205. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to Secretary of State Vance1


  • Your Breakfast with the President Friday, November 30, 1979

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Saudi Arabia.]

2. Security of Americans in Saudi Arabia. The President commented, “no precipitous withdrawal” on your Wednesday night note about possible US reductions in Saudi Arabia.2 You may want to reassure him on this score.

John West on Thursday had serious talks with Princes Fahd and Bandar about the security of the 40,000 Americans resident there, at which time the contingency of US military action in Iran was raised by the Saudis. Both Princes indicated that Saudi Arabia would be supportive of the US if we took military actions in response to any execution of a hostage or a threat to do so. Such assertions—along with their feeling that other Muslim states would agree with the Saudis—have to be treated with great reserve.

Meanwhile, the Saudis are taking vastly increased security precautions in the Eastern Province, where most Americans are present, surrounding our Dhahran Consulate General with a substantial force equipped with heavy automatic weapons. The Saudis are also strongly controlling planned Shi’a religious processions during this period.

We have instructed John to make it clear in his next exchanges with the Saudis that our approaches were not dictated by considerations [Page 660] of US military planning, but rather, by our need to assure the security of large numbers of Americans at a time of tension in the region.

At this moment we believe we should not carry out any reduction pending further exchanges and consultations with the Saudis. West’s urgent objective will be to develop with the Saudis detailed contingency planning for collecting our people into three regional safehavens at the first sign of trouble. West will seek firm Saudi commitments to earmark military and security forces, the provision of transport, liaison arrangements, etc. What we need is a detailed, credible contingency plan which stands a good chance of working if a worst-case scenario begins to develop.

We are also asking John to set systematic arrangements for confidential exchanges with the American business community, advising him to do this in a way which does not become too visible and thus inspire misleading speculation.3

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Saudi Arabia.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 2, Vance/Brown/Brzezinski Luncheons—10–12/79. Secret; Nodis. A stamped notation on the first page of the memorandum indicates that Vance saw it.
  2. November 28. See Document 204.
  3. In telegram 8238 from Jidda, November 28, and telegram 8241 from Jidda, November 29, the Embassy provided details on these meetings. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850027–2275 and P850027–2270 respectively)