16. Memorandum From Gary Sick of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • PRC on Secretary Brown’s Trip to the Middle East (C)

Defense has prepared a discussion paper (Tab A)2 in the form of an agenda for the meeting. It covers the key questions and provides some suggested answers. The two key questions are as follows:

  • 1. How far are we willing to go in providing strategic assurances to the Saudis and others? Are we prepared to offer some kind of unilateral U.S. presence or higher security profile?
  • 2. What specific answers are we prepared to give these four nations on bilateral requests during the course of Harold Brown’s trip? (S)

Strategic Issues

The underlying choices in the strategic issue are highlighted in two papers at Tab B.3 Rud Poats presents a case for a multilateral approach which incorporates security, energy, financial and other con[Page 38]siderations in a ministerial level consultation mechanism. Fritz Er-marth’s comments, in contrast, stress the need to consider a larger unilateral role for the United States, with all the risks and costs that implies. Tab C4 presents the perspective from the Saudi desk at State which urges us not to proceed faster than the Saudis are prepared to move (all you need to know is that it compares the Saudis to a milk cow which produces best when calm and not startled). (S)

Our verbal reassurances to the Saudis have been less than convincing. This trip provides an opportunity to add both symbolism and substance to our security relationship. It seems to me that the proper theme for Brown’s presentation is to stress the two-way nature of security. We do not want to make a strong pitch which links security protection to oil so blatantly that it “startles the cow”, but we do want to engage them more actively in considering the kind of difficult decisions they must face if our security relationship is to be more than arms length. The following points spell out such an approach in detail:

—We are deeply concerned about the events of the past year for the security and stability of the region. (Review in fairly stark terms the events in Ethiopia, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iran.)

—We have taken some steps to respond in ways that would be apparent to the Soviets. (Accelerated arms deliveries to Yemen, Seventh Fleet ships on station in the Arabian Sea and at the mouth of the Indian Ocean, and the F–15 visit.)

—However, we see the threat of growing instability and the emergence of radical regimes as a serious development—as you do—as we are involved in a reexamination of our regional security strategy in the light of these events. (Brown might use some hypothetical examples of a higher U.S. profile, e.g. more frequent ship visits, a larger or more capable naval presence, regular visits of combat aircraft, joint military exercises on a broader scale, closer exchange of military intelligence, more frequent consultation on regional security matters, etc.)

—However, we cannot plan or act unilaterally. There must be active cooperation and support from our friends in the region. It is a two-way street. (Possibly note the need for congressional/public support, support facilities in the region, etc.)

—We would find it extremely helpful to have your views on the nature of the threats facing the region, the ways in which the United States could be most helpful in contributing to security and stability, and the ways in which we can work together. (S)

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This general approach would provide the opportunity to let them get their own concerns off their chest and to indicate areas where they feel we can be most helpful; it would also provide an introduction to a discussion of bilateral issues in a broader strategic framework; and—most importantly—it would serve to underline our shared concerns and our seriousness of purpose in a more convincing manner than heretofore. (C)

It also lets them know in unmistakable terms that they will have to be prepared to play a role of their own that will not be cost free, but it does so by making them partners, not merely objects of great power attention. The message would, of course, have to be tailored to fit the audience.

Specific Bilateral Issues

The Defense paper (pp. 2–5) examines a series of bilateral issues for each of the countries visited. Specifically, recommendations are made for the approval of arms sales for each country.5 Many of these suggestions have not been staffed. Many are extremely controversial (e.g. initiating FMS credits for Egypt, providing $1 billion in loans to Israel for airfield construction, and providing F–5 munitions for Saudi Arabia previously turned down by Congress). Moreover, the Egypt-Israel package needs to be examined in the political context of the current negotiations and our overall relations. (S)

This meeting is not the proper place to put together a carefully balanced and politically sensitive package of items for the trip. (C)

Harold Brown should be provided with some positive replies which he can give in each case. The replies should be substantial enough to give life to the reassurances, but not so extensive as to empty our quiver prematurely. They should be carefully balanced among the Egypt-Israel-Saudi triangle. (S)

RECOMMENDATION: That you suggest the establishment of a small, high-level State-Defense-NSC working group to develop a package proposal which can be put to the President next Monday. (S)

Bill Quandt and Fritz Ermarth concur. (U)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 73, PRC 090, 2/1/79, Secretary Brown’s Trip to Middle East. Secret. Sent for information. A stamped notation on the memorandum reads: “ZB has seen.”
  2. Attached but not printed is the undated discussion paper which was forwarded to Secretary Brown in the form of a letter from Carter. See Document 19.
  3. Attached but not printed are a January 31 memorandum from Rutherford Poats to Brzezinski and an undated memorandum by Ermarth.
  4. Attached but not printed is an undated paper prepared in advance of the PRC meeting.
  5. Inderfurth drew a line from the end of this sentence to the bottom margin of the paper and wrote: “ZB, Keep in mind that the Congress is less favorably disposed to the Saudis than when the arms sales package was up last year. In fact, I have some doubts whether that same package could be passed today. Given their behavior at the Baghdad conference, the recent OPEC price increase + their lack of support for Camp David, the Saudis are losing friends here. As you know, Church (who railed against the package) was recently quoted as saying it’s time ‘to take the gloves off’ with the Saudis. Concern about events in Iran + the security of the Gulf are the two factors going for us now in enhancing the relationship. Rick.”