261. Telegram From the Embassy in the Yemen Arab Republic to the Department of State1

1194. Dept please pass to USMTM Dhahran SA and SecDef WashDC. Subj: (U) PDRY Aggression Against YAR. Ref: Sana 11772 (DTG 241015Z Feb 79) (Notal).

1. (C-entire text).

2. I met with YAR President Ali Abdallah Salih at 4:00 p.m., Feb. 24. I was accompanied by OMC Chief Colonel Broman and DATT LTC Ruszkiewicz. YAR Special Presidential Advisor Yahya Jughman acted as interpreter.

3. President Salih opened the meeting by stating that YAR was now victim of aggression from PDRY 3 and he wanted to know what position of USG would be. In response to my questions, Salih said that PDRY forces were attacking all along the border with mortars, rockets, and aircraft and that they had occupied the village of Qatabah and the nearby heights. He said there were no Cubans or other “foreigners” in YAR territory but they were operating the sophisticated weapons being used against YAR territory. He indicated that YAR forces were holding their own but PDRY attacks were continuing.

4. Salih said that purpose of PDRY attack was to show Yemenis, both North and South, that Soviets would support their friends but that U.S. would not. PDRY, he said, was completely in the hands of the Soviets and attack was designed to test the will of the U.S. as well as determine YAR capabilities. President Carter had promised that U.S. would assist YAR if it was victim of aggression and he needed help immediately. What was USG response?

5. I asked what had been Saudi response to Junayd mission. Salih said that Saudis had replied that YARG should get in touch with U.S. Ambassador in Sana and they would do the same in Saudi Arabia. Saudis had said that “the Americans carry all the cards.”

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6. Brushing aside question of Saudi assistance, Salih said that he wanted immediate military aid from the U.S. He mentioned specifically the deployment of three squadrons of fighter planes, helicopter gunships, SAMs and naval vessels. I said that FornMin Asnaj had expressed some reluctance about direct USG involvement at this time. Salih said in that case, U.S. planes could be operated by Pakistanis or others and he would need U.S. help in recruiting such personnel. Salih said that as he had mentioned before, the trilateral arms program was all very well, but he wanted a direct military supply relationship with the U.S. He needed an immediate answer from the U.S. so he would know where he stands. Would the U.S. help now, or when it was too late?

7. I replied that I would, of course, forward his request to my government immediately. At the same time, I wanted to give him my frank personal views. Even though I was without instructions, I felt sure my government would support the YAR in resisting this aggression. However, the immediate dispatch of American military units to the YAR would be a very serious step. As he had described the situation in the South, it seemed to me there was time to make political and diplomatic moves rather than sending in U.S. forces. Although I did not know exactly what steps my government would take, I was sure that USG would not be idle. Contrary to my expectations, President Salih seemed to accept this. In closing, he left the impression that the important thing was to expel the PDRY troops from YAR territory immediately; if this could be done by diplomatic or political action he was agreeable.

8. Comment:

A) Given the sense of crisis which had been transmitted to me earlier in the day by Jughman, Salih seemed strangely relaxed during this meeting. Salih seems to be primarily interested in U.S. military support for political reasons. The kinds of arms he asked for are not those that could be effectively used in the present border fighting, but would be extremely useful in demonstrating to both North and South Yemenis that he has the backing of the United States. After I remarked that it would be a very serious step for the United States to send its own military forces to Yemen at this point, he seemed to accept that this kind of direct military support was unlikely. However, he is definitely expecting an immediate answer on what action the USG will take to support him.

B) As we left the meeting, Jughman said YARG had decided not repeat not to raise question of PDRY aggression at the UN.

C) In view of the conflicting and spotty information on the state of fighting in the border region, and FornMin Asnaj’s reservations we do not think the situation warrants sending U.S. forces to the YAR at this time. We will, however, be under great pressure to take this step [Page 813] should the present PDRY attacks develop into a major assault designed to split North Yemen.

9. Recommendation: In order to reassure YARG that we will support them in repelling PDRY attacks, we recommend a) that the United States urge the Saudis to send a squadron of F–5’s to Sana as the YARG requested (Sana 1165)4 and b) that the USG immediately call the attention of the Soviet Government to the PDRY aggression and urge them to use their influence to have the PDRY withdraw immediately from all YAR territory.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790085–0955. Confidential; Niact Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Immediate to Cairo, Jidda, USUN, Muscat, and USLO Riyadh.
  2. In telegram 1177 from Sana, February 24, the Embassy reported on Lane’s meeting with YAR Deputy Foreign Minister al-Kibsi to discuss the latest developments in the PDRY attacks on the Yemen Arab Republic: “Kibsi said that in view of assurances given by Anbassador Twinam when he visited YAR shortly after Ghashmi assassination, YAR expected USG to help.” Al-Kibsi recommended that the United States “should consult with Saudis on appropriate steps to take.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790085–0859) Twinam was in Sana July 27–28; see Document 246.
  3. See footnote 2, Document 260.
  4. In telegram 1165 from Sana, February 23, the Embassy reported on Lane’s meeting with al-Asnaj during which the Foreign Minister informed Lane that the Yemen Arab Republic had sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia on February 22 to brief Saudi officials on the fighting in North Yemen. The YAR delegation asked the Saudis to send a portion of their air force to Sana as a show of political support and provide defense if needed. Al-Asnaj also noted that if the Saudis proved unwilling to do so, the Yemen Arab Republic was poised to ask Egypt for this assistance, and the Foreign Minister asked that the United States support the Yemen Arab Republic’s request to Saudi Arabia. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790084–0160)