78. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State1

318. Department pass Cairo. Subject: Saqqaf Dilates on Arab Pressures Against Saudi Arabia.

Summary. Saqqaf expressed warm satisfaction with Department’s restatement US position on Jerusalem but went on reiterate and embroider his favorite theme: Difficulties and risks Saudi Arabia encounters because of US failure move more vigorously toward Arab-Israel solution, other Arabs, Saqqaf claim urge Saudi Arabia consider how it can use its oil resources as political lever. Saqqaf said Israeli attacks on Syria bring pinpricks from other Arabs while Beirut press attacks him personally as Arab enemy. Saqqaf asked if Ambassador could give him helpful message which would strengthen Saqqaf’s position at upcoming Cairo meeting. Ambassador noted press attacks probably inevitable and Israeli raids on Syria are abhorrent but inevitable response to terrorism. Ambassador reviewed fundamentals of US position in support of negotiations and endeavored respond Saqqaf’s misgivings. While latter has frequently stressed “pressure” Saudis feel from other Arabs, his more reasoned and intense manner in latest discussion seem reveal genuine, increased concern with difficulties Saudi Arabia faces. End summary.

1. During call on other matters I handed Saqqaf copy USIS release of Department’s letter to Congressman Hamilton restating US position on Jerusalem. Saqqaf welcomed it warmly, had heard it on radio and felt it constituted most helpful and encouraging declaration.

2. He launched then into his favorite theme: The difficulties and risks which accrue to Saudi Arabia because of failure USG to move vigorously toward Arab-Israel solution. At every gathering of top-level Arab officials there is always pressure on Saudi representatives to “get your friends the Americans to do something” with broad hints that Saudi Arabia should think harder about how it could use its oil resources as a political lever vis-à-vis U.S. Saudi Arabia is considered [Page 297] natural exponent of Arab viewpoint because of close relations between two countries, and Saudis are urged to exhort Americans harder. (At this point, Saqqaf affirmed both his own personal conviction and that of his own government that close friendship with US is basic principal of Saudi policy and one we prepared to support fully).

3. This kind of pressure is never-ending Saqqaf asserted. Every time the Israelis attack a Syrian village other Arabs wonder why Saudi Arabia doesn’t take a more aggressive stance. Here he digressed to describe dreadful impact of Israeli attacks which have destroyed more than 100 million pounds of Syrian property, have entirely destroyed one Syrian village near cease-fire line with serious damage also to Altakin. He enumerated incidents where Beirut press have subjected him to personal abuse joining his picture with that of Shah of Iran as Arab enemies. Saqqaf (whose name in Arabic means a roofer) is identified as “ceiling over American policy” etc. Kuwait feels some but not such heavy pressure but is, of course, more liable to react to it. Saqqaf summed it all up by asking what helpful message I could give him to take to strengthen Saudi Arabia’s position at upcoming Cairo Foreign Ministers meeting.

4. As to newspaper stories, I told Saqqaf every viewpoint had its own claque in the Middle East and every prominent Arab must expect attack from some quarter. Saqqaf said he realized much of criticism against him was probably paid for but more important was that constant reiteration these stories tended undermine public confidence and encourage more serious political pressures against Saudi Arabia. With regard attacks on Syria, said Saqqaf knew we abhored these as much as killing of athletes at Munich or innocent travelers at Lod airport by terrorists. When he objected use of word terrorists, replied that whatever one might call them, the objective political fact was that Israelis were sensitive vigorous people suffering from sense of being hemmed in. It was inevitable that Israelis would in some fashion strike back in retribution for acts like Lod killings. Somewhat lamely, Saqqaf asserted Israelis must only retaliate with same kind of methods as those applied to them.

5. Perhaps best thing Saqqaf could carry to Cairo was simple reassertion of fundamentals of US position. In important public speech few days earlier Secretary had reaffirmed President’s vigorous interest in Middle East problem. We were not rpt not pursuing simply a passive policy. We were not satisfied with no war, no peace condition. There were regular opportunities for informal quiet conversations with parties on both sides. Went over then with Saqqaf our reasons for believing negotiations to achieve canal opening and interim settlement are best way to begin. Stressed our belief imposed settlement not possible and that there no such thing as US pressure on Israel which with simple [Page 298] pull of a lever might settle whole thing. (Saqqaf scoffed when I implied US pressure on Israel might not be effective.)

6. Canal opening Saqqaf thought would leave Jordan and Syria in lurch as world’s interest might wane once canal operating again. I thought his misgivings in this respect were exaggerated: Cease-fire of summer 1970 had opened way towards creation of interim solution proposals which, if nothing else, provided clear definition of the nature of the problem, particularly as reiterated in Secretary’s remarks toward end of 1971 ennumerating six most important aspects. In similar fashion interim solution would keep up the momentum and open way for further progress on other matters. One could not minimize Golan Heights and Jerusalem issues but in last two or three years world had been undertaking by negotiation solve equally tough ones, in Viet-nam, between two Koreas, in arms limitation talks. If other widely differing parties negotiated, why could not Arabs and Israelis? Saqqaf insisted M.E. problem was uniquely difficult and tragic as compared to other disputes.

7. He closed by asking whether I could not by request to Washington obtain for him some more helpful assertions of US policy which he could put forward at Cairo. Declared I had tried accent our current hopes and views but that in day and a half before his departure I thought there little chance I could provide him any new angles. Saqqaf discussed pipeline break briefly and professed find this incident, carried out Saudis now think by Iraqi saboteurs, as evidence mounting displeasure other Arabs with moderate Saudi policies and its friendship for US. (Saudi-Iraq relations are in cool phase at moment.)

Comment: As Dept aware, the “embarrassment” and “pressure” which Saudis feel from other Arabs because of their friendship with us is frequently stressed by Saqqaf and others in govt.

Much of this stems no doubt from Saqqaf’s constant exposure at high-level Arab meetings where he bears brunt of loose corridor talk and official innuendos. Arab penchant for negativism and fondness for criticizing would make Saudi Arabia with its close ties to US natural target for barbs and sarcastic comment. Not publicly combative, Saqqaf has probably little relish for his defensive role. On other occasions he has waved his hands and spoken of “inevitable war which Arabs must fight but will probably lose.” His more reasoned and intense manner in latest discussion is perhaps valid evidence of increased and more genuine concern with risks for Saudi Arabia from Arab-Israel stalemate dispute.

  1. Summary: The Embassy reported on conversations with Foreign Minister Umar al-Saqqaf regarding Saudi Arabia’s position vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli dispute.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, 1970–73, POL 27–14 Arab-Israeli. Confidential. Repeated to Amman, Beirut, Kuwait City, Tripoli, and Tel Aviv.