185. Telegram From the Embassy in Saudi Arabia to the Department of State1

1318. Department pass SecDef, AmConsul Dhahran, CHUSMTM Dhahran, USMTM/DCR Riyadh. (S) Secretary Brown’s Meeting With Crown Prince Fahd.

1. S-entire text.

2. Summary: In two-hour meeting on night of February 10, Defense Secretary Harold Brown outlined for Crown Prince Fahd, Min Def Prince Sultan, and Fon Min Prince Saud U.S. proposals for integrated strategy to promote security and stability in the region. SecDef said U.S. prepared to make strong political and military contribution. U.S. prepared for new collaboration in areas of military assistance, intelligence cooperation, and strategic planning. Secretary Brown proposed consultative mechanism. Regular meetings at the Minister of Defense level would take place at least annually, and there would be interim meetings at lower level. Sub-committees could meet at appropriate levels to deal with specific topics in depth, including bilateral security assistance program, US-Saudi assistance programs for third countries, and intelligence cooperation. Saudi reaction was positive, but they said [Page 601] they wished to consider proposals over night before giving response. End summary.

3. Defense Secretary Harold Brown met for over two hours with Crown Prince Fahd during evening of February 10. Meeting was also attended by Min Def Prince Sultan, Fon Min Prince Saud, Ambassador West, Assistant Sec Def David McGiffert, Deputy Assistant Sec Def Robert Murray, Rear Admiral Hanson, and Embassy Pol Counselor.

4. After opening pleasantries, Secretary Brown delivered to Crown Prince letter from President Carter to King Khalid.2 Secretary Brown then said that President Carter had asked him to emphasize how important he considers relations between Saudi Arabia and the U.S.3 We consider US-Saudi relations to be key to peace and stability in this region of the world. President has seen need for integrated strategy in the area and the U.S. is willing to make strong political and military contribution to forwarding that strategy. We have some specific proposals to make along these lines. These proposals are in the areas of military assistance, intelligence cooperation, and strategic planning.

5. Crown Prince Fahd said that he would be pleased to hear any proposals and to discuss them, if not during the current meeting, then at another meeting.

6. Secretary Brown said that he would like to start by giving Crown Prince the U.S. view of the Middle East to see if SAG and USG views are the same. He said that the Middle East was of crucial importance to the United States. It is strategically located; it has vital resources; and its people share common interests with us on critical issues. Security and stability in the Middle East is thus critical for us.

7. Secretary then said that we saw several threats to that stability. The first threat stems from Soviet imperialism. The Soviet efforts to overturn the international order are a threat to the peace of the world. The Soviets are strong. Fortunately, we are with our allies much stronger. We are, for example, clearly superior in economic power, in technological power, in key areas of military strength, and in the strength and cohesiveness of our allies. We are very much aware that this region is a prime target for Soviet encroachments. The Soviets are exploiting internal instability and regional conflict. The evidence of Soviet actions in the Horn of Africa, South Yemen and Afghanistan is a persuasive demonstration of Soviet ambitions. Soviet propaganda is clear evidence that they aim to exploit turmoil in Iran and elsewhere. [Page 602] The Soviets, however, are by no means invincible. They have had serious setbacks in Egypt, Sudan and Somalia, and they have been excluded from the peace process. The Soviets have no doubt about American strength and will have no doubt about our determination in this part of the world. Saudi Arabia should not doubt either. We will work to check the Soviets. The Soviets can be checked. We look to Saudi Arabia to share in this effort.

8. Secretary then said that the second source of instability in the area came from the tensions and inequities of rapid modernization and social change. In Iran, this contributed to the Shah’s problems. His regime lost touch with the people. They saw him as anti-Islamic, alien, even contemptuous of them. He also lost his personal and political will when faced with violence. Our support for the Shah, although it was strong and steady, could not overcome those circumstances. However, there is no reason that the experience of Iran need be repeated elsewhere in the region. Modernization should strengthen governments, make them more popular, if it is equitable and is well-paced. It can give new vitality and expression to religious beliefs. This is a job for each country. For our part, we want to continue to work closely with SAG. We should keep in touch on our separate efforts to promote development in the area. We believe that what our two countries do now will be crucial to orderly economic development and modernization. That is a great responsibility and a great opportunity.

9. Secretary said third source of instability in the Arab world was from those who would pursue radical change with violent means. Secretary then said that he wanted to be frank. Times have changed. The Egyptians do not seek to overthrow traditional regimes now as they did in the 60’s. Saudi security has, from this direction, dramatically improved since then. (Crown Prince Fahd and Prince Sultan chuckled at Secretary’s words and readily agreed). Secretary went on to say that the threats to the states in the Peninsula today are PDRY, conspiracies from Libya, terrorism which clothes itself in Palestinian garb, and Iraq, which is still led by rejectionists and radicals. Finally, said the Secretary, the dispute between Israel, its neighbors and the Palestinians was profoundly destabilizing. We seek to avoid another war. This is also in Saudi interest. War profits no one, but war and the preparation for it, provide the Soviets vast opportunity for influence and meddling.

10. Secretary stopped at this point to ask if Saudis agreed with U.S. analysis. Crown Prince said he shared U.S. analysis completely. If there is any difference, it is in emphasis only, not in substance. He was pleased to hear it. In fact, he said he had been waiting a long time to hear U.S. say it. He said he now sees indications that the US and Saudi Arabia are on verge of new and positive measures. He then invited Prince Sultan and Prince Saud to comment. Prince Sultan agreed [Page 603] with analysis and said that he too had been waiting for U.S. to say it. It is crucial that U.S. devise strategy to deal with threat of Soviets and other radical elements focusing on Middle East. Saudis see a long-range, comprehensive Soviet strategy unfolding before our eyes, manifesting itself in the events in the Horn of Africa, in South Yemen, and in Afghanistan. US needs to develop a counter-strategy based on the weak front-line states, such as YAR, Oman, and Somalia. Must also help strengthen military forces of Kingdom. Prince Saud said he wanted to withhold his comments until he heard Secretary Brown’s proposals.

11. Secretary Brown said that it was clear that our pictures of the problem were similar with only differences in stress as the Crown Prince had said. There is some question whether the USSR is proceeding according to a comprehensive plan, or whether it is simply taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. The effect is the same, however, and what we have to do is the same. Secretary then went on to say that President Carter has been discussing this problem each week over the past several weeks with his key advisors including Vice President Mondale, Secretary Vance, Dr. Brzezinski, and himself, (Secretary Brown). President asked that he tell the Crown Prince that the US sees the need for an integrated strategy for regional security to which it is prepared to make a strong political and military contribution. We are prepared for new forms of bilateral and multilateral collaboration on security matters, including military assistance, intelligence cooperation and contingency planning. We are willing to consider an increased US military presence in the area if it would be helpful, including increased naval presence and new collaboration on basing arrangements. We are also willing to consider concerted measures to counter radical forces that now provide a base for the intrusion of Soviet influence.

12. In pursuing this strategy, we want first to work even more closely with Saudi Arabia. He said he would be making proposals for a formal consultative mechanism on security issues. He would also be responding to Saudi proposals for joint planning and discussing ways to improve our joint assistance program for other countries.

13. Second, we want to promote concerted security measures among moderate states, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan. Secretary said he intended to begin a broader security dialogue with Egypt and to assure President Sadat and King Hussein of the US intention to contain the Soviets. The President would be grateful if Saudi Arabia could assure them of this American intention. The President would be grateful also for Saudis’ views of Oman and the Gulf states, the situation there, and their ideas of what should be done, and the role the US should play.

14. Third, we now have—and we intend to maintain and improve—US military forces to provide an increased military presence in this [Page 604] vital region. Our military forces are already substantially superior to those of the USSR. The Soviets generally deploy only 11 combatants in their Mediterranean squadron. NATO deploys more that 100 combatants, including 23 US of which two are carriers. The US could deploy two carrier task forces to the Gulf in 14 days. A carrier task force is able to project air and assault power and influence a crisis ashore. The Soviets have no comparable capability. During the first 30 days of a crisis, the United States could deploy significantly more aircraft in the Gulf than could the Soviets. The US also specifically plans its general purpose forces against the criterion of having to confront a contingency in the Gulf at the same time as a contingency in Europe. Probably nothing we can do more seriously indicates our commitment to this region, for this planning assumption requires us to expend significant amounts on forces we would not otherwise require or deploy.

15. Secretary then repeated that the US was prepared to consider enlarging its military presence in the region. He asked Crown Prince if Saudis thought this would be desirable. If so, what form should it take? The Crown Prince said this was a very sensitive matter and that he would like to sleep on it. Perhaps he or Prince Sultan could give the Secretary an answer on February 11.4

16. Secretary said he understood sensitivity of question and could understand Crown Prince’s desire to sleep on it. Secretary then said that, in any event, U.S. cannot go it alone. In order to have public support, we must act in concert with friendly nations. While the nature of the arrangements differs from place to place, we are prepared to make an appropriate American contribution in the Middle East. However, the degree to which we can increase our security role will depend in great measure on the degree to which the moderate states in the area can cooperate with each other. In a similar way, the ability of the Western Europeans to overcome enmities had provided the basis for far reaching US support for Western Europe’s security. We have great many forces in Europe and we are even more committed to Europe in case of crisis. We justify that to our people on two grounds. First, the region is vital to U.S. Second, the nations of the region are prepared to cooperate with each other and with U.S. For example, the idea of France and West Germany fighting each other today is unthinkable. Yet, for many years, they did fight each other. In the Middle East, the first condition is met because the region is important to us. The second criterion has a way to go. (Fahd, chuckled and agreed that Arab-Israel [Page 605] question was still a problem.) However, it is important for us to be able to say to our people that the peoples of the region will cooperate with each other and that old animosities are forgotten, especially among moderate states.

17. Prince Saud broke in at that point to ask what Secretary meant by moderate states. He understood Secretary to say Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. What other states are moderate? Secretary said that we considered Israel to be moderate. Saud did not contest point. Secretary went on to mention Gulf states, YAR, and Sudan. He added that there were signs that Syria might be gradually moving in that direction. Perhaps, one day, Iraq might also move in the direction. Crown Prince Fahd said he thought that Iraq might become more moderate and sooner than Syria. Prince Saud wanted to know if Secretary Brown was going to Syria on his trip. Secretary said that he had no plans to go to Syria on this trip.

18. Secretary returned to elements of U.S. strategy. He said that, fourth, U.S. seeks cooperation in oil matters that builds on the common interest of the US, its allies, and the moderate states in security and economic development. Crown Prince said he understood.

19. Fifth, said Brown we are moving to strengthen our position elsewhere in the region. We are doing everything we can to assure a satisfactory outcome in Iran. Secretary Brown pointed out that he had been personally involved in every step of the way, trying to support a moderate solution. We have substantial programs for military and economic aid for Turkey. We have granted Turkey dols 300 million in aid and we are also working with our West German allies to provide further aid programs for Turkey. In the Yemen, we have mounted, with Saudi Arabia, a major new effort to deter further Soviet and radical threats to the peace. In Pakistan, we recently informed the Zia government that we are prepared to sell a broad range of modern military equipment. Since then we have had further signs that Pakistan is pressing ahead with a program for nuclear explosives, and this is going to limit and perhaps prevent our going ahead with arms sales, and may even require the cut-off of all aid, including economic aid. The wise counsel of Saudi Arabia to Pakistan on the nuclear issue would be very welcome.

20. We would like to know the Saudi perception of regional security requirements, and particularly the ways Saudi Arabia believes an American role would be helpful.

21. Sixth, we are pressing forward with the peace process. No American President has worked harder for a just peace than President Carter. The negotiations are difficult, and will not be quickly completed, but we are committed to them we will continue until they are completed. The United States, and the President personally, are committed [Page 606] to a full peace, including the West Bank and Jerusalem, not just a peace between Egypt and Israel. In our judgement, the Camp David Accords are a vital first step and need to be quickly translated into an Egyptian-Israeli treaty as the first step toward a comprehensive peace. We see this as essential to regional stability. He said the President has asked him to make clear that our ability to develop and support regional cooperation will be severely handicapped, perhaps even negated, by continued Arab-Israeli hostility. We would hope for a forthcoming attitude from our friends in order to facilitate wider strategic matters.

22. Turning to the US-Saudi consultative mechanism, Secretary Brown said U.S. was prepared to enhance significantly our special relationship with Saudi Arabia if Saudi Arabia wishes. We would like Saudi views on how this should be done. One immediate step we could take, as SAG has suggested, would be to establish a mechanism for regular, periodic security consultations between our two governments. When we set up a joint commission in 1974, it was not chaired by ministers, it could consider only existing military programs and it had no fixed time table for meetings. We propose regular meetings, perhaps annually, at the Minister of Defense level, and interim meetings at a lower level. In this way we would be assured of full discussions on the range of security issues at least every 6 months, more often as necessary. In addition, we could establish sub-groups that could meet at appropriate intervals to discuss in-depth specific topics, including bilateral security assistance programs, US-Saudi programs of assistance for other countries, intelligence exchanges, and the like.

23. Prince Sultan said that concept of consultative mechanism was ok. However, the existing military mission plays part of this role already in that it deals with matters of military assistance to third countries and military supply to Saudi Arabia. Prince Sultan then said it was disappointing that there had been so much correspondence over this matter without results. In any event, he would discuss matter with Prince Saud during the course of the evening and would discuss it further with Secretary on February 11. He would give the Secretary SAG’s decision on February 11 or 12. If decision is favorable, Prince Sultan suggested that we make an announcement that we have already held first meeting. Secretary Brown agreed that it was good idea to make such an announcement and that the two staffs could work out the language. Sultan said however it is done, it will have to be done in such a way as not to give outsiders a chance to make trouble. We do not want to give third countries an opening for criticizing our efforts.

24. Secretary then moved on to matter of joint planning. He noted that this had been raised by Prince Saud and Prince Sultan with Ambassador West. He said President Carter had asked him to convey to Crown Prince our willingness in principle to engage in carefully defined [Page 607] joint planning with SAG. Secretary then referred to four specific questions raised by Prince Saud with Ambassador West. Secretary said detailed answers required some working out and further consultations but that he would like to give Crown Prince our initial answers. With respect to hostilities in neighboring states involving the Cubans, Russians or East Germans, we, of course, could through close bilateral and regional cooperation, do much to prevent this kind of thing from happening. However, it could happen and we agree to engage in joint planning with SAG against that possibility. SAG, of course, must understand that under our constitutional system, joint planning cannot, as such, involve a commitment to joint action. Secretary said that he had no doubt that such a threat would create the kind of situation that would invoke a strong response from our Congress and would meet the constitutional requirements.

25. Secretary said that, in view of the late hour, he proposed leaving the matter of third country assistance programs for discussion the next day.

26. Crown Prince said that he was pleased with all the subjects discussed thus far. He had wanted a long time for the U.S. to come and discuss things in this fashion. He said he would convey the contents of the discussion to the King. He was certain the King would be pleased. Now that the U.S. has taken these steps, we can look forward to executing practical measures in the security field to counter the Soviet threat and to promote stability in the area.

27. Comment: Saudi reaction to our proposals was restrained but very positive. Prince Saud, who accompanied Ambassador to dinner for Secretary Brown, seemed overwhelmed. He said that perhaps we were offering too much too fast.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850027–2604. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. No copy of the letter to Khalid, as approved by Carter and delivered by Brown, has been found. A draft of the letter, which briefly outlines the purpose of Brown’s visit, was forwarded by Tarnoff to Brzezinski under a February 8 covering memorandum. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P790046–0328)
  3. See Document 19.
  4. Brown’s February 11 meetings with Sultan are summarized in telegram 1408 from Jidda, February 15; telegram 259 from Riyadh, February 18; and telegram 1540 from Jidda, February 21. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790072–0169, D790095–1049, D790092–0836, respectively)