option, but NSSM 217, February 6, 1975, (see Document 217) directed a study of U.S. security policy toward Oman. NSDMs 92 and 186 are in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Documents 91 and 120.