160. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State1
8287. SecDef for ISA, DSAA for Lt. Gen. Fish. Subject: F–15 for Saudi Arabia.
1. In a meeting December 3 with Prince Sultan in his capacity as Acting Foreign Minister, Ambassador and ARP officer Barbara Bodine had a wide-ranging discussion of the Saudi request for F–15’s. Embassy Counselor Sabbagh and POL/MIL officer Lewis were also at the meeting.
2. Prince Sultan said that leaving aside U.S. interest in Europe which he recognized as vital, it seemed that in the Middle East the United States had three friends in the following rank order. First was Israel, second Iran, and third and last Saudi Arabia. Sultan said that he could not understand why the U.S. gave billions of dollars worth of arms and other assistance to Israel. If the U.S. feels that it contributes to stability in the area, then “that premise is wrong”.
3. When it comes to Iran, Prince Sultan said there was a lot of arms being provided to Iran in an open-ended fashion. He said the U.S. is providing huge quantities of highly sophisticated weaponry to Iran and that “it is an exaggerated notion” that the policy of the U.S. toward Iran would achieve stability and provide protection on the Gulf for oil. Sultan said he is sure that the U.S. is aware that Iran purchases military equipment from the Soviet Union, Peoples Republic of China (sic) and France. “Does this mean that Iran will be the protector of the area?” he asked.
4. “Now it is painful to me to come to America’s number three friend in the area, Saudi Arabia,” Sultan said. In a brief but animated review of Saudi-American relations, he said that Saudi Arabia had faced in the past two decades dire circumstances—military disasters with Yemen in the early 60’s, near bankruptcy, droughts, and near famines. “Yet at no time,” he said, “did Saudi Arabia come knocking at the door of the U.S. in a manner that would embarrass a friend.” He said that on the contrary, the SAG has undertaken tireless efforts to keep Communism out of the Arab world and beyond. He recalled that the late King Faisal spent many sleepless nights worrying about radical influences in the Arab world and had pursued this goal with [Page 525]such energy that the younger men around him were exhausted. Prince Sultan said that the same policy is being followed by His Majesty King Khalid and Crown Prince Fahd. Yet the response from the U.S. has not been commensurate with the Saudi effort. He said the SAG paid for its own weapons, and used them for its own defense. How could it face its own people when the U.S. provided it with only 1/10 of what its neighbors get from other sources and the U.S.? Having said that, Sultan reaffirmed that the SAG’s friendship with the U.S. was still constant and “no Saudi who can be called a Saudi can initiate or condone any animosity toward the U.S.”
5. Ambassador West said that he was pained when Prince Sultan described Saudi Arabia as America’s “third ranked friend in the Middle East.” Amb. West said that twice in recent months he has discussed Saudi-U.S. relations with President Carter. On both occasions the President said that he considered Saudi Arabia to be among the closest and best friends the United States has in the world.
6. Ms. Bodine told Prince Sultan that a frequently-asked question is whether Saudi Arabia has the manpower and capability to absorb this aircraft. Prince Sultan said that the program for absorbing an advanced fighter aircraft was based on the 1974 recommendations of the U.S.-Saudi Joint Security Commission2 and that there was no question in his mind that the Saudi Air Force could absorb and maintain the F–15.
7. Sultan said that he was under great pressure from other members of the royal family to accelerate the acquisition of an advanced fighter but that he resisted this pressure preferring instead a paced and more thoughtful program to insure that a new fighter would be absorbed smoothly while they phased out the Lightning aircraft. He said that the Saudi decision was based on a careful review and test which included the F–14, 15, and 16 by Saudi pilots. The Saudi Air Force had preferred the F–15.
8. Ms. Bodine said that it was understood that Saudi Arabia had requested the F–15 for its own defense but a frequently-asked question in the U.S. was whether these planes might be used offensively. In reply, Prince Sultan said “How can we attack countries that are twenty times better equiped than we are?”
9. In closing Prince Sultan stated that he was willing to go before Congress to explain Saudi Arabia’s case for the F–15, “after all, President Sadat went to Jerusalem and spoke before the Knesset”.3
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770453–1115. Secret; Immediate. Sent for information Immediate to CHUSMTM and the Department of Defense.↩
- Documentation is scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–9, Part 2, Documents on the Middle East Region, 1973–1976.↩
- Reference is to Sadat’s November 19–21 visit to Jerusalem.↩