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

1677. Subject: (U) Assessment of Visit by Sec Def Brown.

1. (S-entire text).

2. Summary: Visit by Secretary of Defense Harold Brown was qualified success.2 We think that we have passed initial SAG test of US intentions in regard to defense of Saudi Arabia. We think that limits of security relationship desired by SAG with U.S. have been defined. However, reports from Israel on Brown visit there and reports from Washington on purpose of Brown’s Middle East trip have cast shadow on what was accomplished in Saudi Arabia. In addition, answers to questions raised by SAG on supply and military equipment have negative signals. End summary.

3. Now that Secretary of Defense Harold Brown has come and gone, we think we ought to look at what has been accomplished and what has been left unfinished.

4. It is no secret that SAG has been unhappy with certain aspects of its relations with the U.S. Beginning in the fall of 1977, we began hearing Saudi pleas for help against what they perceive as a master Soviet plan to encircle the Arabian Peninsula, particularly Saudi Arabia, and to gain control of the oil of the Peninsula and the Gulf. The events in the Horn of Africa bore all the tell-tale signs of that Soviet master plan and SAG worried that USG somehow did not recognize the danger. Saudi pleas became urgent and pressing after the events in the two Yemens in June of 1978.3 They called for a U.S. declaration of commitment and support for the security of Saudi Arabia, active U.S. participation in an ambitious program to bolster YAR defenses, and possibly even a show of force in the YAR or perhaps even in Saudi Arabia. At the same time, SAG voiced its concerns that the U.S. was suffering from a Vietnam complex that left it either unwilling or unable to meet the Soviet threat. These concerns became more pointed in content and shriller in tone during the course of the summer. As it became increasingly evident that the Shah’s regime was about to collapse, Saudi officials expressed their fears candidly about the U.S. [Page 609] strength of purpose to European diplomats, and it was common talk in Jidda diplomatic circles that key individuals in Saudi royal family were discussing ways of accommodating what they perceived as reality in the region.

5. Meanwhile, we think that the pro-US forces in the royal family were given the task of testing the US to determine the truth about US intentions. They proposed establishment of a joint Saudi-U.S. committee to plan for contingencies in the Peninsula. Failure to respond positively to Saudi suggestion would signify that US was not serious about providing for Saudi defense. An agreement to plan but failure to carry through would signify that the US was incapable of carrying out its commitment.

6. We think we have passed the initial Saudi test. The visit of the F–15 squadron to Saudi Arabia in January provided in part the show of force sought by those responsible for Saudi Arabia’s security.4 Secretary Brown’s after-dinner speech at the Saudi military officers club in Riyadh on February 10 provided the security declaration they wanted.5 The speech was cleverly framed, reiterating publicly the public and private commitments of former US Presidents in such a way that the message would be clearly understood, but not serve as a provocation, in those quarters to which it was directed. Although it was not seen or cleared by SAG in advance, it was clear from the remarks of Foreign Minister Prince Saud the following day that the speech met SAG approval. Secretary Brown’s development of the Saudi proposal for a joint Saudi-US planning committee and the further discussions of the role of committee between Deputy Assistant Secretary Robert Murray on Feb 18 have responded to the Saudi request for joint planning.6

7. However, while Secretary Brown seemed to be giving very positive signals to SAG on the broader, overall questions, the signals given on the military supply questions were not interpreted as all that positive by Saudi officials, especially those in the Ministry of Defense. The answers given on individual items desired by SAG were overwhelmingly negative. While Foreign Minister Prince Saud emphasized the positive achievements of the Brown visit, he did take note on February 18 of the unsatisfactory replies on military supplies when he told Murray that if faced by a situation where USG refused to supply Saudi [Page 610] Arabia with desired military equipment but offered a US military presence in Saudi Arabia, SAG would be on the horns of a terrible dilemma.

8. The Brown visit also served to establish limits on the type of security relationship desired by Saudi Arabia with the United States. As expected, the suggestion of a possible American military presence in Saudi Arabia was further than SAG wanted to go. Our proposal to publicize the joint Saudi-US committee also served the same purpose. As an overwhelmed Prince Saud told Ambassador West privately on February 10, the US seemed to be offering too much too fast. The limits desired by SAG appear to conform to what SAG officials have told us in the past: they want a US commitment like the one that Israel has. They want no treaty, no formal agreement, no formal organization, but instead a military supply relationship and a commitment to come to their assistance if attacked by the USSR or one of its surrogates.

9. Another limit set by the Brown visit and the subsequent talks by Murray and Prince Saud was on the price SAG was willing to pay to get the kind of security relationship it desired with the US. Prince Saud made it clear that the US should not insist that Saudi Arabia support positions that would jeopardize the kind of relations it wishes to maintain with the other Arab states. Saudi Arabia favors a comprehensive Arab-Israel peace settlement. It supports and will continue to support peace efforts toward that end. It supported the Camp David talks. However, it does not and will not support the Camp David Accords as a basis for peace, because they do not include two of the essential elements for a comprehensive peace, namely self-determination for the Palestinians and a return of Jerusalem to Arab hands.

10. In sum, we think that the Brown visit was a qualified success. We have clarified and established the limits of the special relationship desired by SAG with the US in the security field. We have supplied two of the basic elements they regard as essential in a security commitment by the US: a declaration and an agreement for joint contingency planning. We think that the discussion in the leadership circles about which way to orient Saudi foreign policy may now enter a new phase in which the hand of the pro-US forces will be considerably strengthened.

11. However, the success of the Brown visit was not undiluted. The press reports from Israel and the US that flooded into Saudi Arabia after the departure on the visit and undoing much of the good previously accomplished. Reports from Israel that the U.S. was relying on Israel to take the place of Iran in defending US interests in the area and reports in the US that the USG was trying to forge new Middle East defense arrangement centered on Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia gave the Saudi leadership pause. They wondered if the US was pushing Saudi Arabia in a direction that would cause it to become isolated and alienated from the other Arabs. They also wondered whether the US [Page 611] was not preparing the ground to force SAG to support publicly a separate Egypt-Israel peace and to play a role in OPEC that would cause them not only foreign policy problems but internal problems as well. While Deputy Assistant Secretary Murray told Prince Saud on February 18 that USG was not proposing tripartite defense treaty advocated by Senator Jackson,7 we think SAG will need to be reassured further on this point and on the kind of role we expect Saudi Arabia to play in OPEC as well.

12. In addition the negative signals given on the military supply question must be overcome or the momentum engendered by the visit will not be maintained. While the US as a matter of policy is committed to arms restraint, this is not the time or the place to impose such guidelines. To the Saudis, the special relationship is intimately related to their perceptions of adequate supplies of military equipment, and for the moment, the US is viewed as not being responsive enough to these needs. The Saudis believe that their requests are both modest and consistent with the requirements to strengthen the Kingdom’s ability to defend itself. This is the continual refrain of MODA officials and was stated with considerable eloquence by Fon Min Prince Saud at his Feb 18 meeting with DAS Murray. Essentially, the Saudis have asked only for Lance, Stinger, additional air munitions, area denial weapons, a speed up in F–15 deliveries, MER 200 and conformal pods for the F–15’s and some sophisticated night vision and fire control gadgetry. They have not asked for AWACS, or new squadrons of advanced fighter aircraft. None of these military items are going to change the balance of power in the region nor is their purchase likely to cause serious discontent within Saudi society. However, if the US fails to respond to these requests, then we believe that the atmosphere of our bilateral military relationship will begin to sour and that the repercussions on other financial, petroleum and political issues are likely to be injurious to US interests.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790090–0851. Secret. Sent for information to the Department of Defense, Amman, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Kuwait, Manama, Sana, and Tel Aviv.
  2. See Document 185. Brown reported to President Carter on his trip, which included visits to Tel Aviv and Cairo, in a February 19 memorandum; see Document 20.
  3. See Documents 243 and 244.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 177.
  5. The text of Brown’s speech, in which he reiterated the U.S. commitment to Saudi Arabia’s territorial integrity, is in telegram 1319 from Jidda, February 13. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790068–0385)
  6. In telegram 259 from Riyadh, February 18, the Liaison Office described a meeting between Brown and Sultan, during which the two officials discussed the U.S.-Saudi-YAR tripartite military relationship. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790095–1049)
  7. Reference is to a suggestion made by Senator Henry Jackson that the United States work toward a “mutual defense arrangement in the Middle East” among Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel, that “would be powerful enough to deal with any adversary” with the exception of the Soviet Union. (“U.S. May Not Get Oil From Iran for Year, Sen. Jackson Warns, Urging Curbs on Use,” The Wall Street Journal, February 12, 1979, p. 2)