289. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Yemen Arab Republic and the Embassy in Saudi Arabia1

281817. Subject: YAR Arms Agreement. Ref: (A) State 278082,2 (B) Jidda 7478,3 (C) Sana 7427;4 (D) Jidda 7476.5

1. Secret-entire text.

2. We are concerned by increasing evidence that President Salih despite his denials has agreed or is on verge of agreeing to accept a Soviet offer of a major new arms supply agreement.

3. The impact of a Soviet arms agreement and the US reaction to it would depend on its size and scale. Several reports have mentioned Yemeni acquisition of two squadrons of MiG–21 aircraft, one squadron of Sukhoy aircraft and an undetermined number of T–62 tanks. We need more definite information on the scope of the agreement being considered by the YAR.

4. We understand Saudi concerns as well but hope SAG will not overreact. We urge SAG weigh all factors. Stability in the YAR is one important factor. It is important that US and Saudi Arabia coordinate their activities in Yemen and avoid precipitous actions.

[Page 876]

5. For Sana: At earliest possible opportunity, Ambassador should make following points to President Salih and other appropriate YAR officials:

—The US has undertaken a major effort to assist Yemen in strengthening its defense capability forces against the Soviet-supported threat from South Yemen.

—The United States is deeply concerned by persistent reports that the YAR intends to go ahead with the purchase of significant amounts of additional equipment from the Soviet Union. These reports indicate that the YAR will buy MiG–21s and T–62 tanks, equipment similar to that we have already provided. In the spirit of the relationship we have been trying to build with YAR we believe USG should be told frankly what YAR intentions are in this respect.

—When the US agreed to our ongoing military assistance effort, we made clear that our aid to the YAR was not dependent on the complete elimination of Soviet military assistance efforts. We recognize that for many years the YAR military was equipped primarily with Soviet equipment and that Soviet advisors provided training. At the same time we have been concerned because as Salih must be aware the Soviets have used military aid as the prime means of extending their influence in the third world.

—We would therefore have difficulty understanding if the YAR agreed to a major new military assistance program with the Soviet Union particularly after that country provided the means for PDRY to attack the YAR.

—Moreover, implicit in the US agreement to undertake a military assistance program was the understanding that the YAR would be making a major effort to absorb US equipment and would commit manpower and resources to the necessary training. We would view YAR acquisition of new Soviet equipment duplicative of what we have provided as a failure to maintain its part of the bargain.

6. For Jidda: As a follow-up to DASD Murray’s discussion, you should make the following points to Prince Sultan:

—The US shares Saudi concerns over reports that President Salih may go ahead with a major new arms purchase from the Soviet Union.

—At the same time, we do not think that Salih’s action reflects an ideological shift towards the Soviet Union.

—We are making clear to Salih that such an agreement would raise serious difficulties for the US. We oppose an increase in Soviet influence in Sana and are concerned that an agreement may mean an influx of additional Soviet advisors into the YAR.

—On the basis of Murray’s conversations with SAG officials we have carefully reviewed what course of action we in consultation with [Page 877] the Saudis might wish to take. We are making a strong presentation of our views to the YAR. (Embassy should convey to the SAG points we are making to YAR, noting we will particularly stress point 5).

—While we think it important that the US and Saudi Arabia should discourage Salih from going ahead on this agreement, our actions should seek to avoid further instability in the YAR that would provide even greater opportunities for anti-US and anti-Saudi elements to come to power. With this in mind it is important at this point that the US and Saudi Arabia continue to make our ongoing military assistance efforts in Yemen effective.

—We wish to remain in close touch with Saudi Arabia as the situation develops.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790492–0974. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Michael R. Arietti (NEA/ARP) and Countryman; cleared by O’Donohue, Brzezinski, Murray, Arthur M. Giese (T), Jeffrey J. Buczacki (S/S–O), Roscoe S. Suddarth (P), and William T. Shinn (EUR/SOV); approved by Vance. Sent for information to Moscow.
  2. In telegram 278082 to Sana, October 25, the Department instructed Lane to refrain from expressing U.S. concern to Salih regarding the “adverse effects of a new YAR-Soviet arms package” until the Department had a chance to review with Murray the results of his trip. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790489–0633)
  3. In telegram 7478 from Jidda, October 25, the Embassy transmitted Murray’s comments on the Yemen situation. With regard to Salih, Murray noted: “But his relations with both Soviets and Saudis, and therefore inevitably with us, are changing.” He continued: “In sum, Ali Abdullah is now moving on another policy tack, one encouraged by the left and by those who suffer poorly the indignities of excessive (from the Yemeni viewpoint) Saudi influence on Yemen’s internal politics. If he continues on the present tack, we will soon not be able to work with him.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790514–0242)
  4. In telegram 7427 from Sana, October 24, the Embassy reported on Murray’s October 21 call on Salih. (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 93, YAR: 7–12/79)
  5. In telegram 7476 from Jidda, October 25, the Embassy reported on Murray’s October 25 conversation with Sultan, in which Sultan expressed his anger over the possibility of a new YAR-Soviet arms deal. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790489–0446)