222. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • Saudi Request for Military Assistance


  • State

    • Secretary Edmund Muskie
    • Deputy Secretary Warren Christopher
    • Assistant Secretary Harold H. Saunders
    • Reginald Bartholomew, Director, Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs
  • Defense

    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • Deputy Secretary W. Graham Claytor
    • Deputy Under Secretary Walter Slocombe
  • Energy

    • Secretary Charles Duncan
    • Assistant Secretary Les Goldman
  • JCS

    • Admiral Thomas Hayward
    • General Paul Gorman
  • DCI

    • Admiral Stansfield Turner
    • Martha Kessler
  • White House

    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
  • The Vice President’s Office

    • A. Denis Clift
  • NSC

    • General William Odom
    • Gary Sick

[Omitted here is a paragraph on discussions with the British, French, and West Germans regarding naval planning.]

Military Assistance to Saudi Arabia

Harold Brown summarized the situation and proposed follow-on actions. In accordance with the President’s instructions, we should [Page 713] send a political-military team to Saudi Arabia.2 A technical air defense team from Eucom has already been dispatched, but we need a team with political representation to follow on with more than technical problems of deliveries and the like. He thought the team should not be too visible politically, perhaps at the Deputy Assistant Secretary level. An air defense team was previously scheduled to visit Bahrain and will arrive imminently. The team to Saudi Arabia should be able to reinforce what the Saudis now perceive to be a weakness in their air defense in the Eastern Province and identify ways that could be improved. They should also carry on with specific contingency preparations which would permit us to respond smoothly in the event Saudi Arabia found itself under immediate military threat. The team should continue the discussions concerning possible naval cooperation in the event the Gulf is closed or shipping is threatened. We will also need to work our cooperative relations with Kuwait, Oman and perhaps other Gulf states who are now interested in getting the advantages of air defense warning which AWACS provides. It will not be necessary for the AWACS to operate outside Saudi airspace, but we may be able to provide terminals in other countries which would be of assistance in coordinating air defense on the Arab side of the Gulf. (S)

The essential question is how much we want to put into Saudi Arabia. For six months or more we have been talking about overbuilding Saudi facilities and other steps which would be of long-term importance to us in confronting a Soviet threat in the area. Until now, the Saudis have kept us at arms length, arguing that the Arab-Israel problem needs to be resolved first. Now they are aware of the threat and they appear willing to be cooperative. It appears likely that they would now accept, for example, pre-positioning of some U.S. equipment, provision of water storage, and some overbuilding. They will probably be amenable to this while their awareness of the threat is high. During this period we should try to institutionalize our dialogue on security matters and attempt to reinforce Saudi cooperativeness. (S)

A further problem is what we may wish to do to counter a possible “out of the blue” Iranian air attack on Saudi Arabia. We should be cautious.3 (C)

Secretary Muskie noted that until now our posture and intentions have been clear to all—to the Saudis, to the Congress, to the combatants [Page 714] and to the Soviets. They have understood that our various steps were taken in the context of a neutral posture on the conflict, and except for the wild charges coming out of Iran, we have heard no challenge to our neutral position. AWACS is seen for what it is and what we say it means. He believed that our neutral position was well established after his press conference the day before when a number of questions attempted to test that position.4 He now felt that we faced two concerns:

—To consider limiting our steps to whatever is covered by the present understanding of our position; and

—If more is needed, to think very carefully about its implications. (S)

At present, there is no evidence of an imminent attempt to threaten the sea lanes or the oil fields, although this could change. Both parties to the conflict appear to want to contain the fighting. We should be very careful about the temptation to ride in on this crisis to put in place what we want in terms of the long-term crisis. What we do cannot be hidden. If we attempt to take long-term steps while hiding under the cloak of neutrality, this could be seen as provocative by the Soviets. The Secretary recalled that he had handed a non-paper to Gromyko prior to the outbreak of the present crisis which stated our intention not to invade Iran.5 If we now move to build up our capabilities while this crisis is going on, the Soviets will perceive that we are making preparations to take advantage of Iranian weakness, possibly as preparations for an invasion. We need to be very careful to think through the Soviet reaction. The objective of getting the Saudis to provide military facilities and to overbuild is something that would have been done over a longer period of time. The main purpose of his meeting with Gromyko had been to stabilize our perceptions of each others’ interests, and that should not be jeopardized. (Secretary Muskie then left at 9:32 for a previously scheduled appointment.) (S)

Dr. Brzezinski noted that the Secretary had made some very important points. He did not think there was any serious difference of views since the Secretary seemed to be saying that we must take steps to insure that what we do is not misunderstood in the region and by the Soviets. On that, there is no disagreement. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski then reviewed the proposed terms of reference for a team to Saudi Arabia, noting that most of the items had already been approved by the President. He suggested that an interagency group [Page 715] get together today to work out an agreed set of terms of references for the team. If serious differences arise, we could have an SCC meeting at noon on Saturday6 to review the issues and seek the President’s decision as required. In addition, we would plan to have a meeting next Tuesday to review the broader questions associated with our relationship with Saudi Arabia. Secretary Brown agreed and pointed out that even discussion with the Saudis about overbuilding would not provide any early visible actions on our part which could be misinterpreted by the Soviets or others. (S)

Admiral Hayward commented that we had spent nine months now looking at the situation we would face in developing a viable military capability in the Middle East. Every study had shown that access to Saudi Arabia was essential. We should take advantage of the present circumstances to begin developing the kind of relationship with Saudi Arabia on security that will be required if we are to establish an effective military capability in the region. (S)

Radars to Saudi Arabia

Mr. Christopher inquired about the proposed transfer of radar equipment to Saudi Arabia and wondered if that had been specifically approved. Secretary Brown said it consisted of two mobile TPS–43 air defense radars which the Saudis had requested. In their talks with General Jones,7 the Saudis had asked for two U.S. radars and personnel to man a third which is presently in storage in Saudi Arabia in order to fill an existing gap in their air defense. This is a matter of tying the AWACS together with the Hawk missiles. He had interpreted the President’s approval to move ahead on AWACS and improvement of Saudi air defense as authority for General Jones to agree to this specific request from the Saudis which was fully justified in terms of their air defense weaknesses. It may be sufficient to provide a single radar and to assist them in installing the radar they have in storage. Temporary U.S. manning of radars is entirely consistent with the decision to provide the airborne radar of AWACS. (S)

Approve proceeding to provide TPS–43 radar to Saudi Arabia as necessary, including U.S. personnel to man at least one of our own radars and one already in Saudi Arabia, as worked out with the Saudis by General Jones.8


[Page 716]

U.S. Replacement of Hawk Instructors

Mr. Christopher asked what had happened to the proposal for the U.S. to provide Hawk instructors to free up Saudi personnel. Secretary Brown said that the Saudis had not pursued this issue and it was no longer under discussion. (S)

Ship Transfer for Middle East Force

Secretary Brown said he would like to put a cruiser from the Task Force into the Middle East Force in the Gulf in place of a destroyer, which would be removed. These two ships are not very different in size, but the cruiser has a better air defense capability which would make it more valuable in the event we needed to provide some seaborne air defense off Ras Tanura on short notice. Normally, this kind of transfer would be something we would do routinely, but he wanted to raise it with the SCC. (S)

Hal Saunders noted that we had never had a cruiser in Middle East Force, and this would be seen as a sign that we are changing the composition of the force in the Gulf. Mr. Aaron said that it was primarily a question of appearances, and we should make sure we get the story out right, rather than letting it come out through sensational leaks. Secretary Duncan thought it would be better to say nothing at all since it was a routine transfer which would scarcely be visible to anyone in the Gulf. Secretary Brown disagreed, arguing that it would certainly leak and we should put out the story ourselves. (S)

Approve replacing one Mideastfor destroyer with a cruiser.9


Additional Steps

Secretary Brown reviewed some additional steps. He was not proposing these at present, but the SCC should be aware of the possibilities. (U)

One way to increase air defense capabilities in the Gulf would be to use F–14s from the Eisenhower, controlled by carrier-based E–2s and refueling from KC–135s operating from Riyadh. The KC–135s are presently at Diego Garcia but could be positioned in Riyadh within hours if necessary. The F–14/E–2 operation could not be sustained for more than about a week, but it would provide a very quick means of responding to an imminent threat. Admiral Hayward added that we may need to place two KC–135s in Riyadh in any event to support the [Page 717] AWACS. All agreed that such a move should be reviewed by the SCC in advance. (S)

Secretary Brown also noted that we could deploy a squadron of F–15s to Egypt, which would put them within a few hours of Saudi Arabia if required on short notice. He noted President Sadat’s open invitation for the U.S. to use Egyptian facilities. Mr. Christopher commented that Sadat had also made a point of noting publicly that the F–4 deployment was not permanent. There may be more sensitivity on this issue than appears on the surface. (S)

Finally, Secretary Brown noted that the greatest weakness of the Saudi air defense was the lack of command/control/communications to tie it together. He felt this was the area where we could make the most effective contribution. Mr. Aaron commented that the expressed fears that we were turning Saudi Arabia into another Iran was only justified if we attempted to build up the Saudis to try to take care of the security problems entirely on their own. That would put great pressures on manpower and absorptive capacity. Trying to build them up is more dangerous than if we do it ourselves. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, Plains File, Subject File, Box 37, Special Coordinating Committee (SCC) Meetings, 10/80–1/81. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. The minutes are not attached and were not found. In the upper right-hand corner of the first page, Carter wrote: “Zbig J.”
  2. In his memoirs, Brzezinski noted that Carter had approved the AWACS deployment to Saudi Arabia during a National Security Council meeting convened on September 29 to address the Iran-Iraq conflict. (Power and Principle, p. 453) The minutes of this meeting are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. XX, Iran; Iraq, April 1980–January 1984.
  3. Carter underlined this sentence and wrote “I agree” in the margin.
  4. For the transcript of Muskie’s October 2 press conference in New York, see the Department of State Bulletin, November 1980, pp. 40–43.
  5. Muskie gave Gromyko the paper at a September 25 meeting. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 302.
  6. October 4. See Document 223.
  7. See Document 221.
  8. Carter checked and initialed this option.
  9. Carter checked this option and wrote in the margin: “If announced, do it in a very routine manner.”