171. Telegram From the United States Liaison Office in Riyadh to the Department of State1

295. Subject: Discussions With Crown Prince Fahd—Growing Soviet Influence and F–15s.

1. Summary: In two and one-half hour conversation with Crown Prince Fahd April 22, Fahd spent over one hour in presenting his very pessimistic view of current world situation including failure of U.S. leadership, expansion of Soviet influence, and encirclement of Saudi Arabia. On more than one occasion he asked rhetorically how Saudi Arabia could but greet Soviets with friendship if world situation continued to deteriorate. In this discussion and that of F–15 Crown Prince was clearly seeking reassurances that world situation and sale of F–15s to Saudi Arabia were not as bad as some are saying. Ambassador in giving Fahd frank appraisal of congressional review of F–15s did reassure Crown Prince that administration remained firmly committed to sale and was doing all it could to gain the congressional support necessary to proceed with sale. End summary.

2. On April 22 Ambassador met with Crown Prince Fahd in Riyadh to review several matters of interest. During meeting Fahd delivered [Page 549] long, pessimistic and gloomy review of current world situation. The Soviet Union was thrusting forward with no regard for interest of rest of world. Thrusting was no longer covert but overt. In Africa the people are new to modern life having little and wanting much. Soviet Union provides what they want. What is to stop them from admiring Russians or envying their neighbors who are getting things from Soviet Union? If we say that one day they will realize the danger, I say that day will come too late.

3. A year ago U.S. Representative to U.N.2 said U.S. should not be concerned with Soviet role in Africa because African people can deal with situation. It was misleading statement. I have talked with many African leaders and they are perplexed. What did high U.S. official mean? He obviously knows U.S. policy and was he saying U.S. would no longer help Africans? They told me that without U.S. help they were doomed. Then came Angola, Zaire, and Ethiopia and we see what has happened as victories for Eastern camp. These have had tremendous psychological effect. Why can Cubans do so much? Some members of Congress may not support U.S. action because of Vietnam. That was years ago. It is absurd for Congress to be so short-sighted because of Vietnam and Watergate. In Vietnam U.S. did not choose to fight for all out victory. Watergate was one man and one mistake. How long will they hang around U.S. neck like weights?

4. President Carter must want U.S. to regain reins of leadership in free world. If U.S. does not exercise its leadership, it will lose it. Then in two or three years three-fourths of Africa will be Communist and parts of Mid-East and Asia will follow. Then what will be U.S. position and what will be position of America’s friends in area? Saudi Arabia is small state but good friend of U.S. We hold on to desire for freedom but we are vulnerable to those with covetous eyes looking in our direction and to Gulf. What if we cannot resist tide of Communism? What would that do to U.S. interests? Certain U.S. media say not to worry about M.E. because Moslems will never embrace Communism. Well, are Libya, Iraq, Syria, and South Yemen following true course of Islam or are they following lead and interest of Soviet Union?

5. Somalia: What does Soviet Union provide its clients?—information support, arms, financial aid, etc. What about those friendly to West? We certainly cannot say our friend takes care of us as the Soviet Union takes care of hers. Look at Somalia. Events dragged Somalia into fight. After consulting Washington, Saudis applied intensive pressure and prevailed on Somalia to withdraw from Ogaden. On that faith we told Somalis there would be plebiscite in Ogaden andBarre agreed [Page 550] to abide by outcome. What is result? No economic or other support. Only just last weekBarre wanted to stop in Riyadh on his way back from his official visit in Peking. SAG used excuse of being previously committed to refuse request because SAG was so embarrassed. SAG had nothing new to say toBarre. Any day there might be leftist or Communist rebellion or coup to do away withBarre. What would happen if new government joined Ethiopia in bloc?

6. Trouble in Iran: Soviet Union is laughing at situation in Iran waiting for collapse or maybe abetting the trouble. Then with change of government more friendly to Soviet Union, Communists would control all armaments of Shah and they will be turned around and used against Saudi Arabia. Whole plan is to encircle Saudi Arabia. It will use its new entrenched position in Africa to harm U.S. interests. Middle East must choose either to accept Soviet Union or be crushed.

7. Sadat: Sadat did what no one thought Arab leader could do when he visited Israel. Yet while his visit received momentary applause which incidentally did not last, it also antagonized many Arabs. If and when people conclude that Sadat’s efforts have failed, he will be ousted by person with opposite political persuasions. To avoid ouster, Sadat must find new policy, i.e. to turn back to Soviets and stretch forth his hand. Sadat, who had courage to go to Israel, certainly has courage to reverse his policy toward Soviet Union. If that happens, Soviet Union will accept his hand because they want desperately to get back into Egypt. Later they know they can rid themselves of Sadat. Then what would be position of Saudi Arabia in Gulf, Lebanon, Jordan or North Africa? Tunisia and Morocco are surrounded by people who do not believe in U.S. view of world. Saudi Arabia, too, is surrounded by Syria, Iraq, South Yemen and Ethiopia. When completely surrounded, Saudi Arabia will have no alternative but to greet Soviets with rose petals.

8. Sale of F–15 aircraft: Faced by all these threats, Saudi Arabia asked for only 60 planes and look at furor. Should plane sale fail and Egypt turn back to Soviet Union, what do Saudi leaders say to the people? Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and others will pour abuse on SAG using all types of media. People will ask how long can Saudi Arabia continue its close friendship with U.S. and get nothing in return? Will U.S. apologize later for having done nothing and thus losing a friendly government? Who will be in Riyadh to hear the apology? Saudi Arabia can provide solid basis for American interests in Middle East. SAG has already stood behind U.S. on many issues. Now, Saudis are perplexed at how long U.S. and President can let themselves be whipped around by Israelis who oppose sale to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has not said Israel has to move into the sea or reach some other such end. On contrary, it has said let Israel stay as one of states in area.

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9. Congressional action: I (Fahd) am afraid Congress will reject sale because Israel knows she can live without more planes. Egypt could too but not us. Reaction of people will be “to hell with U.S.”. It is so strange, even calamitous, U.S. factories will lose billions of dollars that could add to U.S. prosperity. U.S. turning down billions of dollars that we want to spend in U.S. Our only alternative is to turn toward England, France and Soviet Union to buy what we need.

10. From bottom of my (Fahd’s) heart, I wish we had never asked for F–15s. What is happening now is degrading. If I had known before that events would have unfolded as they are, we would have looked for another way. The present treatment is shameful to us and to our friends in U.S. Now we cannot turn back. We are now in most embarrassing and critical situation. I believe Congress will not approve sale and then what will we do? I am speaking at length because of our friendship. We want our friends to know what a predicament we are in if Congress rejects sale. All our people will be watching.

11. Ambassador assured Crown Prince that President does believe U.S. must reassert its leadership in world. President and others recognize Soviet threat, particularly threat of encirclement of Saudi Arabia. U.S. determined to see that nothing will happen to interfere with independence of Saudi Arabia. Ambassador pointed out President’s staunch support for close relationship with Saudi Arabia as recognition that a relationship of words without actions is meaningless.

12. Ambassador said he regretted Crown Prince felt F–15 sale had become embarrassment to Saudi Arabia and perhaps U.S. He assured Fahd it was not embarrassment to President. His support is unwavering. There are powerful forces in both Saudi Arabia and U.S. that would like to see special relationship destroyed and it becomes duty of leaders such as President and Crown Prince to understand motives of these forces and to work to maintain relationship so vitally important to future of world. Cost can be high. Because of President’s stand on sale of F–15s, opponents are saying he will never be re-elected in 1980 yet President has given not one inch. On contrary, their tactics have strengthened his resolve. Ambassador said that while no one could guarantee outcome, he was cautiously optimistic that sale would not be rejected by Congress.3

13. Comment: Crown Prince was visibly tired. He seemed almost in a depressed state. Several factors may explain Fahd’s gloomy assess [Page 552] ment of world situation not least of which is fact that he is overworked and exhausted. He has had no break in almost a year. Secondly, Fahd has been dealing with at least four seemingly intractable problems—growth of Soviet influence in area, oil pricing and production problems, seeming stalemate in Mid-East peace efforts, and financial issues surrounding Saudi reserves and world currency fluctuations. All these issues ultimately reach his coffee cup and there are vocal and opinionated proponents of each advocating host of alternative courses of action. None of the subjects are easy to grasp much less resolve.

14. Regarding Fahd’s pessimism on F–15 sale, we learned subsequent to conversation that Prince Turki al-Feisal, who has been very active in Washington in Saudi campaign to gain congressional acceptance of package, has tried to prepare Fahd for possibility plane sale will fail. While this is sound philosophy, he may have oversold his case.

15. On question of Saudi relations with Soviet Union, we are continually told by all senior Saudi officials that only alternative to special relationship with United States is to move to establish some type of more normal relationship with Soviets. Our assessment is that most members of royal family remain opposed to any moves toward Soviet Union but they increasingly talk about option almost as if they were preparing themselves for eventual dose of bad medicine.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780178–0938. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information to Abu Dhabi, Addis Ababa, Algiers, Amman, UNINT Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus, Dhahran, Doha, Jidda, Khartoum, Kuwait, London, Manama, Moscow, Muscat, Rabat, Sana, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Tripoli, and Tunis.
  2. Andrew Young.
  3. On April 28, Vance announced that the administration was that day transmitting to Congress formal notification of proposals to sell the aircraft to Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. On May 3, he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee laying out the administration’s reasons for the sales. See the Department of State Bulletin, June 1978, pp. 38–39.