251. Telegram From the United States Liaison Office in Riyadh to the Department of State1

718. From Charge Daniels. Subj: (S) Saudi Arabia Withdraws Offer of Funding of F–5s for Egypt.

1. (S)-entire text.

2. Summary: In meeting just before his departure for Fez, Prince Saud told me SAG saw no alternative but to withdraw offer of funding for F–5s for Egypt. He added that Islamic Conference preparation committee had decided to propose “suspension” of Egypt at Fez.2

3. Foreign Minister Prince Saud summoned me to meeting with him at Riyadh airport just prior to his departure on May 7 for Islamic Conference in Morocco. Meeting was also attended by Deputy Foreign Minister Abd al-Rahman Mansuri and Abdallah Alireza, Embassy Political Counselor, and Chief USLO.

4. Prince Saud referred to Secretary’s letter to him,3 asking for Saudi assistance in preventing expulsion of Egypt from Islamic Conference and other international bodies. He said he would of course be [Page 838] sending formal response but meanwhile he wanted to give oral reply. Saudi Arabia’s desire to maintain relations with Egypt has been and remains very strong. Even at this time of greatest strain, SAG has tried to keep as strong relation as possible. Unfortunately, maintenance of relations apparently does not meet the interests of President Sadat. Sadat apparently saw some remaining links in the relationship and he “chopped” them in his May Day speech.4 He has made it impossible to maintain any relations or any of the commitments that SAG had made, even in such areas as military sales. Prince Saud then said in low solemn voice that he wished to inform me officially that HMG felt that it could no longer keep its commitment to purchase F–5s for Egypt. Commitments should be of equal importance to both countries. SAG has tried to keep its commitments in the face of many obstacles, but now SAG feels it cannot keep this commitment.

5. I said that I thought SAG position was that F–5 deal was considered to be completed transaction and that it would therefore be carried through. Saud replied that indeed arrangement had been considered as “completed” and thus outside boundaries of Baghdad decisions5 but this was no longer possible.

6. I said that I was indeed sorry to hear this news. I remembered that Crown Prince Fahd had told us on several occasions that SAG wished to do all that it could to help Egypt. The way relations between the two countries have deteriorated over the past few weeks has been great tragedy. I was certain that SAG decision on F–5s would not be taken lightly in Washington but would in fact cause great distress. Prince Saud said that this was not situation that Saudi Arabia wanted but it was one brought on by President Sadat.

7. I asked if SAG distinction between Egypt and Egyptian people still remained in effect. Would SAG now take actions, for example, against Egyptian expatriates in Saudi Arabia? Saud said distinction still existed and Saudi Arabia would take no action against Egyptians in Saudi Arabia but he did not know what actions Egyptian Government might take.

8. I asked Saud how he thought Islamic Conference would turn out. I pointed out, as Secretary Vance did in his letter, that ostracism of Egypt could harm the interests of both Saudi Arabia and U.S. in area. [Page 839] Saud said that we must not confuse cause and effect. The Islamic Conference is not isolating Egypt. It is Egypt which has isolated itself. Differences between Egypt and the others are clear and arise out of commitments made by Egypt in Egyptian-Israel Peace Treaty which contravene the commitments made by Egypt to the Arabs on Middle East peace process and to the Muslim states on Jerusalem. This is what isolates Egypt. If a change in the isolation is wanted, then a change in the causes of the isolation must be made, i.e. the Treaty. Closing the meeting, Prince Saud said that Islamic Conference preparatory committee has already decided to propose suspension of Egyptian membership in the Conference.

9. Comment. Saudi Arabia’s withdrawal of funding for F–5s is a not unexpected shock in view of Sadat’s blast at Saudi Arabia and reference therein to F–5s (Cairo 8815, para 2).6 We are not sure whether Saudi move is reversible, and perhaps we should consider letter from President to King Khalid7 on matter while taking all possible precautions to prevent Saudi action from becoming public. If that approach yields nothing, we should then dispassionately analyze the situation, recalling that the Saudi move is yet another step in a rabidly deteriorating relationship which, as Embassy Cairo points out (Cairo 8943),8 could get even worse. We think our policy should be to grit our teeth and bear Saudi Arabia’s actions against our Egyptian friends in interest of U.S.-Saudi relations.9 Were we now to call into question, for example, the F–15 sale to Saudi Arabia on the grounds that it was somehow packaged with the F–5s for Egypt, other, more overriding U.S. interests could be endangered in the process.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840133–1745. Secret; Immediate; Exdis Handle as Nodis. Sent for information Immediate to Rabat, Cairo, and Jidda.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 248.
  3. See Document 248.
  4. In his May 1 speech, Sadat accused Saudi Arabia of “encouraging (or paying)” Arab states to cut diplomatic relations with Egypt, “discounted previous Saudi financial aid,” and questioned whether the Saudis would honor their pledge to finance Egypt’s purchase of F–5Es. Sadat also criticized the Saudi leadership, comparing it unfavorably with that of the late King Faisal, as well as Syria. A summary of the speech is in telegram 8815 from Cairo, May 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790198–0967.
  5. See footnote 7, Document 91.
  6. See footnote 4 above.
  7. See Document 254.
  8. Telegram 8943 from Cairo, May 2. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790200–0595)
  9. In a meeting on May 8, Eilts informed Sadat of the Saudi decision in order “to preempt his hearing about it from other sources and again issuing public blast against Saudis.” Eilts told the Egyptian President that the United States would “certainly try to get decision reversed and urged him to say nothing.” Sadat responded that the Saudi action “did not surprise him and mused that, if reversal of Saudi decision cannot be obtained, he may ask administration and Congress for assistance.” (Telegram 9359 from Cairo, May 8; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850027–2544)