83. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Horn of Africa



    • The Secretary (portions)
    • David D. Newsom, Undersecretary for Political Affairs
    • John C. West, U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
    • Richard M. Moose, Assistant Secretary, AF
    • Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary, NEA
    • William Crawford, Deputy Assistant Secretary, NEA
    • Richard St. F. Post, Director, AF/E (notetaker)

    • Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Foreign Minister
    • Sheikh Abdallah Alireza, Deputy Minister for Economic and Cultural Affairs
    • Ali Abdullah Alireza, Ambassador of Saudi Arabia
    • Dr. Nizar Madani, First Secretary, Embassy of Saudi Arabia

Mr. Newsom invited Prince Saud to provide his perspective on the Horn of Africa.

Prince Saud said that the Saudis see the threat in the area stemming from Soviet intervention through the use of several states, including Cuba, PDRY, and several East European countries. The Saudis see their intervention, which is not just material aid but direct intervention with personnel, as a new and dangerous element threatening the peace and security of Saudi Arabia, Africa, the Middle East, and ultimately even Europe. Saudi Arabia is against foreign intervention in principle. Involvement of foreign countries complicates problems. Soviet policy is clear in aim, intent, and motivation. What is lacking is a response. Many countries in the area are worried for their integrity and for their internal security, but they have seen no response to the Soviets. No single country or group of countries in the area can see their way to provide such a response because they cannot stand up against the USSR unless they have help from the United States—not troops but many other forms of help are needed. People might argue that countries unable to stand up should fall, but even when groups do try to stand up, such as in Angola, there is no response to help them.

Mr. Newsom said that the US understands the Saudi concern and disappointment that the US response seems inadequate and slow. This should not lead the Saudis to feel that the US is not concerned; the US is concerned. The US acknowledges that the Soviets have made gains with Cuban aid, but in large part this has resulted from opportunities being presented to them such as in Ethiopia and Somalia.

Mr. Newsom said he knew that Saudi Arabia had tried to urge Haile Selassie to deal with the problems that were looming in Ethiopia but that Haile Selassie paid no attention and as a consequence Ethiopia now has a leftist regime. Then the Somalis led themselves to believe that they would succeed in the Ogaden and as a consequence the Ethiopian regime called in the help of the Soviets and the Cubans. Unfortunately, this was consistent with the African principle of territorial integrity and therefore we did not find African support in opposition to the Soviet/Cuban intervention there. Mr. Newsom also referred to Prince Saud’s awareness of Congressional limitations on the US ability to intervene in such situations. The US tried to influence the Somalis to get out of the Ogaden when the fighting was going on there since we felt that as long as the fighting continued it provided a justification for the Soviets and Cubans to be in Ethiopia. We have discussed the whole question of security in the region with the Somalis, the Sudanese and the Kenyans—the latter are so concerned about the [Page 215] Somalis that they make common cause with radical Ethiopia in a manner which one would not expect from such a moderate regime.

Mr. Newsom said that the US does not believe that it can give substantial arms to Somalia unless the Somalis give assurances that they will not support the insurgents in the Ogaden. He asked if Prince Saud felt it to be realistic to expect Siad to give such a pledge. He asked if Prince Saud saw any solution to the Ogaden problem through mediation, through the OAU, through outside good offices?

Prince Saud asked if the US was not willing to help Somalia first and then see if the Ogaden problem could be solved. He noted that the Ogaden problem has been there at least since independence. Asking them to do something that is against their national dream is difficult. The Somalis claim that the Somalis in the Ogaden are part of Somalia. If the US says that it will only help if Somalia abandons the Ogaden, the US is putting forward an unacceptable condition. Tribal issues like the Ogaden exist all over Africa. But the Ogaden problem did not become an issue until the Soviets made it one. Nobody except Ethiopia and Somalia can solve the problem between them. Saudi Arabia does not say that one is right and the other is wrong. Saudi Arabia has had no policy of encouraging Somalia to take the Ogaden and Saudi Arabia did not help Somalia with arms until the Soviet and Cuban intervention threatened them. Saudi Arabia does not involve itself in the Ogaden problem. But Saudi Arabia faces a threat from a superpower which is willing to send in vast quantities of aircraft, ships, tanks and men to intervene in a situation near to Saudi Arabia. He said that the US must choose the real problem to confront. The US should not take the position of facing up to the Soviets only if the Somalis abandon the Ogaden.

Mr. Moose expressed the view that the US and Saudi Arabia shared substantially the same strategic objectives of limiting, reducing and hopefully eventually removing the Soviet influence from the Horn of Africa. As far as helping the Somalis, the US is prepared to do so. As we get to looking into how we can go about helping Somalia, then the US has to look at the distinctive characteristics of the situation. It is not enough to say that we must oppose the Soviets. There is the question of Congressional concerns. We must also take into account tactical considerations having to do with Somali internal politics, the position of Siad, Somalia’s neighbors, Africa-wide considerations. At the end of the Ogaden affair, we felt that the immediate problem was to keep Siad in power and to keep him oriented towards the West and towards his traditional friends in the area, such as Saudi Arabia.

Prince Saud said: “A very new tradition.”

Mr. Moose went on to say that the US hoped to keep Siad from going in the wrong direction. We told him that Somalia’s defensive needs would obviously be great if Somalia continued its aggressive [Page 216] policy with respect to its neighbors. However, if Somalia wanted to concentrate on development and to live in peace with its neighbors then the US could help.

Prince Saud asked rhetorically why Siad says he cannot renounce Greater Somalia. Stating that it is impossible for Siad to do so, Prince Saud said that if the United States said to Siad that he must destroy himself in order for the US to help him, then Siad would have to look elsewhere. Greater Somalia is not a goal peculiar to Siad; all Somalis think that way. The US cannot ask Siad for something he cannot do. Since Saudi Arabia lives in the region, it feels the problems must be solved there. But the only problem is the Soviet role. The basic problem is not the Ogaden. That has been there forever. The only problem arose when the Soviets involved themselves on both sides of the dispute.

Mr. Newsom said that the US wants to help Somalia in ways which recognize the realities of their politics. We are pleased at the help that Saudi Arabia has provided to Somalia. We have indicated to Siad our desire to help Somalia and we have received from Siad his assurances that he will not use force against his neighbors. It may be, however, that we cannot give Siad what he feels he needs to defend Somalia and to maintain his position. Mr. Newsom said that we would be interested in knowing what Saudi Arabia proposes to do in this situation and he wondered if the US military relationship with Somalia is in any way a condition for Saudi aid to Somalia.

Prince Saud said that Saudi Arabia has helped Somalia acquire arms already. This help has been based on Somali requirements, not because of any arrangements they may have with others. Saudi Arabia has never associated itself with Somali claims on the Ogaden. Some Arabs did associate themselves with those claims and now find themselves on the other side. This is not true of Saudi Arabia which has followed a constant policy. When Saudi Arabia helped Somalia militarily it was because of the Soviet threat to Somalia. Normally, Saudi Arabia will only give countries economic help. But Somalia was threatened militarily by the Soviet Union and is important to Saudi Arabia. If it can maintain its sovereignty and independence and integrity with help from Saudi Arabia, that is fine. If the US is also going to help, that is also fine.

Mr. Moose said that we are continuing to have contacts with President Siad. We have told him that we are prepared to send a military survey team which will place emphasis on the fields of anti-tank weapons, transport and communications. We can go forward on that basis. But as we go forward in Somalia, we must keep in mind that we are dealing with a very complex set of variables in the area and that what one does with one variable will affect others. What we do in Somalia, for instance, has an immediate impact on Kenya, which is a very fragile [Page 217] entity and a vulnerable target for the Soviets. We wish to help Somalia in a manner which will not increase Kenyan fears.

Prince Saud asserted that the danger for Kenya is not Somalia but Ethiopia. Mr. Moose acknowledged this but said that it is difficult to make the Kenyans realize that. Prince Saud said that there are many factions in Kenya, and some are prepared to throw in their lot with Ethiopia and the Soviets. They see where the strength lies. He agreed that Kenya is very important and it is important to strengthen that country.

Mr. Moose said that he hoped that the US could proceed in Somalia in a way which will bring the Kenyans to realize that Ethiopia and not Somalia represents the danger to them. It is difficult to get this subject going with the Kenyans. We believe that we can manage our relations with Somalia in ways which will be acceptable to the Kenyans. The problem with Kenya is that it is virtually defenseless. Even with Somalia in straitened circumstances militarily after the Ogaden war, Somalia is still well ahead of Kenya militarily. If the Kenyans felt a degree of security in the Northeast Province, such as with a helicopter reconnaissance and anti-tank capability, then the Kenyans would not be so paranoid and it would be possible to talk more rationally with them. In July of 1977 they accepted our rationale about the desirability of assisting Somalia and of lessening Somalia’s dependence on the Soviets.2 They lost that rationality when the Ogaden situation blew up. But we still believe that we can deal with these two together.

Prince Saud said that the Saudis had told the Somalis that the best way to proceed was to patch things up with the Kenyans. However, the Kenyans didn’t want to sign the non-aggression pact offered by the Somalis. He said that all the Kenyans are maneuvering and many are looking where they should go and they see the strength of the Soviets. But it is best to identify the real threat: it is not Somalia or its claims; the threat is the Soviet Union. Somali claims won’t change the region but the Soviets might. Get the Soviets out and then the problems can be tackled. Mr. Moose observed that, as we build a stronger position for ourselves, that will enable us to gain against the Soviets.

Prince Saud said that if the Somalis had been helped to inflict a defeat on the Cubans then the Cubans wouldn’t have felt emboldened to move elsewhere. Referring to Zaire, he said that it would only take 1,000 Cubans to take the whole of Zaire. He asserted that the Cubans would have no trouble controlling Africa. They even picked black [Page 218] Cubans to send to Africa. Who knows, he asked, whether the blacks attacking Eritrea aren’t Cubans?

Mr. Newsom asked what Prince Saud felt could be done about Eritrea? He noted that it was a conflict that had been going on for 17 years, that had involved the United Nations in the past, that many people had tried mediation and that there is the problem of the divisions among the insurgents.

Prince Saud observed that Eritrea is an entity all by itself which has existed in the past and was then given by the UN to Ethiopia. He said that it is a mistake to refer to it as Moslem. The percentage of Moslems to the total population in Eritrea is less than the same proportion in Ethiopia proper. All of the liberation movements, he asserted, have both Moslems and Christians as well as a few pagans. There was an effort made to foment differences between the Moslems and the Christians, but this has been cleared up in both of the main fronts. They have also agreed to join together. Now they have one command entity and they have agreed to have an integrated movement. Asked if this included the liberation movement with which Saudi Arabia has had a traditional relationship, Prince Saud said that Saudi Arabia had no traditional relationship with any single movement. In the past they have helped refugees from Eritrea in the Sudan and that was the extent of Saudi help. They did not supply one or another movement but all. Asked if he felt there was a role for the UN, Prince Saud said that it is in fact a UN problem. If the UN wants to exercise its responsibility, it may clearly do so.

The Secretary, who had only shortly before joined the group, asked if it were possible to deal with the Eritrean situation in the UN or if the OAU would wish to be seized with it. Mr. Newsom observed that the OAU was not at the moment seized formally with the Eritrean problem. Prince Saud observed that the Eritreans will be present at the OAU summit meeting in Khartoum. But since the UN involvement in Eritrea predated the founding of the OAU, there was no OAU decision concerning Eritrea as such. Asked again about Saudi help to liberation movements, Prince Saud said that individually they are not helping movements but giving aid to all of them. He also said that Saudi Arabia did not help militarily until the movements had gotten together and made a joint military command. The military aid is “non-lethal”, he said.

Mr. Newsom summed up by saying that both our countries share concern over the Soviet presence in the Horn of Africa. The US understands the Saudi concern is that the Soviet presence itself is the problem in the Horn and that some indication of opposition to their activities is necessary.

Prince Saud said that it is not Saudi Arabia’s business to solve the problems. The problems there were long-existent and became critical [Page 219] after the Soviets got involved. It is not a question of having to send soldiers. Most African countries are worried about the situation. If they receive backing, they would be prepared to act. He noted that Zambia tried to fight against the Cubans in Angola. If there is a challenger to the Soviet activities, then there will be the backing for that challenger.

Mr. Newsom expressed the hope that there will be continuing consultations between the US and Saudi officials. Prince Saud agreed and proposed to send Deputy Foreign Minister Mansouri to Washington for this purpose, a proposal which was welcomed by the US side.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 21, Horn of Africa: 1–5/78. Secret. The meeting took place at the Department of State. Drafted by Post; cleared by Crawford, Moose, and Forbes; and approved on June 13 by Frank G. Wisner.
  2. In telegram 9450 from Nairobi, July 26, 1977, the Embassy reported on this conversation between Ambassador LeMelle and Kenyan Foreign Minister Waiyaki. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770267–0331)