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

334. Dept pass CINCEUR and SecDef for ISA. Subject: US Aid for Yemen—Discussion With Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Ref: A. State 11678; B. Jidda 0309.

Summary: As he had with Saqqaf, Ambassador reviewed principal points of reftel A with Sultan, stressing as regards economic assistance our conviction US could make unique contributions, that we wanted be certain our resources not misspent, and we believed projects we would be undertaking would have tangible favorable impact on Yemen economy. With regard military aid, we were concerned with YAR Army’s poor organization and difficulties determining precisely its needs. When Sultan proposed joint US-Saudi military team study of Yemen requirements, Amb declared US believed it should not become directly involved in military aid relationship for YAR and mentioned possibility joint Saudi-Iranian survey of YAR military organization and requirements. Amb asked about Saudi subventions to tribal leaders and refugee groups from Aden, to which Sultan responded with account different forms Saudi aid to Yemen, including budgetary support and project assistance. Sultan stated aid to Adeni groups substantially cut off and none for tribal Sheikhs since end of Yemeni war. Amb left with Sultan same informal memos of his comments as he had with Saqqaf. Sultan’s reaction positive and appreciative, though his questions reflected hopes for greater US involvement in YAR. Subsidies for tribes may have been reduced but we suspect they still continue. End summary.

1. Sultan told me Saqqaf had mentioned to him briefly our talk regarding US aid to Yemen (ref B) and said he would very much welcome my giving him full account also. Accordingly in much same manner as I had done for Saqqaf I gave Sultan our analysis of present situation in two Yemens, of their respective weaknesses and our conviction that PDRY should be made to bear blame if there is failure of unity talks.

[Page 300]

2. In describing plans for US economic aid for YAR stressed that we were supplying those things which we were uniquely qualified to provide—high quality technical assistance and food. We were anxious our projects be well thought out and successful. Much money had been wasted in Yemen and we did not wish to have our resources misspent. We thought our projects would have tangible favorable impact on Yemen economy and its development. This, as Prince knew, had been our consistent policy.

3. In describing ideas for military assistance stressed our impression of YAR Army’s poor organization and difficulty of determining precisely what its needs may be. Covered also points A, B and C of para seven reftel A.

4. Sultan echoed my comments on difficulty of assessing YAR requirements and shortcomings in Army organization. He proposed a joint US-Saudi military team should engage in careful study of Yemen requirements after which arms purchase orders might be worked up.

5. I replied US continued believe that it should not become directly involved in military aid relationship with YAR. This was why we were suggesting Saudi Arabia act as channel for US supplies. We did not wish kind of US involvement which would force pace of Soviet assistance to South Yemen. In general we expected that regional states would play pivotal roles in assisting YAR militarily. Now that it appeared Iranian-YAR relations were about to be restored to more normal footing, could not there be a joint Iranian-Saudi survey of YAR military needs? Sultan noted that Saudi military mission had been in Yemen but had great trouble in finding out what was really required.

6. In mid-February, a high-level YAR mission will be coming to Saudi Arabia, Sultan remarked, but SAG does not intend “throw open its treasury” to Yemenis until it is surer of soundness of Yemeni plans. After Yemeni mission has been here, Saudis might then consult with Iranians on what should be done.

7. I told Sultan we were aware that tribal leaders and refugee groups from Aden were constantly pressing Saudi Arabia for financial handouts. If there was to be further aid to these groups in Yemen, could it not be given through YAR Govt? Latter now seemed to be one in which Saudi Arabia had full confidence. To pass all aid through such channels would significantly stabilize and strengthen new YAR regime.

8. Sultan gave then an account of different forms of Saudi aid to Yemen. Budgetary support had amounted to forty million riyals in past year but had now been stopped because of childish actions of Muhsin al-Ayni. However Sultan said it might begin again. Project aid amounting to 50 million riyals for construction of hospitals and clinics was continuing under direction of Saudi aid director now resident in Yemen.

[Page 301]

9. Brought Sultan back to point by saying we had thought there were other forms of aid also to bribes and Aden refugees and we wondered as to future of these subventions.

10. Sultan then declared that recently all assistance to Adeni groups had ceased except for office expenses to Makkawi. There seemed little reason for continuing pay money “when there was no movement.” As for subsidies to tribal Sheikhs those had stopped at time civil war had ended and peace restored in Yemen.

11. But as to aid in general, Sultan went on, does not US feel it should undertake larger and more extensive projects in Yemen, construction of roads, schools, etc.?

12. I reminded HRH of what I had said earlier: We wished to use skilled US technicians for carefully planned projects that would be successful. It was not easy to spend money wisely in Yemen and large expenditures did not guarantee comparable results. Projects we were undertaking would, I felt, have real and favorable impact on Yemen’s progress. I intended keep him fully informed of what we were doing and of results we were achieving. Sultan welcomed this, declaring that the more aid US could supply, the better it would be for US and Yemen. I left with Sultan same informal memo of points covered orally that I had given Saqqaf. (Copy being pouched to NEA/ARP.)

13. Later in conversation it was revealed that King, Sultan and some other members of Cabinet would be traveling by road in leisurely fashion from Jidda to Riyadh via Medina for period February 4–14. Thus we suspect Saudis may ask for another postponement of meetings with proposed high-level Yemeni mission.

14. Comment: Sultan’s reaction was positive and appreciative, though his questions reflected hopes for greater degree of US involvement in YAR problems. I am sure he will pass on informal memos to King and believe he will explain our proposals in favorable manner. In my explanation I endeavored, of course, emphasize unique and valuable character of US contribution to YAR economic development in order counteract perennial Saudi tendency to evaluate aid solely in terms financial magnitude. When specifics of economic aid program for YAR are determined I plan inform Sultan and Saqqaf. With regard Sultan’s comments on subsidies for tribes and NUF groups, as far as we can judge from available intelligence, his reply is only partially correct, i.e., Saudis are closely controlling payments to Makkawi and NUF. As to subsidies for tribes, we believe there were curtailments at time peace re-established in Yemen, but that Saudi payments are still being given quietly to tribal Sheikhs, and perhaps other important military and civilian leaders in YAR by means of which Saudis intend maintain shadowy framework of influence in North Yemen. There may be some subsidies still for tribal military activities also.

  1. Summary: Ambassador Thacher and Prince Sultan discussed Saudi economic and military aid to the Yemen Arab Republic.

    Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 630, Country Files, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Volume III, September 1, 1971–April 1973. Secret; Exdis. Repeated to Amman, Kuwait City, and Tehran. The reference telegrams were not found.