151. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary of Defense meeting with Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia (U)


  • U.S.

    • The Secretary
    • Deputy Secretary Duncan
    • Governor West, U.S. Ambassador-designate to Saudi Arabia
    • Assistant Secretary, ISA
    • DASD (NEASA), Mr. Janka
    • Director, DSAA, LTG Fish
    • DASS, Mr. Sober
    • Military Assistant, RADM Holcomb
    • Saudi Arabia
    • Crown Prince Fahd
    • Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prince Sa’ud ibn Faysal
    • Ambassador to the U.S., Ali Abdullah Alireza
    • Saudi Interpreter

Secretary Brown: I am happy to see you in our city and I trust that your meetings have gone well.

Prince Fahd: My meetings with the President and the Secretary of State were useful and constructive.2 This is the first time I have met with President Carter, and the meeting was very constructive and good. I am pleased to be meeting with you also.

Secretary Brown: We, in Defense, are particularly proud of the opportunity to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in its development and its security efforts. I am not new to the Department of Defense, but I am new to the position of Secretary of Defense. One thing I have been most impressed with is the closeness of relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States. We will do everything possible to advance that relationship.

Prince Fahd: Please proceed with any matters you wish to raise and I shall be pleased to listen.

Secretary Brown: We would be pleased to hear your views for the prospects for peace in the Middle East, including the effects of the recent Israeli elections, as well as the situation in Lebanon in which Saudi influence on Syria has been particularly constructive. I would also like to hear your views on the form a peace agreement might take.

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Prince Fahd: In regard to the matter of peace in the Middle East, I have already discussed this with the President and pointed out that peace will depend on a continuity of effort aimed at maintaining stability in the Middle East. I can also add that this is the view of the leaders of the Arab world, particularly of Egypt and Syria. It is consistent with what we understand from King Hussein and the leaders of the PLO. All Arab parties want the achievement of a just peace—in an impartial and just way.

As you know, there are resolutions approved by the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, and these resolutions have been agreed upon by major countries. We in Saudi Arabia believe that fighting for a peace that is just and impartial is essential to the area.

We also believe that the present crisis is made up of many things in its background, but what is important now is a continuity of effort for achieving a just and impartial peace. This is in reference to our Arab point of view. On the Israeli side, we cannot say a lot, but there is now an opportunity for them to find peace in the area. The Arabs who are looking for solutions are aware that the problems in our area will not only affect the Middle East, but the world as a whole. It is important for everybody that we avoid such dangerous situations if they arise.

I have discussed the situation with the President, and I have discussed all the possibilities for solutions with the President, and have given him a good view of what the possibilities are in the Middle East. We believe any solution that is imposed from outside, which does not involve the Palestinians, will not achieve a peace. The Palestinian problem is the basic problem of the Middle East situation. As long as there is an inclination for peace in the area, we must continue our efforts. The problem has been all along that Israel was saying it would not accept any peace until its existence was accepted—that acceptance now exists.

Because the Arabs are asking for return of the lands occupied in 1967, and asking for a settlement for the Palestinians—therefore the existence of a Palestinian State implicitly involves an acceptance of borders with an Israeli State. It is very important that Israel, the Arab countries and the Palestinians, all participate in the process of reaching a peace agreement based on justice and impartiality.

With respect to the results of the Israeli election, the views of our countries are similar and emanate from the lack of stability between the Arabs and Israelis. The results of the elections have created something new—majority views and actions new to us. One of those actions is Menachem Begin’s attendance at festivities opening a new settlement in the occupied areas and saying that Gaza and the West Bank are a part of Israel. We do not know whether or not, when he assumes office, [Page 494] such statements will represent his policy or something different will emerge. We noticed that in the International Press he has been saying things which are not satisfactory to the Arabs or other nations. If he (Begin) wants to complicate the situation, the Arabs will not be responsible.

We must ask ourselves; in exactly whose interest are these obstacles being laid against efforts to obtain peace in the Middle East? We in Saudi Arabia believe the only beneficiary of a more complicated situation in the Middle East would be the Eastern camp, because it is not in the interest of the Soviet Union to see peace and stability in the Middle East. This is because once you have peace and stability in the Middle East, there is no further use for the Soviet Union in the region.

I am also convinced that there are also reasonable people still in Israel who think that having new wars is not in the interest of Israel, or the region, because wars mean destruction and killing of innocent people and the destruction of the development process in the area as a whole.

With reference to the Lebanese problem, the efforts of Saudi Arabia were begun long before the Riyadh summit3 took place. This meeting was held only when we were convinced that the different parties were ready to work in one framework. We did this while bearing in mind that there were still problems between Egypt and Syria and immense problems inside of Lebanon.

We have arrived at very useful results—one of which is obtaining good relations between Egypt and Syria and another in solving the problems between the Lebanese President and the leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat. From time-to-time there are, of course, some simple problems that arise from nineteen months of war in Lebanon. There is an Arab committee to solve such matters which can make it possible for the Lebanese to start rebuilding their country.

Secretary Brown: Your Royal Highness’ account of these events, and your views, reinforces my belief that Saudi Arabia is a very important force for peace and stability in the Middle East. Moreover, Saudi Arabia is a very important influence for economic stability, prosperity and peace for the entire world. For all these reasons, the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is very important to the United States. We remain committed to supplying the equipment and services mutually agreed to as essential to meeting the defense needs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

I am sure that you know that there is concern in the U.S. about the U.S. being the leading arms selling country in the world. As you [Page 495] know, President Carter has indicated that, consistent with the security of our friends, we want to gradually lower the sale of arms in the world. It is, in any event, in the interest of both of our countries to minimize the public controversy over the level of arms sales. In this context, we fully intend to carry out our agreements with Saudi Arabia regarding security assistance. As I said, Saudi Arabia’s security is very important to the U.S.

Perhaps you could give me your impressions of how the security assistance program is going in general, or in terms of any specific questions you may have.

Prince Fahd: It pleases me to discuss with you the details of this matter. I discussed it during my last visit in 1974 with Secretary Schlesinger and Dr. Kissinger.4 Especially with regard to implementing the details of such an operation.

Why is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia anxious to arm itself? This is a very expensive process. We would prefer to do away with arms in favor of constructive programs, but we are convinced that a country that cannot defend itself will not be respected. Furthermore, we do not want to attack any one. But all of our neighbors are fully armed by the Soviets—with armies, navies, and air forces. Therefore, the question is, at which door do we knock in order to obtain arms? We don’t want to turn to the Soviets. The Europeans are ready to sell to us, but we prefer doing business with the U.S.

When we want to equip our armed forces with modern equipment, we only want to defend our mutual interests. How can we be friends with the U.S. if we cannot defend either ourselves or our mutual interests? If we do not arm ourselves and an occasion arises in which we must defend ourselves, how will we do so without arms? We also believe the Gulf States are relieved to know that Saudi Arabia will help them against potential aggressors.

We believe that the U.S. has mutual interests with Saudi Arabia in the field of energy and stability; therefore, it is essential that we arm ourselves defensively—a strong friend is better than a weak friend. Arming ourselves is a heavy burden, but a burden one can’t avoid. For example: If the U.S. was not strong enough to defend itself, nothing could restrain the Soviet Union anywhere in the world. For these reasons we seek the cooperation of the U.S. in helping us. Unless we have modern equipment, the Saudi Arabian armed forces will be demoralized. The officers of the Saudi Arabian armed forces question why they don’t obtain the arms they need when our neighbors are getting large quantities from the Soviet Union. It has been difficult for me to answer [Page 496] our officers, except to say that we are obtaining such weapons from the U.S. I can also add that some of the questions addressed to me by our armed forces included such questions as “do we not have enough money or is it something else that we can’t obtain the weapons we need?”. Because of these circumstances, I do hope the U.S. and its officials—civilian and military—will appreciate these circumstances and provide us what we need.

At the same time we would appreciate if the U.S. will bear in mind that you are dealing with a friendly country, a country that you will never have to have questions about. All officials and members of Congress should, we hope, see this as a special matter where a friendly country is involved.

I would like to mention an issue. We in Saudi Arabia would like to avoid complications that tend to arise in implementing weapons programs. It has been mentioned in the Israeli press that there are Saudi Arabian forces near Israel’s borders and that they might use U.S. weapons in aggressive moves against Israel. To stop such speculation, we took our forces from Syria and Jordan. Israel knows well that Saudi Arabia will not attack. Israel wants to arm itself because it is afraid of its neighbors. The same conditions apply to us as our neighbors are fully armed by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union would be pleased to find Saudi Arabia weak in its armed forces.

I am happy that there will be new thinking here towards giving weapons to Saudi Arabia which they can use and absorb. We don’t want to take weapons from the U.S. and pass them on to anyone else. We want them only to defend the Kingdom. I have personally assumed the responsibility for this program and that is why I wanted to say all this to you. I would like you to help me come up with an explanation for my officers as to why delays in weapons deliveries are taking place. The officers ask me the question; why is the government training us but not giving us the weapons we need? I cannot continue to hold them off, yet I am fully convinced the reasonable people in the U.S. do not want the leaders of Saudi Arabia to be embarrassed.

Secretary Brown: I am happy to hear and agree with what you said. We understand and agree with the needs of Saudi Arabia for military equipment to be strong and defend itself. We recognize that Saudi Arabia has very faithfully lived up to agreements that these weapons are for its own use and security.

We intend to live up to our commitments for the sale of military equipment. For example: For an advanced fighter aircraft to replace your Lightnings—and Saudi Arabia was offered its choice as to which aircraft—we are prepared to seek agreement from Congress for whatever aircraft Saudi Arabia elects to purchase. We think the Saudi Air Force may want to look again, along with our Air Force, as to which [Page 497] aircraft is most appropriate . . . the numbers necessary and some timing and absorption factors. It may be that the F–16 or F–14 may yet be looked at; but our commitment to provide Saudi Arabia the aircraft of its choice stands.

Moreover, I believe that as a result of your previous meetings with U.S. officials in 1974, a ten-year plan was set out for modernizing your armed forces. About three years have gone by since that plan was initiated. Perhaps it is a good time to review this plan together and see what modifications might be appropriate. I would suggest that the Joint Security Commission, which was set up during your visit, might be a suitable mechanism for joint review. It might be useful to modify the plan—some items to be increased, some items to be decreased. For example: The inventory of 400 helicopters recommended in the plan may no longer be correct. Thus, it may be useful to update the plan according to what we now agree are the current needs of the Saudi armed forces. There are many other items, but this is just one example.

Prince Fahd: I forgot to mention that there were certain needs which were to be provided by American companies who are now claiming that the U.S. Government instructed them not to proceed with certain sales. I want Prince Saud to explain to you those weapons which should be provided, but which were not.

Prince Saud: His Highness suggests that some of our military officers meet with some of your people here following this meeting.

Secretary Brown: I am aware of such problems. General Fish will visit Saudi Arabia next month . . . next week, in fact.5 He can go over your list of issues now; then, when he arrives in Saudi Arabia he will be prepared to resolve these problems on the spot.

Prince Saud: That will be helpful. However, I think it is a bad time to re-evaluate the whole ten-year plan right now since we have these many detailed problems.

Secretary Brown: I am not suggesting changing any of our commitments, but it may be useful to review your requirements further out than the 1974 plan.

Prince Saud: His Highness has no problem in reviewing these issues now.

Prince Fahd: It is very important that we start our discussion by sending someone to talk with Prince Sultan.

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Secretary Brown: The discussions can start tonight and continue next week.

Prince Fahd: This is a very important matter and it will help me with the officers of our armed forces.

In concluding, I wish to extend an invitation from your friends in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Secretary Brown: I would look forward to such a visit since I know that none of my predecessors have ever visited the Kingdom.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files, FRC 330–80–0017, Saudi Arabia, 400–499, 1977, Folder 5. Secret; Noforn. Prepared by Janka; coordinated by McGiffert; approved by Brown on June 4. The meeting took place at Blair House.
  2. See footnote 8, Document 149, and Document 150.
  3. See footnote 4, Document 143.
  4. See footnote 6, Document 148.
  5. Fish visited Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, and Iran June 23–July 3. He met with Saudi defense officials June 27–30. Under a July 15 memorandum, he sent Brown a detailed report, which included an executive summary, a list of follow-up actions, and topical reports. The report is in the Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files, FRC 330–80–0017, Saudi Arabia, 000.1–339, 1977, Folder 2.