161. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Secretary’s Meeting with Crown Prince Fahd



    • HRH Crown Prince Fahd
    • HRH Prince Abdullah
    • HRH Prince Sultan
    • HRH Prince Saud
    • HRH Prince Turki
    • Royal Counselor Rashad Pharaon
    • Ambassador Ali Abdallah Alireza, Ambassador to US

    • The Secretary
    • Under Secretary Philip C. Habib
    • Ambassador John C. West, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia
    • Mr. David A. Korn, S/P
    • Mr. Isa Sabbagh, Interpreter

Crown Prince Fahd said it is obvious to everybody that we are in a very delicate stage in the history of the Middle East problem. The eyes of the world are on the Middle East. Everybody is waiting to see the results. Fahd said Saudi Arabia divides the world into two categories: those who want to see good results from the current negotiations and those who do not want to see good results. Fahd said by the latter he especially meant the Soviet Union. He wanted to make clear that it is the earnest hope of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that the United States will be successful in persuading Israel that now is the golden moment to solve the Arab-Israeli problem. Such an auspicious moment may never come again. This is also a golden opportunity for the United States, Fahd said, since another such time may never come again.

Fahd said that Saudi Arabian support for Egypt and for President Sadat is old and deep. A few days before Sadat went on his trip to [Page 527] Jerusalem he visited Saudi Arabia. The discussion focused on the Geneva conference and Sadat emphasized that he was going to Geneva irrespective of whether others attended it. Sadat urged Saudi Arabia to prevail on the Syrians and the Palestinians to go to Geneva. There was of course, Fahd said, at that time a difference of opinion between Syria and Egypt on Geneva. The Syrians wanted everything cleared up before Geneva. The Egyptians said this was not necessary because Geneva would clarify it all. Saudi Arabia’s efforts were therefore channeled in the direction of convincing the Syrians and the Palestinians to go to Geneva. Fahd said Saudi Arabia had told the Syrians and the Palestinians that it would not be good to give a chance to those who wanted to complicate matters. Saudi Arabia urged them to go. Saudi Arabia’s main concern was how to bring the two sides together, so as to ensure that all parties concerned could go to Geneva. Fahd said that the Saudis had suggested to the Arab parties that they might have a pre-Geneva meeting in Saudi Arabia.

Fahd said that after that Sadat went back to Egypt and Prince Saud went to Syria to talk with the Syrians about Geneva. Saud came back with the impression that the Syrians would like to have a Geneva conference. The first the Saudis knew about Sadat’s intention to visit Israel was Sadat’s speech in which he announced that intention.2 Fahd said at first we did not imagine Sadat would actually go, that he was serious. Saudi Arabia did not receive any notification from Sadat. However, after the visit was announced, Saudi Arabia sent a letter to Sadat asking him to wait a while, not to do anything rash. This was a letter from King Khalid and it stressed that Saudi Arabia’s desire was to see fruitful results.

Fahd said there were two ways to view Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem. The first is that it showed a desire for peace. The second is that it was an impulsive act. Fahd said the way Saudi Arabia looks at the visit is that it was an important step and that it should have good results. Otherwise it will play into the hands of the enemies of the United States and Saudi Arabia. Fahd said Saudi Arabia has based its attitude on the desire that Sadat should succeed. We want to assure you that Saudi Arabia is keenly watching the development of events because it wants to see Sadat succeed. Saudi Arabia places great hopes in the United States because it is the one country that can bring a change in Israel’s position.

Fahd said that if Saudi Arabia had rushed to the support of Sadat it would have upset the balance in the Arab world. That is why we [Page 528] thought it the better part of wisdom to keep cool. The Arab world is now in a period of turmoil, debate and change. Fahd said he hoped the dust would settle and then Saudi Arabia’s role would become clearer. Saudi Arabia’s declaration on the Sadat visit, Fahd said, stated the facts. We did not criticize the visit but did not support it either. We said we did not know of the visit beforehand and had sent a letter to Sadat on it but received no reply. Fahd said the Secretary certainly knew that Saudi Arabia’s relations with both sides are good. It has good relations with the Palestinians, with Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. This is the right policy for Saudi Arabia, Fahd said.

Fahd said Saudi Arabia would be very pleased if the current negotiations produce good results. He thought Syria would go along if the results were good. The position of Algeria and Libya is not the same as that of Syria. Neither they nor the Soviet Union want the current negotiations to succeed. The Soviet Union sees clearly that the situation in the Arab countries is not satisfactory from its point of view, and it is also unhappy about what happened in Somalia.

Fahd said that on Somalia he had long worked for the result that has come about. But, he said, Saudi Arabia is not pleased over the continuation of the trouble between Ethiopia and Somalia. Fahd said the Saudis had discussed the problem with the President of Somalia and told him that war would be counterproductive in the long run. Fahd said Saudi Arabia feels it must help Somalia because if Somalia is defeated then it will be a great victory for the Soviet Union. Fahd said the Saudis had spoken to the Somalis about Kenya’s fears. The President of Somalia had assured the Saudis that he had no desire to create problems for Kenya. Fahd said the Saudis would be happy to receive an envoy from Kenya to discuss this. Fahd said the Saudis believe that Ethiopia and the Soviet Union are trying to poison the mind of Kenya against Somalia. There are those in Kenya who are trying to put it in the communist camp. Saudi Arabia has heard that contacts have been established between Ethiopia and the Soviet Union and people in Kenya who want to put Kenya on the Soviet side. We are sure that nothing will happen as long as Kenyatta3 is there, Fahd said. But no one can know what will happen afterwards.

Fahd said the Saudis had heard that Ethiopia is getting help from Israel. If this is true, it is too bad. It would really be strange if there were such unusual bedfellows now. However, Fahd expressed suspicion that the Israelis and the Soviets may be working together in Ethiopia. Fahd said the Saudis feel that they have effectively undermined the position of the Soviet Union in the Horn of Africa. If Saudi Arabia is [Page 529] successful, Soviet presence will have been considerably reduced. Fahd said the Saudis know that the Soviet Union is their main enemy in the area.

Fahd again expressed the hope that Sadat’s initiative would be successful. If not, it would be a victory for those who attended the Tripoli conference.4 Sadat’s visit was very important in showing that the Arabs seriously wanted peace. The visit strengthened President Carter’s hand. Fahd said it was good to hear that the Israelis have changed their opinion, but more than that must be done. Some concrete result must emerge from the Cairo conference.5 If the Cairo conference brings about a declaration of principle on Israeli withdrawal and solution of the Palestinian problem, then there would be general Arab agreement on going to Geneva. Fahd said Saudi Arabia understands why Hussein decided not to go to the Cairo conference; and Sadat also no doubt understands. Fahd added that he could assure the Secretary that Sadat knows about Saudi policy and approves it.

Foreign Minister Saud said it was most important that Israel not take advantage of Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem to try to legitimize its presence there. Saud said he was pleased with the Secretary’s assurance that the US would not move its Embassy to Jerusalem. Fahd said he hoped Israel was intelligent enough to realize that Sadat’s visit was not an acknowledgement of the legitimacy of Israeli presence in Jerusalem.

Fahd said that he wanted to say a word about the price of oil. Saudi Arabia hopes to be successful in rallying a majority in favor of an oil price freeze until the end of 1978. But there is a question which greatly concerns Saudi Arabia in this regard: that is the value of the dollar. Fahd said he had taken up this question with the Secretary of the Treasury and had been told that the US does not want its friends to be hurt by a drop in the value of the dollar.6 Fahd said he was mentioning the subject because it will be brought up at the OPEC meeting.7 The opponents of an oil price freeze will argue that since the dollar is going down the price of oil must be raised. Fahd said Saudi Arabia hopes the US will pay close attention to this problem. Saudi Arabia is also concerned about the drop in the value of the dollar because it affects the value of Saudi holdings in the United States. Fahd [Page 530] said he was certain the US Government would respond seriously to this problem.

Fahd said the other problem he wanted to raise with the Secretary is that of arms for Saudi Arabia. Fahd said he thought that fears that exist in the Congress of the United States that Saudi Arabia wants arms in order to attack Israel have now been proven baseless. It has become clear that Saudi Arabia needs arms to defend itself from its neighbors and from the Soviet Union. Saudi Arabia’s neighbors are stronger and receive more arms than it does. Fahd said he wanted to underscore the urgency of assuring that something is done soon about Saudi arms requests. The Saudi people and the armed forces need to see that they have weapons with which to defend their country.

Fahd said the states of the Gulf look up to Saudi Arabia and consider themselves dependent on it for their protection. If Saudi Arabia lacks arms, the Gulf states will suffer too. Let us take a simple example, Fahd said. South Yemen has more arms than the Sheiks of the Gulf. Suppose that South Yemen attacks one of the Gulf states and that Iraq came to the support of South Yemen. Iraq has 12 divisions ready to go to battle. Its forces are stronger than those of Saudi Arabia. If such a thing were to happen at a time when the US was incapable of helping Saudi Arabia, the outcome would be terrible. Fahd said for this reason he wanted to ask the Secretary to convey to President Carter his urgent request that the US respond quickly to Saudi Arabia’s plea for arms. An American response will be seen as a friendly gesture to His Majesty, the Government of Saudi Arabia, and all the friends of Saudi Arabia.

Fahd asked about Mr. Habib’s visit to the Soviet Union. Mr. Habib then reviewed his impressions of his Moscow talks along the lines that he had earlier that afternoon in the meeting with Prince Saud.8

The Secretary expressed his appreciation for Fahd’s explanation of Saudi policy. The Secretary said he would convey Saudi concerns to the President. The US fully appreciates the need for a forthcoming Israeli response to the actions taken by Sadat. The Secretary said he had already spoken to Begin about this, and he and the President will have another opportunity to discuss this with Begin when Begin comes to Washington on Friday.9

[Page 531]

The Secretary said we fully agree that it is necessary to bring about a just and comprehensive settlement for the Arab-Israeli dispute, because if we fail the consequences will be dire for all. The US much appreciates all Saudi Arabia has done in regard to Somalia. We continue to have the problem of the Horn of Africa under very close review. As of now we are giving only economic aid to Somalia and that aid is not very large. However we are considering expanding it. The Secretary said that in regard to the Crown Prince’s question about Israeli support for Ethiopia, it is true that Israel has been giving some assistance to the Ethiopians. We have told the Israelis that we think this is wrong and we will continue to make clear our views to them. The Secretary said we know that the Soviet Union has been giving substantial assistance to Ethiopia. This assistance and the size of the Ethiopian population give Ethiopia an advantage over Somalia. The Secretary said he had discussed the problem of the Horn of Africa during the NATO meeting a week ago10 and also with the Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany. He had also discussed it with Sadat and Sadat had said that he had taken the matter up with the Sudanese and that the Sudanese would give aid to Somalia. The Secretary said he was sure that President Carter would want to discuss the question of the Horn of Africa when he visits Riyadh.11

The Secretary said that on the question of arms for Saudi Arabia, he had begun discussions with key Members of Congress. He had received a good response, and events of the last several weeks had helped change several minds. The Secretary said he thought there was an increasing awareness in Congress of the importance of approval for the Saudi arms request. He wanted to point out that there would nonetheless be some Members of Congress who would continue to be difficult. But, the Secretary said, the Administration plans to go forward in January with a proposal to Congress. Fahd said he was pleased to hear this. Fahd suggested that any “recalcitrant” Members of Congress be invited to Saudi Arabia. The Secretary said Congressman Zablocki would be visiting Saudi Arabia shortly at the head of a large delegation. They would have an important voice in this question. Fahd said the Saudis would welcome them. The Secretary said that Senator Byrd and Senator Baker would also be coming and they too could be very important. Fahd said “We will welcome them. They will come back convinced.”

The Secretary said that on the matter of the value of the dollar, this is very important to the US. He had discussed it with Secretary [Page 532] Blumenthal and the President before leaving for his visit to the Middle East. The value of the dollar is a question of the highest priority to the US Government.

The Secretary said he would again like to express the deep thanks of President Carter and the United States Government to the Saudi Government in regard to oil prices. The Secretary said we are fully aware of what Saudi Arabia has done to bring others along.

The Secretary said he would like to say a few words about South Yemen. The US has refrained from doing anything further in its relations with South Yemen since the Secretary’s last meeting with Prince Saud in August.12 South Yemen seems to have been providing increasing facilities in support for Soviet shipping in the Indian Ocean. Since Berbera was denied to them, the Soviets seem to be turning more and more to Aden. They are also funneling arms shipments to Ethiopia through Aden. Fahd said Saudi Arabia is aware of this. The Secretary asked how Fahd would advise the US to deal with the South Yemen problem.

Fahd said in the past Saudi Arabia had seen some positive signs coming from South Yemen and had urged the US to move closer to the Aden regime. But now in view of the new circumstances we urge you not to do so. Fahd said there had earlier been discussions between Saudi Arabia and South Yemen to improve relations. Certain points were agreed upon during the visit of the President of South Yemen to Riyadh, and Saudi Arabia was ready to help South Yemen with money and food, and also with their refineries. But, Fahd said, after the speech made by the South Yemen President in the UN in which he attacked Oman, Saudi Arabia stopped its aid. Fahd said he had sent the President of South Yemen a memorandum saying that now Saudi Arabia has doubts about the wisdom of dealing with South Yemen. Saudi Arabia had already informed Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE of its new attitude towards South Yemen. Fahd said he had recently sent another letter to the President of South Yemen and thus far had not gotten a reply. He had also sent a Saudi envoy to Aden to explain Saudi concerns but the envoy had not yet returned.

Fahd said Saudi Arabia now wants to be very cautious toward South Yemen. It will weigh events and will not move quickly. We will keep you informed of anything new that develops, Fahd said. Prince Saud said that if the United States has any information on aid that South Yemen is getting from the communists, Saudi Arabia would appreciate having this information. It would also appreciate having information on communist aid to Ethiopia that is being channeled [Page 533] through South Yemen. The Secretary said he would check right away with Washington and we would provide whatever we have. On the general question of relations with South Yemen, the Secretary said the US will consult closely with Saudi Arabia and follow its suggestion that we proceed slowly. Fahd expressed appreciation for this. He reiterated that the Saudis had been taken by surprise by the attitude expressed by the President of South Yemen at the UN.13 Either he talks through both sides of his mouth, Fahd said, or he has become a puppet of the Soviets. Fahd said Saudi Arabia had heard that perhaps the Soviet Union and South Yemen had agreed that South Yemen would pay lip service to improvement of relations between itself and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries in order to get aid from them. Fahd said after the speech by the President of South Yemen, we concluded that this must be true. Fahd reiterated that from now on Saudi Arabia will be very cautious in its dealings with South Yemen.

Fahd said that in closing he wanted to underscore that Saudi Arabia hopes that the US would keep in mind the need for a just solution to the Palestinian question. There can be no settlement without a just solution to the Palestinian issue, Fahd said. The Secretary said we fully understand this.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 81, Saudi Arabia: 11–12/77. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by David Korn (S/P). The meeting took place at the Royal Palace. Vance met separately with Saud and Khalid earlier in the afternoon. Memoranda of conversation of these meetings are ibid. Telegram Secto 12130 from Riyadh, December 14, in which Vance summarized his meetings with the Saudi leaders, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, Document 176. Vance traveled in the Middle East December 9–15, visiting Cairo, Jerusalem, Amman, Beirut, Damascus, and Riyadh. Records of his meetings in the other capitals are ibid., Documents 167175.
  2. Sadat delivered the speech on November 9 before the Egyptian People’s Assembly. See ibid., Documents 144 and 145.
  3. Jomo Kenyatta, President of Kenya from 1964 until 1978.
  4. Arab leaders from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, South Yemen, and the PLO met in Tripoli December 2–3 to discuss possible actions to take against Egypt after Sadat’s visit to Israel. Egypt responded to the conference’s measures by breaking diplomatic relations with Libya, Syria, Algeria, and South Yemen.
  5. Reference is to the preliminary Arab-Israeli peace talks scheduled to take place in Cairo in December.
  6. See Document 157.
  7. See footnote 3, Document 157.
  8. No memorandum of conversation of this earlier meeting has been found. However, Vance provided a summary of it in telegram Secto 12130 from Riyadh, December 14. See footnote 1 above.
  9. December 16. For the memoranda of conversation of Carter’s meetings with Begin December 16–17, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, Documents 177 and 178.
  10. The NATO Ministerial meeting took place in Brussels December 8–9.
  11. See Document 164.
  12. See footnote 3, Document 155.
  13. See footnote 9, Document 235.