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

1412. Eyes Only for Under Secretary Habib from Ambassador Porter. Subject: Secretary’s Meeting With Crown Prince Fahd. Ref: Jidda 1411.2

1. Summary: Because of its substance and completeness, Ambassador believes following report of the Secretary’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Fahd on February 19 deserves special consideration. It would be read by officials in the Department, other agencies, and even the Congress, who are responsible for areas where U.S. and Saudi interests meet. End summary.

2. Begin text:

After initial formalities, Secretary Vance said that he brought the Crown Prince warm greetings from President Carter. The President hoped that the Crown Prince would be able to visit him, and had asked the Secretary to deliver a Presidential letter to His Royal Highness.3

Prince Fahd thanked the Secretary, and said he looked forward to visiting the United States. Prince Fahd went on to say that he very much hoped that the Secretary’s fact-finding visit to the Arab countries,4 and especially to Saudi Arabia, would be successful. Although he knew it was only an initial visit for the Secretary, such visits always expanded the knowledge of the traveller.

The Secretary replied that the President had asked that he make this visit early in the new administration, to demonstrate to the world the importance he places on a peaceful resolution of the Middle East problem. In addition, he wished the Secretary to meet with the heads of governments of the states most concerned with resolving the Middle [Page 474] East question, to receive first-hand exposure to their views, and to inquire what might be the best procedure to facilitate the peace-making process.

The Secretary went on that he would report to the President on his return, and that the President was looking forward to meeting with the Crown Prince and other Middle Eastern leaders. The President would consider the reports that the Secretary would convey; the President also hoped to review with foreign leaders his own thinking on how the United States can be most helpful in facilitating a peace process.

We were therefore hopeful that Prince Fahd could visit the United States on April 12.5 President Sadat would be coming to Washington on the 5th, and Prince Fahd’s visit would be the second after that one. Other leaders would be coming to Washington subsequently.

The Secretary added that His Royal Highness had perhaps had a chance to hear from Prince Saud a short summary of the results of our discussions with other leaders whom the Secretary had met during his trip. The Crown Prince had perhaps heard of the difference in views that may have been expressed over the issues of substance and procedure. He said it would be of great value to him to receive any views on how the Crown Prince saw these issues, and how the U.S. might proceed.

Prince Fahd said that in any case the main object of the Saudi Arabian Government was how to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia asked itself in whose interest is it that a condition of peace and stability be postponed? It had concluded that the only beneficiary from continued Middle Eastern instability was the Eastern camp. Even Israel itself does not benefit from the present situation—presumably Israel also wishes the area to be stable and tranquil. Thus the SAG’s special concern was how can it help to bring about stability.

From the Arab point of view, there is now a sincere desire for peace. Wars are not to anyone’s benefit. This is the Arab consensus, and Prince Fahd is told that the leaders of Israel share the same desire. For that matter, all the Jews in the world know that any continuation of the present situation is not in the interests of the Arabs, of the Jews, or of the world community. Prince Fahd hoped that the United States would spare no efforts to bring about a necessary, just, and peaceful solution to the problem. The problem, however, is one that goes back for many years, and a solution therefore will require the very greatest efforts.

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Prince Fahd wished to point out one important matter: i.e., the readiness of the Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian people to accept peace efforts and a peaceful solution. In former years no one had perceived such an attitude on the part of the Palestinians, and we all knew that the Eastern camp had no interest in seeing this spirit prevail. For it to be happening now is a signal that the Middle East problem is becoming susceptible to a solution. Prince Fahd knows the USSR is a very great state, and he does not presume to think that Saudi Arabia can “fight” it. But he believes Saudi Arabia can help to convince the states of the area that the USSR is not interested in them for altruistic reasons. Saudi Arabia can perhaps open the eyes of its fellow Arabs to the ideological and economic fallacies which the USSR seeks to propagate. In the past the Soviet Union has wanted to create strong points for itself in the area, and sought to penetrate areas that are weak and disturbed. Its ultimate object is to maximize its opportunities to promote its own brand of ideological and economic imperialism. Saudi Arabian leaders and leaders of Arabic public opinion, in general, thus fear that if a just solution cannot be found, the Soviet Union will infiltrate the area by convincing the Arabs that only it can assure the Arab peoples their rights.

Prince Fahd said he also knew the Soviet Union had interests and aspirations extending beyond the Middle East, to the Far East, Africa and elsewhere. But with regard to the Arab region, it was essential to solve the problem between the Arabs and Israel. Saudi Arabia believed there was no alternative now to this solution; and this in turn very much raised the question of the Palestinian peoples rights. The Palestinian problem must be solved with equity and justice. It is known that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians now reside in Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and the Gulf states. All of them look to a solution that would improve their own personal status. Any solution that does not accomplish this, will not be practical or constructive. Thus, the extent to which this area will in the future enjoy tranquility or not, will depend on the extent to which the Palestinians can feel that they have something known as a Palestinian entity, or a Palestinian state.

The Crown Prince noted that a few years ago no one in the Middle East dared to speak of a solution that would include Israel as a state among the states of the Middle East. This is now commonly being said however, and this condition must be exploited. We cannot let the opportunity slip. Saudi Arabia hears that the leaders of Israel say the PLO must declare their recognition and acceptance of Israel, so that Israel in turn can discuss peace matters with them. Prince Fahd wished to comment on this matter: it was a matter of the utmost delicacy, and required the most careful handling. Ever since 1937, the Palestinian peoples have been in part out of their country, and they have inculcated [Page 476] their youth with the conviction of the eventual certain return to their lands. Palestinian leaders and leaders of Palestinian public opinion know that if they were now to accord such a degree of recognition of Israel, they would not last one day.

But as far as what is happening now, Crown Prince noted the PLO leaders no longer demand all of Palestine. They do not demand that Israel be abolished. All that they ask for is that a Palestinian entity be set up on the West Bank and Gaza. This is tantamount to recognizing Israel as a state. If Israel does not accept a Palestinian state and thereby provide positive support to the Palestinians, the PLO, and Arab leaders, it will be very difficult to find an appropriate solution. Saudi Arabia, moreover, considers that there are many Israelis that do not accept an intransigent view, which primarily serves their own extremists and fanatics. There are those Israelis that believe in the merit of creating a Palestinian state, and entity, granting the Palestinian people their rights.

The Crown Prince urged that the United States consider well, that if this year passes or the next, without a well founded prospect in sight, or without any indication of a possible solution, the results would be grim. Elements exist that do not want stability to prevail in the area, and to proclaim that peace efforts have failed. These prospects are all the more disturbing because such conclusions can quickly prevail in the minds of people who have been told over and over again for 25 years that the only friend of the Arabs is Russia.

Prince Fahd said the Secretary must know that in the Arab equation today there are many of the components of a positive solution: money, knowledge, and skilled personnel. The present leaders of the Middle East, moreover, have much experience, and are the best qualified to lead their peoples to a goal of stability in the region. Conditions are propitious, therefore, but if these hopes are disappointed, and if the Arabs become convinced that there will be no justice for them and no solution, the area will again become inflamed. The Eastern bloc will seize the opportunity to infiltrate and what in that case might the free world do? Would it abandon its friends and its interests, or might it resort to force? And if it did, what might come of the use of such force?

The Crown Prince considered that what happened in Lebanon was an example of what might in other circumstances occur throughout the Middle East. Lebanon was a very small country of no threat to anyone. Nonetheless, this country had gone through 19 months of bloody civil war, in which every kind of arms was used. This bloodshed would not have occurred without interference of the Eastern bloc, and Prince Fahd wondered what might happen if similar unrest were being fueled by the Soviets from Morocco to Iraq.

Prince Fahd urged that the United States now should study the matter of the Middle East with great method and precision. The situa[Page 477]tion is now good. But if efforts to reach a solution are frustrated, events will begin to run away with all the participants, and the consequences will be unacceptable. He urged the United States leaders to put forward their ideas. He believed we would be pleased with the reception they received. Doors might appear closed, but if one knocked, they might open. Prince Fahd knew that the burden which the friends of the United States placed upon us was onerous. There was no escaping, however, the burdens of the problem we were living with. He said Saudi Arabia would always be in touch with the United States and if anything useful or new came to its attention, it would contact us. He assured the Secretary that the SAG would always study anything that the United States put forward very closely. He hoped that we would be equally frank and meticulous in keeping in touch with him.

Prince Fahd reminded the Secretary that Saudi Arabia could perhaps help to find solutions to problems between parties to the conflict. Saudi Arabia had always tried in its own quiet way to bring about stability in the area.

Prince Fahd then spoke about Saudi-US bilateral relations. He knew that the relations were very strong, and were of considerable duration. It had been proven moreover, that these ties were not easily shaken: Saudi Arabia had demonstrated its attachment to this relationship even in difficult times. He hoped that this relationship would grow even closer and more useful. Saudi Arabia also knew that there were those in the area that claimed at least privately to be good friends of the United States. But in public they criticized the United States, whereas Saudi Arabia had always stood publicly by its pro-US position.

Turning to the question of oil, Prince Fahd said that Saudi Arabia and the UAE had taken their pricing decision for the well-being of the world community. They had sought to check the rise of inflation, and to do what they could to lighten the economic burden on the consuming nations. Fahd noted that some of the world press had hastened to say that Saudi Arabia was bargaining with the US in adopting this position and was seeking a quid pro quo. This was untrue. Saudi Arabia had acted as it did because it was convinced such action was necessary and good for the free world.

Saudi Arabia, moreover, knew that it needed the help of the USA. With regard to the Kingdom’s military development, for instance, it wished US-Saudi ties to be based on the most comprehensive and best possible position. The Prince reaffirmed the importance that Saudi Arabia attached to developing the Kingdom’s army, navy and air force under US auspices. He emphasized that Saudi Arabia would never use its arms to attack others. He wished the Kingdom to be as strong as its capabilities and requirements indicated. No one, he noted, could be respected if he could not defend himself—but he repeated that Saudi Arabia would never commit aggression against others.

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Prince Fahd also felt that the Gulf states were confident and secure in Saudi Arabia’s proximity. They had placed upon Saudi Arabia a responsibility to defend them should the situation require it. He added that Saudi Arabia’s military efforts should furthermore be seen in the light of other regional states that are armed most strongly by the Soviets. This is why in the Prince’s most recent discussions with former President Nixon, former Secretary of State Kissinger, and former Secretary of Defense Schlesinger, the Saudi side had always expressed interest in military topics.6

The Prince noted that in general the US had always expressed its readiness to cooperate with Saudi Arabia, but that the actual implementation of programs was not always as prompt as might be desirable. The SAG was repeatedly told that it should take more time, and train additional manpower to absorb new equipment. In the past, Fahd admitted, they had gotten some good responses from the US but he now wanted to work together on a plan of military preparation and sales that would be agreed to by both sides. He wished to build up the Saudi armed forces in a long term, orderly way. The SAG had to know how it could proceed in future years. If the SAG lacked a well thought out program, or did not know in advance what steps it should take, it would be difficult to proceed. Furthermore, its defensive capability would in no way be appropriate to the country’s vast size and very great responsibilities. Saudi Arabia would lack the military strength necessary for it to be respected.

The Prince therefore hoped that the USG would give close attention to what degree it could arm Saudi Arabia with advanced aircraft, such as the F–15. He did not ask for the USG’s answer now. But he would want to know to what extent Saudi Arabia could depend on the US.

In the meantime, Saudi Arabia would continue to develop its manpower, but it was important to be able to reassure the Saudi Arabian people and their armed forces that their government was really determined to build a modern army, navy and air force. The Prince hoped that these very delicate matters could be given close attention.

Prince Fahd next came to an important point: he was concerned over what Congressmen and Senators might do about the Arab boycott. Such actions would have great influence on the thinking of Saudi Arabia and on Saudi Arabia’s understanding (iltizamat) towards the US as a government and toward the more than 200 US firms in the Kingdom. Congressional action would have an effect on the SAG and [Page 479] private Saudi individuals. The Prince sincerely hoped that matters would never get to the point where our relations would not be as we both might wish. In whose interest he asked is it that US-Saudi economic relations be harmed? Why should US companies withdraw from the market so that European, Japanese and other companies can replace them? Billions of dollars in sales and in banking investments were involved, and these benefits could erode and the door could be opened to others.

The Prince added that decisions in Congress on the boycott could be of the greatest and most far-reaching sensitivity. He urged the USG to be far-sighted. The administration should make congressional leaders of anti-boycott actions aware of the US’s true interests. Saudi Arabia was ready to cooperate in such an educational effort. US-Saudi Arabia friendship was not based on formal ties; like any good friends the two sides could discuss great and small matters in an amicable tone. The Prince imagined that some members of Congress who were doing all they could to combat the Arab boycott did not understand the matter. Were they to study the US’s interests and the harm their action could do to the US—and friends of the US—perhaps their position would be different. He suggested that such congressional leaders visit Saudi Arabia and discuss matters face to face. He again wished the Secretary to know to what degree legislative measures against the boycott could be harmful to the US.

The Prince did not say that the members of the Congress out of deliberate intent wished to hurt US interest. Ignorance was probably at fault. Therefore, let the Congressmen come to Saudi Arabia. The SAG would point out to these Congressmen what US interests really were and what were the interests of America’s friends. Through such discussions, the Congress could see the issue in wider context. Once again, the Prince noted that harm to our relations could result if the USG acted against the boycott on the basis of such congressional decisions.

The Prince said he considered that he had spoken long enough. He expressed his thanks to the Secretary and to President Carter for their thoughtfulness in inviting him to the US. This was an excellent step, and would give him an opportunity to meet with friends, to learn, and to become more personally familiar with the course of US-Saudi relations.

Secretary Vance thanked the Crown Prince for his enlightening presentation. He especially appreciated Fahd’s clear and thoughtful analysis of the strategic implications of various forces that might come into play, and the consequences of various courses of action. He asked the Prince’s permission to comment on a few points—which he said would be brief.

He completely agreed with the Crown Prince that no one in the area would benefit from a failure not to resolve the Middle East problem. [Page 480] He said he would spare no effort in working with the Crown Prince and other leaders to find a just and durable solution. The US shares the SAG’s concern about the USSR, and is familiar with the problems which may result for all of us if Soviet objectives are attained. We are well aware the Russians have in the past fished in troubled waters and would continue to try to do so.

Regarding the question of the Palestinian people, we have always maintained there could be no just and durable peace without a solution to the Palestinian problem.

Regarding the question of territories, we supported from the outset Resolution 242 which calls for restoring lands acquired by Israel in the 1967 war.7

Regarding the status of the PLO, this presents a problem—but one which the Secretary hoped would not be beyond the ingenuity of man to bridge. It is difficult now he said for us to speak finally on this issue, but we must recognize that it poses a very substantial difficulty between Israel on the one hand and the Arabs on the other.

The Secretary next asked if he might say that the US was indeed mindful of the courage and leadership demonstrated by Prince Fahd and other Saudi leaders in their efforts to promote stability in the area. It was the hope and desire of the USG to help Saudi Arabia maintain this stability. The US takes this action not only because it believes that doing so is in the interest of the people in the area, but in our own national interest as well.

Regarding peace efforts in general, the Secretary believed there is an opportunity at this point, and said that we shall strive to the utmost not to lose this opportunity. We assured the Crown Prince that we would work in closest consultations with him in our search for peace. He looked forward to discussing the US view on this matter further with the Crown Prince when he visited the President.

The Secretary then added a few words about our bilateral relations: he fully agreed with the Crown Prince that US-Saudi relations were strong and deeply rooted. He recognizes and appreciates the way Saudi Arabia has stood up in public and defended this relation with us. The US was proud of this relationship and would do all in its power to strengthen it.

On the question of military forces and a plan for the future of our military relationship, the Secretary informed the Crown Prince that the US has undertaken a study of the whole question of sale of military arms. This study would apply not only to the Middle East but to sales [Page 481] anywhere in the world as far as the US is concerned. The Secretary fully agreed it was an excellent idea to establish a systematic, long term plan for Saudi Arabia’s military requirements. The US will begin work on such a study and will be happy to discuss it with the Crown Prince when he comes to the US.

The Secretary said that the boycott is a complex and difficult matter in the US. The Congress intends to hold hearings on this question at the end of this month. He was able to defer such hearings to the end of the month but Congress insisted that they should go forward as of February 28. In the meantime, the Secretary said that we were studying within the Executive Branch how best to respond in these hearings at which he himself would have to testify.8 Ambassador Porter could also perhaps discuss this forthcoming bilateral issue with Saudi officials. The Ambassador’s reports could become part of the Secretary’s preparations. The Secretary agreed it would be useful for members of Congress to visit the area. He would encourage Congressmen to undertake such visits, to come, to see, and to learn.

Finally, the Secretary wished to touch on one other subject. He had stated previously that the US should move to convene the Geneva Conference in the last half of 1977.9 He had not made this proposal of course for the purpose of seeking a delay. He believed, however, it would be more practical to convene the conference in the fall of 1977.

In the meantime, there was much preparatory work that could be done so that all should move smoothly and speedily when the conference is held.

In conclusion, the Secretary wished to thank the Crown Prince for his gracious hospitality. It had been a great pleasure to come to Saudi Arabia and to meet with the Crown Prince and other Saudi Arabian leaders.

Prince Fahd replied that he was happy that the Secretary had visited Saudi Arabia; he hoped that such visits could take place again, because he thought them most useful.

As a closing word, the Secretary asked that the Crown Prince inform His Majesty King Khalid how pleased the Secretary was to have [Page 482] learned that His Majesty had come through his recent operation in such a splendid fashion.

Prince Fahd praised God for His Majesty’s health. He said he had heard that day from Prince Sultan that the King was sitting up in bed and receiving a few friends. The King had also taken some coffee, but the doctors would not allow him to sit in a chair until the following day. The Crown Prince said that His Majesty had not intended to have an operation at first, but when he saw it was necessary, he had said he was prepared to undergo one, two, three, or more operations if they were needed—in hopes that they would be useful. His Majesty was a brave and hardy man.

The Secretary and his party took their leave.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 67, Saudi Arabia: 1–8/77. Secret; Nodis.
  2. In telegram 1411 from Jidda, February 22, 0528Z, the Embassy indicated that the text of the Secretary’s conversation with Fahd would be transmitted separately and noted that Porter hoped that the conversation would be given “widest possible circulation.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770060–0966) Vance visited Riyadh February 19–20.
  3. Carter’s undated letter to Fahd discussed the President’s desire to have the Crown Prince visit the United States and highlighted some of Carter’s thinking on the Middle East peace process. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Trip File, Box 41, Vance, Middle East, 2/14–21/77: Letters)
  4. In addition to Saudi Arabia, Vance traveled to Israel (February 15–17), Egypt (February 17–18), Lebanon (February 18), Jordan (February 18–19), and Syria (February 20–21). Documentation on his talks in these countries is in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, Documents 615.
  5. Fahd met with U.S. officials in Washington in May; see Documents 150 and 151.
  6. Prince Fahd visited Washington in May 1974. Documentation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–9, Part 2, Documents on the Middle East Region 1973–1976.
  7. Reference is to UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 22, 1967. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967, Document 542.
  8. For Secretary Vance’s March 1 statement before the House Committee on International Relations on the proposed anti-boycott legislation, see the Department of State Bulletin, March 21, 1977, pp. 267–270.
  9. Originally convened on December 21, 1973, to negotiate a solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute, the multilateral Geneva Middle East Peace Conference stood in adjournment since December 29 of that year. For documentation relating to the Carter administration’s efforts to re-convene the Conference, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978.