165. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1


  • Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Policy

Saudi foreign policy goals have remained constant for over a decade. The manner of pursuing them has changed, however, since the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and oil embargo. With the ascendancy of Crown Prince Fahd following the death of King Faysal in 1975, the Saudis have more actively asserted themselves in regional politics, using their immense oil wealth as their principal diplomatic tool. They have found [Page 537] that economic diplomacy has its limitations; they appear, nevertheless, increasingly self-confident and willing to use their economic leverage to pursue their goals. Islamic religious considerations are important in Saudi foreign policy, and may become more so in the future.

Saudi activism and use of economic leverage is most visible in those areas of most direct concern to them—the Arab confrontation states, the Horn of Africa, and OPEC. The Saudis are underwriting arms purchases for Egypt and estimate that their total military and economic aid to Egypt is approximately $2 billion yearly. In addition to providing hundreds of millions of dollars in economic aid to Syria, Jordan, and Somalia, they have offered to underwrite any military purchases the Somalis can arrange. The Saudis have used their leverage in OPEC to maintain oil prices at levels they consider to be moderate.

Policy Goals and Constraints

Saudi foreign policy for many years has been keyed to protecting the Saudi kingdom; containing world communism and regional radicalism; and, protecting and expanding the Islamic religion, for which the Saudis, as protector of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, feel a special responsibility.

In pursuing these goals, Saudi policy has sought to:

—prevent the growth of radically oriented governments in the Middle East, and moderate the stance of those that already exist;

—facilitate a negotiated solution to the Middle East conflict—thereby removing the greatest source of instability and tension in the region. Such a settlement, in the Saudi view, would include return of Israeli-occupied territory (and East Jerusalem) to the Arabs, and a solution acceptable to moderate Palestinians;

—develop and maintain a “special relationship” with the US, which it sees as the ultimate protector of the Saudi kingdom from external subversion, and as a major source of the technology needed for the kingdom’s development;

—maintain a healthy international economic environment that will facilitate domestic development—a major rationale for moderating oil prices within OPEC.

Major constraints influencing Saudi goals are:

—lack of trained manpower, which makes it difficult to staff ministries at home and diplomatic posts abroad with qualified personnel, and tends to concentrate all decision-making responsibilities on the top leadership;

—its small population—estimated at about 5–6 million; this makes it all but impossible for Saudi Arabia to attain a military strength commensurate with its boundaries, wealth or regional interests.

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Personalities and Special Topics of Interest

Crown Prince Fahd generally controls the major foreign accounts, such as relations with the US, oil policy, and the Horn of Africa, but other senior princes are regularly consulted and decisions usually represent a consensus viewpoint. In addition to Foreign Minister Prince Saud, these other senior princes usually include Defense Minister Prince Sultan, National Guard Commander Prince Abdallah, intelligence chief Prince Turki ibn Faysal, and royal adviser Kamal Adham. Important decisions are always cleared with King Khalid. While Khalid usually does not take an active part in policy formulation, he can and does get involved if a particular subject—such as Saudi policy on the current Egyptian-Israeli peace talks—interests him. A devout Muslim, Khalid will also assert himself if Islamic considerations are involved.

[5 lines not declassified] The Saudis remain deeply suspicious that Sadat will sign a separate peace with Israel; they have repeatedly warned Sadat against making a bilateral settlement.

The government is united, however, on two issues it considers highly important: sale of F–15 fighter-bombers, and the sale or third-country transfer of US equipment to Somalia. The Saudis see the F–15s as a symbol of the US commitment to Saudi security and to the “special relationship.” Defense Minister Prince Sultan, in particular, has made pointed references to Saudi unhappiness that the US has not already agreed to their sale. The Saudis would probably see a public US commitment on the F–15s as a suitable sign of US appreciation for their efforts to moderate oil prices at the recent Caracas OPEC conference.

The Saudis view the conflict in the Horn as a prime opportunity to remove or lessen Soviet influence in the region. They believe this should be a joint Saudi-US goal and should override any US inhibitions about African territorial integrity. They have urged the US to allow the sale or transfer of US military equipment to Somalia.

Foreign Minister Prince Saud recently told Ambassador West that the Saudi government was upset by the recent Congressional report on energy that suggested the US should permit Iran to secure Persian Gulf and Saudi oil supplies if they were threatened. The Saudis take such reports, no matter what the source, as veiled US threats aimed at them.

[2 paragraphs (20 lines) not declassified]

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of Support Services (DI), Job 80T00634A, Production Case Files (1978), Box 13, Folder 1: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Policy. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified].