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


  • NSSM 217: Security Policy Toward Oman

The NSC Interdepartmental Group (IG) for the Near East and South Asia has reviewed our Security Policy toward Oman as requested in February (Tab B).

The review came shortly after the visit to the US of Sultan Qaboos, when it appeared that the Omanis were strongly interested in establishing a new relationship with the US, envisioning inter alia a military relationship involving US arms supply and use of Masirah Island airbase, with the possible thought that over the long term the US might replace Great Britain as Oman’s great-power sponsor. As a result of Qaboos’s visit, the US agreed to send TOW missiles to Oman and to dispatch a DOD team to look into Omani Navy needs, while Qaboos agreed in principle to our use of the airfield on Masirah Island.

The new direction which Oman appeared to be seeking in its relationship with the US diverged from earlier NSC policy directives (NSDM 92 and 186). These stated that the security of the states of the lower Persian Gulf should be primarily a regional responsibility, although in the case of Oman we intended also to encourage the British also to maintain their advisory role. Because of the need to reassess the implications of existing policy for our role in Oman, you directed National Security Study 217.

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Mr. Atherton, the Chairman of the NEA/IG, has now forwarded the NSSM 217 response, a Study approved by the Secretary of Defense and the Director of the CIA. The Study describes four options for possible US decision, ranging in descending order from a major commitment of US forces to Masirah and a very deep relationship with the Sultan, to a minimal involvement option which would see only the very occasional and sporadic use of Masirah by US aircraft at intervals of not more than once every two or three months. The Study essentially endorses the validity of the earlier policy directives and finds that while our forces in the Indian Ocean area can usefully employ Masirah Island’s landing facilities for occasional landings by US aircraft, the potential liabilities of a large US presence in Oman outweigh the advantages such a presence might give.

The IG recommends unanimously the adoption of the third option, which provides for occasional access to Masirah by US aircraft, but which does not require the stationing of any US military personnel in Oman. This option would continue our existing, self-imposed limits on our military sales to Oman, looking to the British to supply most if not all arms and to the British, Iranians, Jordanians and Saudis for training and other military services and aid. However, this option would let us respond to special requests like the Sultan’s desire for the despatch of a DOD team to look into Omani Naval needs. The team in this case would be instructed not to discuss equipment availability. This option is satisfactory to the Department of Defense as meeting our present minimal military needs while giving us an option for future expansion, as well as to State in foreign policy terms.

It would probably be acceptable to Congress—which is taking a specific interest in our use of Masirah—if they were properly and thoroughly briefed, particularly about the maximum limits this option would place on our involvement. The higher level options are believed unlikely to overcome Congressional resistance, are not essential in military terms, and would tend to complicate rather than improve our relations in the Gulf.

The NSC Staff concurs in the IG recommendation.

A memorandum to the President describing the Study’s conclusions, options and recommendations and Congressional aspects is attached at Tab A. It recommends the approval of Option 3, but provides Option 4 as an alternative. NSDM’s appropriate to each option are attached. The memorandum also attaches the Study.

Concurring memoranda from the various Agencies involved in the Study, including a discussion by Defense of some of the Congressional aspects are attached at Tab C. In his memorandum, Director Colby raises the tactical question of considering a possible delay in implementing Option 3 until changes in Indian Ocean activity as a result of the [Page 695] opening of the Suez Canal can be observed. This is noted in your memorandum to the President. Rather than incorporate it formally into the NSDM, we believe this aspect can be handled after the President has made a decision on which course US policy should take.

RECOMMENDATION: That you sign the memorandum to the President attached at Tab A.

  1. Summary: Oakley and Granger provided Kissinger a summary of the response to NSSM 217 prepared by the Interdepartmental Working Group for the Near East and South Asia. They also concurred with the group’s recommended policy option for the limited use of Masirah Island by U.S. aircraft.

    Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 34, NSSM 217 (2). Secret. Sent for action. Janka concurred. Tabs A and C were not found. Tab A appears neither to have been signed by Kissinger nor sent to Ford, as there is no corresponding NSDM on Oman Security. Tab B, attached but not published, is the study for NSSM 217. Atherton forwarded the IG’s study to Kissinger under a March 5 covering memorandum. (Ibid. National Security Adviser, NSC Institutional Files, Box 13, NSSM 217). A September 9 note to Scowcroft from Oakley explained the delay in action and asked that the NSSM be cancelled. Oakley stated: “There is general agreement—thanks to the work on the NSSM—that we should strictly minimize our defense-related involvement and let others take the lead.” At the bottom of the note, Scowcroft wrote: “O.k.—unless any of the issues come up again.” (Ibid.)