288. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Yemen Arab Republic1

272903. Subject: Secretary Vance’s Conversation With YAR Foreign Minister Makki.

1. Secret-entire text.

2. Summary: Makki expressed gratitude for U.S. assistance and noted his government’s desire to improve and diversify bilateral relations with the U.S. He saw solution of the Palestinian problem as key to peace and stability in the entire region and urged direct U.S. negotiations with the PLO. He discussed in some detail the current status of Yemen reunification talks. The Secretary expressed U.S. desire to broaden and make more fruitful our bilateral relations. He and Assistant Secretary Saunders explained how our current peace efforts are not incompatible with ultimate Arab objectives. End summary.

3. The Secretary had a useful 45-minute conversation with YAR Foreign Minister Makki October 12.2 Under Secretary Newsom, Assistant Secretary Saunders, ARP Country Director Countryman, and YAR Ambassador Mutawakel also attended.

4. After exchange of pleasantries, Makki began by expressing his government’s gratitude for U.S. assistance and conveyed his government’s desire to improve relations and to diversify cooperation in the economic and military spheres. The Secretary responded that the U.S. was pleased to have been able to help the YAR and that we wished to have deeper, more fruitful relations. He asked that Makki convey to President Salih our desire to strengthen relations across the board. Makki then noted the value of trilateral cooperation, but reaffirmed the need for intensified bilateral contacts between the U.S. and the YAR in the context of regional cooperation.

5. Makki described the solution of the Palestinian problem as the heart, not only of the search for a Middle East peace, but integral also to peace and stability throughout the region. He voiced appreciation of U.S. peace efforts, but hoped that we would change our policy toward the PLO. Such a change would facilitate area states’ cooperation with the U.S. Solution of Palestinian problem would also assist North [Page 872] Yemen with its problems with the South. He also expressed concern about South Yemen and Ethiopia in the regional security context.

6. The Secretary replied that we would be happy to explore ways of making more fruitful our bilateral relations with the YAR. On the Palestinian issue, he declared that there was no essential difference between the U.S. and Arab commitment to resolve the Palestinian issue in all its aspects. We did have a different view of how best to move toward a comprehensive peace. We believe the problem is so complex and deep-seated that it cannot be solved in one fell swoop overnight. We have a particular problem with the PLO in that our 1975 agreement with the Government of Israel states that we will not negotiate with the PLO until it recognizes the right of Israel to exist and accepts UN Resolution 242 as a basis of negotiations.3 We do not take lightly our obligation to stand by a commitment. The Secretary then reviewed the various attempts to solve the problem of dealing with the PLO. In 1977 we came close to a solution, but the PLO Executive Council turned it down.

7. Saunders then noted we were engaged in a first step negotiation involving an attempt to achieve an Israeli withdrawal from and autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza. We are thus engaged in a transient short-term operation, whereas the Arabs continue to look toward a final solution. He emphasized, however, that our respective goals are not inconsistent. Newsom noted that we now also have a clear idea from discussions with our Arab friends of what they think must come out of our efforts in order for them to cooperate. We hope that when there is further progress toward Middle East peace that it will be viewed favorably by our Arab friends.

8. The Secretary noted we follow with attention and concern problems of regional security, particularly events in South Yemen and Ethiopia. One way we can be helpful is to provide aid as we did in the case of attack on North Yemen by South Yemen. We are also aware of broader strategic questions and we wish to continue consultations with our regional friends to adopt constructive methods to preserve stability and avoid turmoil.

9. In response to Newsom’s question about the intentions of South Yemen, Makki said North Yemen was seeking to solve its problems with the South via reunification rather than war. The North is seeking [Page 873] to establish a unified state based upon Islamic and democratic principles and believes it has had some recent success in getting the South to accept its point of view. There has been some progress in economic cooperation, i.e., integrating five-year plans and agreement to avoid industrial duplication. Foreign policy remains a major point of difference with the North insisting that the South bring itself closer to the Arab and away from the socialist nations. There is also hope that a reunified and peaceful Yemen will help attract Arab capital for development, but to this end the South must evidence some flexibility regarding the formation of mixed companies, the role of private investment, and the status of former Southern merchants who have fled to the North.

10. At the same time, North Yemen is not confident about the sincerity of the South in the unity negotiations. Socialism in the South has become stricter and the North is investigating reports about the South’s links to the Warsaw Pact. In short, the unity negotiations could be a Southern trick. On the other hand, the North sees utility in continuing the negotiations as a way of strengthening the hand of those in the South who want an Islamic/Arabic basis for their society and who wish to move away from the socialist camp.

11. In a follow-up talk with Saunders, Makki raised three issues:

—Increased military and economic aid;

—The Omani Straits of Hormuz security initiative and

—Southern Lebanon.

12. U.S. military and economic assistance. Makki made a strong pitch for increased U.S. bilateral military and economic assistance. He noted that certain countries in the region had benefitted from increased levels of U.S. aid, whereas our aid to Yemen had remained constant. He hoped that we might fund directly YAR 5-year plan projects, and help the YAR with credit facilities. He asked specifically that we assist Sana University to establish new faculties and become a kind of regional educational showplace. Saunders replied that we wished to be helpful in both the military and economic areas and that we would be looking into ways to get the most out of our funding. We should not forget the participation of some of the YAR’s wealthier neighbors, the use of Peace Corps volunteers, or putting together multilateral financial arrangements.

13. Saunders described the Omani security proposal for the Straits of Hormuz as a purely Omani initiative. While we felt it represented a responsible attempt to deal with a problem, and while we had no objection to it in substance, we wanted to make very clear that we had not instigated it.

[Page 874]

14. Southern Lebanon. Saunders briefly reviewed events following the adoption of UN Resolution 4254 and described the various steps which the U.S. envisioned as leading toward the re-establishment of peace and tranquility in Southern Lebanon. The elements of our approach would include helping to increase the Lebanese forces in the South, seeking to expand the ceasefire, obtaining mutual assurances from the parties that they would not attack each other, and that they would report infractions of the ceasefire to the UN. He also noted the need to get people back into their homes in Tyre and described possible initiatives to get the Syrians to secure National Movement cooperation and turn over Syrian occupied areas to the Lebanese.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790478–0512. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Countryman; cleared by Saunders, Newsom, W. Scott Butcher (S/S–O), and Raymond Seitz (S/S); approved by John M. Evans (S). Sent for information to Abu Dhabi, Doha, Jidda, Kuwait, Manama, and Muscat.
  2. No other record of this meeting was found.
  3. Reference is to the memorandum of agreement between the United States and Israel that was initialed at the time of the signing of the second Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement on September 1, 1975. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXVI, Arab-Israeli Dispute, 1974–1976, Document 227.
  4. United Nations Security Council Resolution 425, adopted on March 19, 1978, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, called for respect for the territorial integrity of Lebanon, for Israel to cease military activity against Lebanon, and for the formation of a United Nations interim force for Southern Lebanon to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces. (Department of State Bulletin, May 1978, p. 51)