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

2969. Subj: (U) Soviet-YAR Relations. Ref: Sana 2800.2

1. (C-entire text).

2. In a wide-ranging conversation with Presidential Advisor Abdullah Asnaj on April 29th, Asnaj said he wished to elaborate on President Salih’s remarks to the Ambassador on April 22 on Soviet-YAR relations. He said the President had intended to convey to the USG that Yemen’s relations with the Soviet Union go back many years to a period prior to his entry into government. This relationship had been very close in times past and he was not in a position to make a precipitate decision to terminate that relationship. On the other hand, it was the President’s feeling that actions had to be taken gradually in the not too distant future to reduce Soviet presence and to diminish the relations between the two countries. Asnaj said the President had in mind to ultimately terminate all Soviet advisors and break diplomatic relations. Asnaj reiterated in strongest terms that the President wanted the U.S. to know that he was sincere in desiring a reduction of Soviet presence in the YAR and that in saying this he was not trying to play the U.S. against the Soviet Union.

3. Asnaj said that he had discussed the Soviet presence in Yemen with the Saudis on numerous occasions. He recalled a conversation last summer during the time when Saudi Arabia was discussing with U.S. and the YAR a new trilateral military relationship, saying that he had told Prince Sultan that the Saudis should prepare a timetable for the withdrawal of Soviet advisors in Yemen. He pointed out that President Salih was new in office and would be amenable to such a suggestion and that once committed he would follow through. Asnaj urged Sultan to tie the phasedown of Soviet advisors to the commitments and deliveries of military equipment under the new tripartite assistance program. Asnaj criticized Sultan as having not taken his advice and as a consequence having never given President Salih a good plan for the elimination of Soviet influence in the YAR.

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4. Asnaj said that, to his knowledge, no Soviet advisors had been withdrawn from the YAR, but there were specific plans afoot to return some of them to Soviet Union. He would not elaborate further but pointed out that a number of Soviet advisors were no longer working in their jobs with the military and that these were the obvious people to return.

5. Comment: This is not the first time Asnaj has discussed actions to reduce Soviet influence in the YAR. Even though we have heard such talk on previous occasions, the President has taken only a few limited actions against the Soviets, including removal of Soviet advisors from radar sites and the transfer of the MiG’s and related Soviet personnel from Sana to Hodeidah. The latter action was taken under intense pressure by the Saudis which took the form of a refusal to transfer the F–5’s until all Soviet advisors and equipment were removed from the airport. We believe Asnaj is much more committed to the views he ascribed to the President than perhaps the President himself.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790197–0376. Confidential. Sent for information to Jidda, USLO Riyadh, Cairo, and Moscow.
  2. In telegram 2800 from Sana, April 23, the Embassy reported on an April 22 meeting between Lane and Salih in which the latter “agreed to visit by MG Lawrence, stressed the importance of closer USYAR relations, suggested the formation of a high level tripartite committee (Saudi/US/Yemeni) to coordinate programs and activities of mutual interest, and discussed unity with PDRY, current internal developments and Yemeni/Soviet relations.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790185–1072)