212. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski) to President Carter 1

SUBJECT

  • Military Relations with Saudi Arabia (C)

I convened an interagency group today to discuss military relations with Saudi Arabia,2 and specifically the most recent Saudi arms transfer requests. Attendees included Harold Brown, Warren Christopher, Charles Duncan, Bill Miller, Stan Turner, David Jones, and Ambassador John West. (C)

John West opened the meeting by providing his views on the overall relationship. His most important observation was that the Saudis are expecting a major U.S. initiative in the event that the autonomy talks do not produce concrete results by May 26.3 The group agreed that John should be prepared upon his return to give the Saudis a better understanding of our views on this issue, namely that we expect by May 26 to have made progress sufficiently tangible to continue the process beyond that date. (S)

The group then reviewed the specific Saudi arms requests, which the Saudis view as the linchpin of our overall security relationship. A mini-PRC held last week4 to discuss the Saudi requests recommended a response (Tab A)5 that John West believes will be favorably received. [Page 681] The group concurred with the mini-PRC recommendations, with one exception that requires your decision. (C)

During the F–15 debate in 1978, Harold told the Congress that we did not intend to sell the Saudis6 items that would significantly enhance the F–15’s capabilities, and he named specifically: (1) conformal fuel pods; (2) KC–135 tankers; and (3) multiple ejection bomb racks.7 The majority of the group recommends that we tell the Saudis that we would be willing to consult with the Congress on the conformal pods after the election. This would permit us to give the Saudis some positive news on an issue of great importance to them, even though we are agreeing only to consult with Congress, which we hope would be more receptive because of the increased threat to the region. Harold and Warren Christopher, who were both heavily involved in the initial F–15 debate, expressed skepticism about this approach.8 They believe the congressional reaction still could be very adverse, and that if the decision were to leak, it could cause political damage. While this is a close, difficult question, I believe that our relationship with the Saudis is sufficiently important, particularly during this crucial period, to warrant giving this cautiously positive response. If you approve, we would pass the response informally to minimize the chances of a leak. (S)

RECOMMENDATION

That you approve notifying the Saudis of our willingness to consult with Congress early next year on the F–15 conformal fuel pods.9 (S)

The group then discussed how to present the response to the Saudis. It was decided that John West would give a general briefing on his return and would encourage Prince Sultan to come here in June to receive a more detailed response from Harold in the context of the broader security relationship. The favorable answers to their arms transfer requests provide an ideal opportunity to engage the Saudis in discussion of larger issues, and also permit the sounding of cautionary notes about Saudi absorptive capacity and managerial capability. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 68, Saudi Arabia: 4/80. Secret. Sent for action. Carter wrote in the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum: “Zbig—Let John West read Fahd’s rude letter & then see me J.” An unknown hand drew a line through Carter’s notation. Beneath the note, Carter wrote: “Zbig J.”
  2. Formal minutes of the meeting have not been found.
  3. See footnote 6, Document 206. Sadat suspended the talks in early May.
  4. See Document 211.
  5. Not attached and not further identified.
  6. Carter underlined the phrase “did not intend to sell the Saudis.”
  7. Carter underlined each of the three items. See footnote 11, Document 216.
  8. Carter underlined the names “Harold” and “Warren” and the phrase “expressed skepticism” in this sentence.
  9. Carter approved the recommendation, drew a line from the Approve line to the lower margin of the page, and wrote: “You can go this far, but the Saudis must not be misled. If Congressional approval is doubtful, they should know it. J.”