207. Telegram From the United States Liaison Office in Riyadh to the White House1

305. For the President and Secretary Vance from Brzezinski. Subject: Meetings in Saudi Arabia.

1. Warren Christopher and I met with Prince Saud for a working lunch on Monday, February 4. We met again with Crown Prince Fahd and Prince Saud for two hours on Monday evening.2 We spent a further 90 minutes with Prince Saud on Tuesday morning. The following are the highlights of these meetings.

2. The initial meeting with Saud was very general. We briefed him on our talks in Pakistan3 and he gave us his views on the Islamic Foreign Ministers Conference.4 He was particularly encouraging on the Iranian reaction at Islamabad. According to Saud, the Iranians initially resisted any discussion of the hostage issue, but the other attendees had a thorough discussion with them and made it clear that the regional problems could not be discussed in isolation from the hostage problem, the Islamic states insisted that a role be given to the Secretary General, and the Iranians, after initially resisting, finally got instructions from Tehran permitting them to join in the consensus. Saud felt that the Iranians were surprised at the unpopularity of their position and that this would possibly have its effect in Tehran, despite the fact that the Iranian representatives at the conference were not at the decision making level.

3. Saud viewed the Soviet action in Afghanistan as “aggression and imperialism,” and he said that public opinion and government opinion in the region uniformly oppose the Soviet action and will do whatever is required to resist. They need confidence that the U.S. will help and they need to understand what the U.S. is prepared to do. The [Page 667] Islamic Conference agreed to provide aid to Pakistan, but they will take their lead from the degree of U.S. commitment.

4. Saud was strongly supportive of the movement to boycott the Olympics,5 noting that the Islamic Conference had taken its decision on this without serious debate on the second day. He was very critical of the French, particularly Francois Poncet’s6 statement that the Afghanistan invasion was a problem for the Islamic countries. He found this “amazing” since Poncet is normally very careful with his words.

5. The meeting with Fahd was much more substantive. Fahd was in good form, very friendly, well briefed and very much in command of the discussion. Although he noted that he had warned the U.S. of Soviet intentions during the Nixon administration, nevertheless he was surprised that the Soviets used naked force to accomplish their aims rather than other means. Fahd said he had never witnessed a comparable reaction in the Islamic world to any single act, and he thought the Soviets had not imagined such an intense and deep response.

6. We noted the many economic and military problems facing Pakistan and the need for other governments to help. Fahd noted that Saudi Arabia had for many years been giving Pakistan “very good aid,” and that they firmly believed that Pakistan should be supported to the maximum possible extent in both the military and economic fields. Psychologically this is the moment to rally around Pakistan in opposition to the Soviet threat. If we delay now, future steps will be more difficult.

7. In response to our comment that the President was willing to take unprecedented moves to support Pakistan, Fahd said they had felt this change in U.S. policy from the President’s statements and he was sure the Pakistanis had felt it as well. The people of the world—and the Soviets—have the feeling that the U.S. “lion was beginning to stir.”

8. Fahd noted that the reports coming out of South Yemen were very dangerous and frightening. He provided us a written report on their latest intelligence as follows: allegedly 10,000 Soviet troops have recently moved to the PDRY for an “exercise;” Soviet arms to PDRY are increasing; it is very likely that there are Soviet soldiers in the Yemeni fifth province near Saudi Arabia and in Yemeni territorial waters; some 3000 Cuban troops have gone to Aden; Soviet military reconnaissance aircraft are flying out of Aden throughout the region; [Page 668] Soviet materiel is arriving at a base named Muntaza Nashwan in South Yemen which is “on the road to Saudi Arabia,” including rocket carriers, guns, transport trucks, and large crates; huge transport ships are coming in to a Yemeni port at night. He recognized that some of this information might not be entirely accurate, but noted that aerial surveillance would help establish its validity. We promised to expedite additional coverage, using U–2s and RF–4s. Prince Saud noted that the options of U.S. RF–4s using Khamis Mushayt or flying from carriers were both open. Fahd thought it would be useful for the U.S. to give a clear signal to the Soviets that the U.S. will not just fold its arms, and telling the Soviets that we doubt that PDRY needs all this equipment for its own defense.

9. Fahd made a strong pitch for more prompt delivery of military equipment from us. He noted they had been waiting more than a year for certain special kinds of arms and parts. “Delay is no longer valid.” We said we would discuss this with Ambassador West and see what could be done to rectify the problem.

10. We briefed Fahd on our efforts to arrange access to military support facilities in the region, noting that the Bartholomew Mission would soon be here to brief them on the status of these talks.7 We said we had told Pakistan that we would be prepared to conduct joint air or naval exercises with them if they wished. We would be prepared to do the same with Saudi Arabia if they thought that would be helpful with respect to the situation in South Yemen. We said we are also prepared to conduct large scale military exercises of marines or airborne forces anyplace in the region. We noted three specific areas where we hope to cooperate closely with the Saudis: (1) developing access to facilities in Oman as a means of counterbalancing the Soviet/Cuban presence in PDRY; (2) developing access to facilities in Somalia, which, together with Oman, would help create a strategic position to block Soviet penetration of the region; and (3) the situation in North Yemen which we find thoroughly unsatisfactory at present.

11. On joint operations, Fahd said they were “giving thought to it” and would be willing to discuss it with our people. They want to insure that it will be helpful to their security.

12. On Yemen, Fahd noted that the Prime Minister of North Yemen was in Saudi Arabia two weeks ago for discussions about the growth of Soviet influence. Two nights ago, President Salih had called Fahd and his conversation indicated a change in his position. He said he was giving thought to the Saudi proposals and would “not go outside the framework” suggested by Saudi Arabia. He offered to send the [Page 669] Saudi Ambassador to North Yemen as a special emissary to discuss the situation. The Ambassador had just arrived in Riyadh but they had not seen him yet. Fahd recognized that so far this was just talk, but he was pleased at the apparent transformation of Salih’s views. They would wait and see what tangible results emerged. Salih said he had changed his mind about bringing elements of NDF into his government. The reason for this change may be that a number of North Yemen dignitaries had lately visited Salih to warn him of the dangers that the YAR would go the way of the PDRY.

13. On Iran, Fahd noted that Yasir Arafat had visited him last night and Fahd had encouraged him to play an active role in getting the hostages released. Arafat said he would redouble his efforts. Fahd noted that he had appealed to President Assad in the same terms. Assad said he was willing but that there was no one in Iran for him to talk to. Fahd thought that after the Iranian elections it might be possible to do more.

14. Arafat had also told him that Syria was withdrawing all its forces in Lebanon and regrouping them in the Bekka Valley. Arafat had just heard this by cable and did not know the reasons for the move. We said we would check our own information and stay in touch on this.

15. Almost as an afterthought, Fahd raised the Arab-Israeli problem, noting that the recent backing of the U.S. position on Afghanistan by the Islamic Conference provided a golden opportunity for the U.S. to win over the Arab and Islamic world by resolving the Arab-Israel situation. We assured him that we were fully committed to move ahead to solve the problem in all its aspects. Fahd stressed the enormous importance of Jerusalem. He said the problem of the Palestinians should be put on the front burner.

16. Fahd said no one in Saudi Arabia bore any ill will toward President Sadat, but Sadat has unfortunately chosen to resort to insults and mudslinging, including personal attacks on members of the royal family. We replied that we made no excuses for what Sadat said recently and that we hoped it would not be repeated. We noted that Sadat had been sorry not to receive a response to the letter he had written to King Khalid. Fahd said they had not answered the letter since they would have to tell the truth and that might be resented by Sadat. We said we would continue to urge restraint on Sadat since divisions in the Arab world would only postpone solutions to the major problems we face.

17. Fahd terminated the discussion with another plea for us to look carefully at the Saudi arms requests.

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18. Prince Saud, on Tuesday morning, made up for Crown Prince Fahd’s failure to give equal time to the Arab-Israel problem.8 He made a long presentation of the importance of progress on the Palestinian issue if we want a reliable Arab consensus to face the Soviet challenge. Saudi Arabia trusts U.S. motives and wants to work closely with us on security issues, but this is complicated by lack of visible strategy on the autonomy talks. [omission in the original—We expressed?] our determination to press ahead as rapidly as possible, and also outlined the basic strategy which we are following to confront the Soviet challenge in the region as a whole. We emphasized our interest in building relations with other Arab states, including Algeria, Libya and Iraq.

19. Warren recalled the efforts we had jointly made two years ago to persuade the PLO to accept Resolution 242 and wondered if there was some chance that could be revived. Saud thought that it could if we were willing to take the position that the Palestinian problem could be solved on the basis of self-determination. With that, the Palestinians might be willing to take the plunge and, in effect, recognize Israel. We reviewed the reasons for holding to our formulation and encouraged him to keep open the possibility of getting some movement from the PLO on 242 as a possible major contribution to the peace process.

20. On aid to Pakistan, Saud said that Saudi Arabia will provide new aid to Pakistan this year plus some carryover from a prior agreement. Most of this will be economic assistance. In addition, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have pledged to provide financial assistance to help with the refugee problem. This is still being worked out. On defense assistance, Saudi Arabia had pledged to develop a package of support once the Pakistanis (and the United States) had made a clear determination of their needs. Saud thought that the level of aid being considered by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf was reaching the upper limit, and he hoped that we would succeed in persuading the Europeans and Japanese to join in. (On a very confidential basis he gave us more precise data on the above).

21. On Iraq, Saud said that he thought there was no inhibition on the Iraqis’ part to move toward relations with the U.S. We asked him to raise this issue with the Iraqis at the next opportunity.

22. We expressed our appreciation for the Saudi decision to maintain oil production at the 9.5 mbd level, recognizing that this entailed some sacrifice on their part. Saud replied that the decision touches on their own domestic opinion, and it is difficult to explain in view of the [Page 671] “contradictions” i.e. the Arab-Israeli problems. Whatever we could do to remove these contradictions would help them enormously.

23. Finally, Saud briefed us on his talks with their Ambassador to North Yemen the previous evening. Their Ambassador had talked to Salih, who recognized the dangers in the course he had been following. Salih was willing to respond to the Saudis views concerning the buildup of Soviet advisors and the training of Yemenis in the Soviet Union. He was willing to put a stop to all of it. He will not bring members of the NDF into his government, although he may send some of them as ambassadors abroad. Salih said he was willing to discuss any of these issues with the Saudis, and they were preparing a letter to Salih regarding the joint military program. When asked whether he believed what Salih was saying, Saud said that Salih had no real alternative unless he was willing to destroy himself.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 68, Saudi Arabia: 2/80. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. In telegram 301 from Riyadh, February 5, the Liaison Office transmitted Christopher’s brief overview of these meetings. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P870047–0869)
  3. See footnote 7, Document 51.
  4. The Conference of Islamic Foreign Ministers took place in Islamabad January 27–29. (Telegram 717 from Islamabad, January 27; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800047–0111) In telegram 801 from Islamabad, January 29, the Embassy reported that the plenary session passed a resolution condemning “Soviet military aggression.” In telegram 831 from Islamabad, January 30, the Embassy commented on other resolutions relating to Iran, Palestine, and the Horn of Africa. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800050–1060 and D800053–1064)
  5. On January 20, President Carter announced that the United States would boycott the Summer Olympics scheduled to take place in Moscow. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 259.
  6. Jean François-Poncet, French Minister of Foreign Affairs.
  7. See footnote 2, Document 53.
  8. For the portion of the memorandum of conversation of the February 5 meeting with Saud concerning Arab-Israeli relations, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, August 1978–December 1980, Document 336.