167. Editorial Note

On January 25, 1978, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance sent Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John West a telegram instructing him to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Fahd ibn Abd al-Aziz al-Saud in order to inform him that Vance and President Jimmy Carter “have been giving very careful attention to the question of how to move ahead most effectively on F–15s.” Vance also requested that West inform the Crown Prince that the efforts aimed at securing congressional approval had been complicated “by the pause in the direct negotiations between Egypt and Israel.” Vance instructed: “Finally, tell Fahd that I have asked you to say that the President is prepared to send forward to the Congress [Page 541] in the very near future a request for F–15s for Saudi Arabia if that is Fahd’s wish. But we would like for him to consider the tactical advantages of delaying until the peacemaking effort regains momentum to provide a more propitious atmosphere for congressional consideration of our request. I know Fahd shares our desire to handle congressional consultations in a manner maximizing the chances of success; at the same time, we want to minimize the sort of public controversy which would be embarrassing to the U.S.-Saudi relationship as well as harmful to the overall atmosphere for the Middle East peace process.” (Telegram 19647 to Jidda, January 25; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850071–2631)

The following day, President Carter approved a letter to Saudi King Khalid bin Abdul Aziz that, in part, dealt with the F–15 sale. In the letter, Carter stressed: “I want to repeat to Your Majesty my personal commitment to assisting Saudi Arabia in meeting its security requirements. As I told you in Riyadh, we will move forward as promised with your request for the F–15 aircraft in order to ensure the earliest feasible delivery. Secretary Vance has already begun consultations with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and you can be assured that we will do our best to explain to the Members of Congress the contribution that this sale will make to U.S.-Saudi relations and to stability in the area.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 81, Saudi Arabia: 1–2/78)

On January 29, West cabled the Department of State to report Saudi reactions to a possible delay in the Carter administration’s submission to Congress of the F–15 proposal. West reported: “Saud was adamant that a delay was ‘failure’ and that the President should submit the proposal forthwith.” West reported that he had also met with Crown Prince Fahd: “In the last half of the meeting, Fahd made these points time and time again (1) that the F–15 issue was a basic, crucial test of our relationship; (2) that he was personally embarrassed by the delays thus far and could not willingly submit to any further such embarrassment; (3) that to impress the President and the Congress with the extreme urgency of the issue, he wanted me to take a personal message from him and the King to you and the President setting forth all of their concerns; he said that he felt my taking it in person rather than by cable would emphasize this feeling of urgency; (4) that he wanted the planes and he would not attempt to tell us what tactics or strategy we should use to get them.” West noted that both Saud and Fahd placed full responsibility for the success or failure of the sale on the United States. (Telegram 81 from Riyadh, January 29; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850071–2511)

In telegram 24580 to Jidda, January 31, the Department indicated that Vance had seen “no need” for West “to return to Washington for [Page 542] consultations at this time. We want to have a chance to digest the report of your latest conversation with Fahd and Saud before deciding whether you should come. You should know that we are working toward trying to put you in a position to convey a decision to the Saudis in the next few days, but you should not mention that until you get our further instructions.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850071–2523)

In telegram 86 from Riyadh, January 31, West summarized his January 30 meeting with top Saudi officials, commenting that the discussion had “reinforced earlier opinion that this is highly emotional issue, basic to present USSAG ‘special relationship’ and must be dealt with promptly and affirmatively to avoid further suspicion that U.S. is trying to renege on F–15 commitment.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850071–2517)