217. Report of Discussions1


The June discussions lasted seven hours and included four hours of private conversation between the principals, followed by a working luncheon at which they were joined by Amb John West and ASD David McGiffert on the U.S. side and Amb Faisal Alhegelan and COL Fahad bin Abdullah on the Saudi side.

The atmosphere of the talks was reasonably friendly and both sides consider them to have been successful. From the U.S. point of view, the following points and conclusions are worth highlighting:

A. It had been sixteen months since the last SecDef-Sultan meeting in February 1979.2 The overall U.S. objective of building greater Saudi confidence in the US-Saudi security relationship was achieved. Sultan welcomed Dr. Brown’s reaffirmation of the U.S. commitment to modernize and develop Saudi Arabia’s defense forces and to provide them with the equipment needed to defend the Kingdom against regional threats. He also welcomed the Secretary’s recognition and support for Saudi Arabia’s leadership role in the region.

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B. A broad measure of strategic agreement was reached on the nature of the Soviet threat to the area in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Dr. Brown congratulated Sultan on Saudi Arabia’s firm stand against the invasion at the Islamabad Conference of Islamic states,3 and it was agreed that both sides would work to strengthen Pakistan militarily and economically. Sultan pressed for greater U.S. assistance to Turkey, Somalia, Bangladesh, Yemen Arab Republic and the Afghani rebels.

C. Dr. Brown described U.S. efforts to increase its military presence in the Indian Ocean area, including greater access to facilities in Oman, Kenya, Egypt, and Somalia; upgrading and prepositioning at Diego Garcia; and planning to upgrade air and sea transport capability. He noted, however, that the U.S. would have difficulty countering a Soviet thrust toward the Gulf without access to facilities in the northern Gulf. To Sultan’s relief, the Secretary stated that the U.S. was not seeking bases in Saudi Arabia, but the Secretary also asked Sultan to think about the fact that Diego Garcia was over two thousand miles away and what this would mean if military action against Soviet forces were required. He thus left a marker for future, more specific discussions.

Sultan made clear that in the Saudi view, the most important thing the U.S. could do to assist regional stability and security would be to press for a just and comprehensive solution to the problems of Palestine and Jerusalem. Beyond that, he said, strengthening Saudi Arabia and assisting other moderate states in the area would have more effect than facilities. He did acknowledge that a U.S. presence in the Indian Ocean, in areas near where the Soviets were, was a good thing.

D. The Secretary asked Sultan for Saudi good offices in improving U.S. relations with Iraq. Sultan noted that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States were working to encourage greater Iraqi moderation.

E. The Secretary expressed appreciation for Saudi Arabia’s efforts to maintain production and price levels at the Algiers OPEC Conference.4 Other oil producers, he said, obviously did not understand the damaging effect of high oil prices on common defense and security efforts.

F. The F–15 accessories/aerial refueling issue was defused. The Secretary said that the U.S. could not make commitments now and that it would not be possible to move on all the items at once. Sultan agreed that Saudi Arabia would not push its request for these items [Page 702] at this time but insisted it was not withdrawing its request either. It was agreed, as SecDef later told the press, that no decisions were imminent, that these requests would remain under study and that any future decisions regarding them would be preceded by consultations with the Congress.

G. Third country programs were discussed at some length with the U.S. side urging greater coordination and more frequent consultations, and the Saudi side exhorting the U.S. to provide more assistance to specific countries, particularly, Pakistan and Somalia. Sultan by implication endorsed U.S. efforts to acquire access facilities in Somalia. Sultan also stated he favored the continuation of a Jordanian training role in Yemen but at the same time hoped more Yemenis could receive military training in the U.S.

H. Sultan endorsed the Secretary’s suggestion that they meet at least once a year and that regular high-level military and security consultations occur in the interim through the establishment of a joint military (or security) commission. It was agreed that the U.S. side would follow up with a specific proposal. Sultan acknowledged the Secretary’s invitation that he visit Washington and said he hoped to do so in February or March 1981.

I. COL Fahad bin Abdullah pushed for rapid conclusion of an AWACS 5 study, followed by U.S. agreement to sell AWACS to Saudi Arabia. The Secretary noted that further study of the projected ground based systems, interoperability, and a command and control analysis would be required. The AWACS exchange pointed up that while the U.S. side was able during this meeting to subsume equipment issues within the broader focus on regional security and US-Saudi cooperation, there could be no assurance that equipment issues would not dominate future discussions.

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 81B00401R, Subject Files of the Presidential Briefing Coordinator for DCI (1977–1981), Box 13, Folder 1, SCC Meeting ME Security (No. 13). Secret. The Summary of Conversation was included in a briefing packet for the July 15 SCC meeting (see Document 86). Brown arranged to meet with Sultan in Geneva as part of a trip that also took him to Italy and France.
  2. See Documents 185 and 186.
  3. The Eleventh Conference of Islamic Foreign Ministers took place in Islamabad May 17–21. (Telegram 3154 from Jidda, May 18; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800245–0083) The Saudis played a key role in keeping the Afghanistan invasion in the forefront during the conference. (Telegram 3344 from Jidda, May 28; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800261–1002)
  4. OPEC members met in Algiers June 9–11.
  5. An unknown hand underlined “AWACS.”