223. Summary of Conclusions of a Special Coordination Committee Meeting1


  • U.S. Assistance to Saudi Arabia


  • State

    • Secretary Edmund Muskie
    • Warren Christopher
    • David Newsom
    • Harold Saunders
    • Reginald Bartholomew
    [Page 718]


    • Secretary Harold Brown
    • W. Graham Claytor, Jr.
    • David McGiffert
    • Walter Slocombe
  • Energy

    • Les Goldman
  • White House

    • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski
    • David Aaron
  • NSC

    • General William Odom
    • Captain Gary Sick
  • JCS

    • Admiral Thomas Hayward
    • General Paul Gorman

Secretary Brown opened the meeting by describing the five points in the proposed Terms of Reference (TOR) for the political-military team which the President had asked to be sent to Saudi Arabia. These were as follows:

1. To expand the efforts of the technical team from EUCOM to identify measures of supply, assistance, and advice and training which would have the greatest immediate impact on Saudi self-defense capabilities against air attack.

2. To engage in contingency planning with respect to possible deployment of U.S. active air defense capability, to include F–14s, F–15s, and HAWK battalions in the event of an attack on Saudi Arabia. The team would be directed to identify and discuss with the Saudis those forms of pre-deployment preparation which would contribute to rapid and effective response. The team would make clear that we do not regard such deployments as justified by present circumstances, and any steps on pre-positioning would require prior approval by Washington.

3. To explore in principle with the Saudis the need for and feasibility of an integrated regional air defense system, linking Saudi air defenses with those of the Gulf states. The team can outline possible forms of cooperation, but is not authorized to confer with other Gulf states on this matter or to agree that the Saudis should do so.

4. To plan for Saudi participation in international naval freedom-of-navigation patrols, following up Saudi expressions of support to General Jones. The team is to emphasize the contingency nature of the planning, making clear that any decision to institute such activity would have to be made at the political level and that we are making every effort to insure that no such activity is needed.

5. To explore with the Saudis continuing U.S. and Saudi operational and logistic planning for future contingencies, to include prepositioning, Saudi overbuild, and other measures to enhance possible U.S. assistance in the defense of Saudi Arabia and the region at Saudi request. However, the team should not initiate discussions on this issue until it has worked several days on the first four and has made a recommendation to Washington on whether it would be productive to raise these issues. (S)

[Page 719]

Secretary Brown stressed that the TOR do not approve any actions by the U.S. They are intended to explore a number of issues which we have attempted to raise with the Saudis over the past year and a half. (S)

Secretary Muskie said he wished to focus on the foreign policy implications of a visit by such a team. He had a question whether we should not ascertain in advance whether the Saudis are interested in pursuing these kinds of options. Ambassador West thinks any kind of team is a bad idea. The Secretary thought it was possible we would push the Saudis too hard by riding this war, to the detriment of other objectives. He had met two times with Prince Saud who was very cautious about going beyond what we have already done.2 The Saudis have begun to show concern that they overreacted in their support of Iraq. (S)

The effect of these actions on our relations with Israel had not been discussed. He was raising this as a red flag. They may see this as building a close relationship with Saudi Arabia under the pressure of the crisis and suggest that we are taking advantage of the crisis to achieve at their expense a security relationship that we have been unable to do under other circumstances. (S)

We must also consider the reaction in Iran. Although the situation is volatile, it now appears that the Iranians and the Iraqis are focusing on the other end of the Gulf, and we should not provoke them to refocus their attention. Ambassador Lang had delivered our message about AWACS and our continued neutrality to Ali Agha at the Foreign Ministry.3 Ali Agha had said it was ridiculous and that Iran violently rejects the U.S. position. Prime Minister Rajai4 was quoted in Le Monde as saying he will pay no attention to U.S. claims of neutrality. (S)

This morning, the Secretary had met with Dobrynin to deliver a non-paper on issues not covered in the previous meeting with Gromyko.5 Dobrynin also provided a non-paper reminding us of our pledge of neutrality and non-intervention, drawing attention to the numerous statements regarding possible use of armed force to protect free navigation through the Strait of Hormuz, citing official U.S. confir[Page 720]mation of the deployment of AWACS and noting that the U.S. appears to be moving a second carrier to the Gulf area. This was not understood, and the Soviets ask for prompt clarification giving our clear and exact views. The Soviet position remains the same, that the USSR will continue to adhere to the policy of non-intervention on the understanding that all others will do the same. There would be far reaching consequences if others should interfere in the Iran-Iraq conflict or in the affairs of the nations of the area as a whole. (S)

It is important to consider the reactions of Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran and the USSR if we are perceived to be using the cover of neutrality to build a military posture in the Persian Gulf which may have long-term consequences. He wondered what, if anything, we need to do to deal with the immediate crisis, beyond what we have already done. He thought sending a political-military team would be a very visible act. It will be leaked. How it will be presented and perceived is a legitimate question. Sending a team may be harder to rationalize than sending AWACS. He could not forget the difficult discussions about Iran’s borders. In the absence of this war, there would be no question in the area about what nation was the aggressor in the region (the USSR), and we are in a position to build a worldwide response against them. But if our acts are seen as taking advantage of this conflict to build up a military presence, then it is we who will be on the defensive. The outcome of the present conflict is uncertain, but if we are seen to contribute to a particular result, our position will be subject to the test of credibility. (S)

He felt that we should first see if the Saudis want to receive a team. This will give us time to examine what our long-range goals are relative to Saudi Arabia. That has not been done since he has been here. He was aware of no interagency meeting to examine our plans and goals to establish a military presence in the Persian Gulf.6 (S)

Dr. Brzezinski asked if we knew whether the Saudis wanted a team to visit. Secretary Brown said this had been discussed with them by General Jones after the President had said to send such a team, and they are expecting a team of air defense experts from Washington. The present technical team from EUCOM does not meet that expectation. We could, of course, send a purely military team, e.g. a general from NORAD, if the SCC decides that political representation is not desirable. We could defer discussion of the fifth task while we further consider whether we are committed to resist Soviet penetration of the region. (S)

[Page 721]

Dr. Brzezinski said he did not object to a broader review of our goals, but he thought that should be in an NSC meeting with the President. What we are concerned with at this time is implementing a series of steps which the President has directed. (S)

Secretary Muskie wondered if the team should be authorized to talk about cooperation on freedom-of-navigation patrols of the Strait. Prince Saud had expressed objections in his meeting in New York. Secretary Brown said that we had all agreed previously to discuss this with the Saudis, and we have solid indications from General Jones’ conversations with the Saudis that they are prepared to discuss it. (S)

Secretary Muskie said he was confused about what the President had directed. He had said we would do “AWACS period” and then send a political-military team to see what we could do about further cooperation. Secretary Brown said that was precisely what this team was intended to do. None of its tasks involve approval of any new actions by us, only discussions with the Saudis in advance of possible contingencies. He said it would be a tragedy not to discuss the fifth task with the Saudis, but perhaps it did not have to be done this weekend. If that was the concern, the TOR had called for further review even before the issue was raised with the Saudis. The Saudis do expect us to send a group. (S)

Secretary Muskie said he had trouble with Secretary Brown’s terminology. What did we mean by “expect”? Have the Saudis requested discussion of all five of these points? Have the Saudis thought through the risks? Secretary Brown said the Saudis had asked General Jones in general terms to discuss the first four, not the fifth. Mr. Christopher wondered if discussion of these was consistent with U.S. neutrality. Secretary Brown said we were neutral as between Iran and Iraq, not with regard to Saudi security. Mr. Christopher noted that U.S. advanced aircraft in Saudi Arabia would not be seen as neutrality. Secretary Brown replied that the discussions on that are entirely contingent on a prior attack on Saudi Arabia. General Hammad in Saudi Arabia had specifically mentioned their willingness to consider prepositioning F–15 materiel in advance of any deployment. (S)

Dr. Brzezinski suggested breaking down the list and examining objections to each part of the package. Secretary Muskie said he was aware of that technique. He had often used it himself. His problem was not with the individual elements so much as the totality of the package and the perceptions flowing from it. Dr. Brzezinski asked how he proposed we proceed. Secretary Muskie said he thought we should start cleanly through regular channels on the military and political sides and ask the Saudis what it is they wish to pursue. Secretary Brown noted that General Jones had gone through that with the Saudis. He wondered if Ambassador West would be more cautious in his approach than General Jones had been. (S)

[Page 722]

Dr. Brzezinski said he would not object to asking the Saudis at the political level whether they wanted to have such a team to discuss these issues. All agreed that such an approach was acceptable on the first four items. To raise item 5 would go beyond what was recommended for the team. (S)

A drafting group was to meet immediately following the SCC meeting to draft a message to West.7 Dr. Brzezinski said he saw no need to go to the President at this point since a message to West did not change the original decision. (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 116, SCC 347, 10/04/80, Saudi Request for U.S. Military Assistance. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. The minutes are not attached and were not found. Attached but not printed is an October 4 memorandum from Brzezinski to Carter, which provided a more succinct summary of the meeting.
  2. Muskie met with Saud on September 25 and October 1 in New York. Muskie summarized the September 25 meeting in telegram Secto 8018 from New York, September 26, and the October 1 meeting in telegram Secto 8055 from New York, October 2. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P890018–0480 and P890018–0484)
  3. The New York Times reported that on October 1 the United States had sent a message to Iran asserting that the deployment of AWACS to Saudi Arabia was consistent with American neutrality. (Bernard Gwertzman, “U.S. Reassures Iran On Help For Saudis,” The New York Times, October 2, 1980, p. A16)
  4. Mohammad-Ali Rajai was Prime Minister of Iran from August 15, 1980, until August 4, 1981.
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 303.
  6. An unknown hand wrote an exclamation point in the margin next to this sentence.
  7. The draft is attached but not printed. The message to West was sent in telegram 265582 to Jidda, October 4. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P870094–0758)