2. Action Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Gelb) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton) to the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs (Habib)1
Future of Middle East Force
Issue for Decision:
Whether, as next step in obtaining a policy decision on pursuing the Middle East Force negotiations, we should define for DOD what we believe would be the best arrangement we will be likely to obtain for future support of Middle East Force, seeking DOD’s view as to whether this arrangement would be feasible from an operational standpoint.
The Indian Ocean posts have now responded with assessments of the prospects for their host countries providing additional support to Middle East Force to alleviate the pressure Bahrain feels from hosting it alone.2 A summary of their generally similar views is at Attachment 2.3 On the basis of their assessments and recent additional comments by the Bahraini Foreign Minister, we see a possibility of negotiating to keep Middle East Force in operation on the following basis: (a) terminating the deployment agreement with Bahrain and putting the Middle East Force Command to sea; (b) seeking a minimum of six months in-port time for the Middle East Force flagship at a number of Gulf/Indian Ocean ports, including Bahrain, with the understanding [Page 6] that all of the port calls would be simply visits and would not imply that Middle East Force maintained anything resembling a headquarters ashore; and (c) negotiating with Bahrain to keep a small DOD administrative logistical contingent there having minimal specific identification with the Middle East Force Command.
We are not certain whether DOD would find such an arrangement feasible. We are convinced, however, that nothing more in the way of support from Bahrain or other countries in the region for Middle East Force will be obtainable, and sustainable over time under conditions consistent with our broader interests in the area. We think it important to define this maximum obtainable arrangement for DOD rather than to await a DOD proposal for a negotiating position. We suggest that you do so by approving the letter at Attachment 1 to Deputy Secretary of Defense Dayan.4 In so doing, we would not be committing the Secretary or the Administration to a policy decision on whether Middle East Force should be maintained under the conditions posed by the area’s political realities.
Arms Control Aspects:
In view of the Secretary’s intention to explore Soviet attitudes toward Indian Ocean arms control discussions, there may, at some point, be a need to reassess the role and composition of Middle East Force. Whether US-Soviet discussions will ultimately take place, whether discussions will apply to the Persian Gulf, and whether ship deployments and port access will be touched on, however, are still unclear. We believe that the current situation counsels against major alterations to Middle East Force’s present composition and mission. We specifically wish to avoid any actions which would lead toward an “Indian Ocean Squadron” orientation.
That you sign the letter at Attachment 1.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Program Files for Oman, 1974–1989; UAE, 1989; Political Relations, 1969–1989, Lot 91D491, Box 6, Def–15—MidEastfor 1977. Confidential. Drafted by Twinam and John E. Burgess (PM/ISO) on March 1; cleared by William Lewis (AF/I) and in substance by Granville S. Austin (S/P). Also cleared by Peter Lande (NEAPAB), Charles Naas (NEA/IRN), Albert Thibault (NEA/INS), Richard Hobbs (NEA/RA), and Sober. Burgess initialed the memorandum for Gelb.↩
- In telegram 30235 to multiple Middle Eastern posts, February 10, the Department responded to a meeting among Bahraini officials and Ambassador Cluverius in which the Bahrainis were seeking a larger “burden sharing” role by regional nations, by asking diplomatic posts in the region how their host governments would respond to such a request. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770047–0592) In telegram 244 from Manama, January 29, Cluverius described the initial conversation between himself and Bahraini officials. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770033–0245)↩
- Attached but not printed is the “Summary of Embassy Comments on an ‘Alternative Formula’ for Middle East Force.”↩
- Attached but not printed. A handwritten notation on the first page of the memorandum notes that Habib signed the letter to Dayan and that it was sent on March 11.↩