286. Telegram From the Embassy in the Yemen Arab Republic to the Department of State and the Department of Defense1

6180. Subj: President Salih on U.S.-Saudi Military Assistance Program and Purchase of Soviet Arms. Ref: State 2264102 (Notal).

1. (S-entire text)

2. Summary: Ambassador and DCM met with YAR President Ali Abdullah Salih on September 2. President said he was very pleased with U.S. military assistance efforts but called again for more direct U.S.–YAR bilateral relations in military field. He denied reports that YAR had concluded new arms deal with Soviet Union. He discussed parade being planned for September 26 National Day, saying he intended displaying all new U.S. military equipment, and extended official invitation for Secretary of Defense or Deputy Secretary of Defense to visit YAR on this occasion (reported septel).3 End summary.

3. Ambassador and DCM met with President Salih at YAR military headquarters in Sana on September 2. Ambassador delivered his personal greetings and condolences on the death of President’s brother. Ambassador then said he would like to review the progress of U.S. military program in YAR since he had last discussed this subject with the President two months ago.4 Ambassador mentioned various MTTs which had been or are now in country and referred specifically to recent delivery by ship of arms, ammunition and spare parts. President interrupted to say he was very pleased with U.S. efforts. He praised work of U.S. officers and training teams and said U.S. military assist[Page 867]ance program was proceeding well. However, the “other partner”5 was not always cooperative. He therefore wanted closer, more direct, relationship with USG.

4. Ambassador agreed that direct, bilateral relations were important and said they were being constantly strengthened. Not only did we have close bilateral relations in the economic field, as witnessed by our growing aid program, but our direct military relations were also much closer than they were only six months ago. A trilateral arms program was by its very nature difficult to administer but since the Saudis were paying for the arms, they were naturally interested in how the program was carried out. Salih acknowledged legitimacy of Saudi interest but said that they should not interfere in the implementation of the program; for example, once arms, ammunition and spare parts destined for YAR had been paid for, they should be delivered directly to YAR, not via Saudi Arabia.

5. President Salih then brought up the subject of story of YAR arms purchases from USSR. He referred to Ambassador’s meeting with Presidential Advisor Abdullah Asnaj 6 and asked where Ambassador had heard report of new arms purchase from Soviet Union. Ambassador replied that rumors were widespread in Sana. Ambassador noted that President had earlier urged us to ask him or his personal advisors for clarification of any such rumors we heard and we had therefore come to him. President said he had not signed any new agreement with Soviets. As U.S. was aware, YAR had recently purchased Polish tanks but no other equipment from Soviet bloc. (He proudly noted twice that these tanks were paid for in cash from the central bank.) Ambassador specifically asked if President meant there were no MiG 21s coming to Yemen. President said that was right. There had not yet been any military purchases from Soviet Union and there would be none if the U.S. military equipment, specifically the F–5s, reached Sana as soon as possible. (Clearly before September 26 National Day). He had to have fighters; what did USG expect him to do if they could not get the F–5s he had been promised? Ambassador said there had not been room to park all F–5s under cover at Sana airport. President scoffed at this, saying, quote you bring the planes and I’ll find a place to put them end quote.

6. President Salih said (and repeated several times during the 45 minute conversation) that there were those who were trying to destroy U.S.–YAR relations by spreading false rumors and said that both he [Page 868] and U.S. must work together to see that these people did not succeed. He specifically mentioned the Soviet Military Attache as one source. Re travels of YAR military officers, he confirmed that both Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Col. Ali Mansour and Lt. Col. Abdallah al Hazwarah had been in Europe but said that one was on vacation and the other had signed a DM 5 million contract for military equipment with the FRG. Salih also mentioned Hussein ad Defa’i, former YAR Ambassador to the USSR, who he said had visited the U.S. after a trip to London. The fact that these officials were traveling did not mean that a new deal with the Soviets had been signed. Ambassador said that it was precisely to find out the truth about these rumors that he and DCM had called on the President.

7. President Salih then turned to preparations for September 26 National Day parade. He said he wanted fullest possible display of U.S. military equipment, including all repeat all F–5s, the C–130s, and as many tanks and other equipment as possible. This would underscore conversion of Yemeni military to U.S. equipment. Salih said he would like to extend an official and personal invitation to U.S. Secretary of Defense or Deputy SecDef to attend September 26 celebrations. He asked Ambassador to convey this invitation immediately, saying the presence of such a USG official would be important evidence of new and close USYAR relations (see reftel).

8. Ambassador’s comments: Regardless of who may have visited Moscow during past month, it appears that President Salih has not yet committed himself to accept new, more sophisticated arms from the Soviet Union. On the other hand, he does not repeat not appear to have entirely dismissed the possibility. He is clearly frustrated by the non-arrival of the F–5s and the fact that he must rely on Saudi Arabia for spare parts and ammunition. He refuses to listen to the explanations, (that I tried again to make) that Sana airport has not, until very recently, been ready to receive all the F–5s, and is still not fully equipped to service and support them.

9. DCM and I had the impression that President Salih has decided to make the September 26 National Day parade the test of Saudi, and to a lesser extent American, good faith. He wants to put on display all the F–5s, the two C–130s, and as much of the other U.S. equipment as possible. If for any reason the aircraft are not available, he could use their absence as the excuse, or justification, for a new Soviet arms deal.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790403–0569. Secret; Immediate. Sent for information Priority to Jidda, USLO Riyadh, USCINCEUR Vaihingen, and Moscow.
  2. In telegram 226410 to Sana, August 28, the Department agreed that the delivery of the remaining F–5s to the Yemen Arab Republic by National Day, September 26, would “be helpful in reassuring President Salih of dependability of U.S. military assistance effort. However, before approaching the Saudis on this matter it would be helpful to know if they share our assessment of YAR preparedness to receive and maintain larger number of F–5’s at this time.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790393–1073)
  3. In telegram 6179 from Sana, September 4, the Embassy reported that during the September 2 meeting Salih had issued an official invitation to Brown or Duncan to attend the YAR National Day celebrations on September 26. Lane commented that he believed it would be “highly desirable” for Duncan to attend, as it “would give new impetus to our military assistance effort and would be symbol of direct U.S./Yemen cooperation in the military field which is so important both to President Salih and to Yemen military establishment.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790403–0515)
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Saudi Arabia.
  6. Reference is to a meeting between Lane and al-Asnaj on August 27, reported in telegram 5965 from Sana, August 27. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790391–0539)