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

12142. Subject: Newsom/al-Ayni Meeting. Ref: Riyadh 96.2

1. Secret-entire text.

2. Summary: During January 14 meeting with Under Secretary Newsom, Ambassador al-Ayni conveyed President Salih’s desire for continued cooperation with the U.S. He downplayed the significance of the purchase of Soviet arms, and underlined the need for a strong government in Sana. Ambassador Mutawakel stated the dismissal of the head of national security3 did not signal a turn to the left and [Page 888] that there was no sign of rapid movement towards unity with PDRY. End summary.

3. YAR UN Perm Rep Muhsin al-Ayni, accompanied by Ambassador Mutawakel, called on Under Secretary Newsom on January 14, 1980. Deputy Assistant Secretary Twinam, and NEA/ARP Officer Michael Arietti also attended.

4. After initial plesantries al-Ayni explained that, after an absence of five years, he had recently returned to Sana prior to taking up his UN post. al-Ayni wished to deliver an oral message from President Salih—if the US felt Yemen deserves help and was seriously interested in providing this, Salih was prepared to go ahead with cooperation with the U.S.

5. Under Secretary Newsom stated that we regard relations with Yemen as very important. We had made a special effort, in cooperation with Saudi Arabia, to provide Yemen military equipment and almost all of the equipment had now been delivered. Training and maintenance were very important. We, the Saudis, and other countries had provided training personnel. The US also has an ongoing economic assistance program. In view of our efforts the US was very disappointed in the YAR’s recent purchase of arms from the Soviet Union. We also had the impression that recent personnel changes in Sana suggest a change in the YAR’s attitude towards the NDF and towards union with PDRY. The US would be very concerned if union took place on terms dictated by PDRY or the NDF. Al-Ayni’s visit was timely in that we could reiterate our interest in the continuing independence of North Yemen. The US invited specific YAR suggestions on what we could do to strengthen our relationship.

6. Ambassador al-Ayni responded that the US should not make too much of the recent acquisition of Soviet arms. In view of the disarray in the Yemeni military these arms would not pose a threat to any quarter. The US should provide us training to Yemeni officers and additional economic assistance. Speaking personally al-Ayni commented that the YAR is now at the 11th hour. This is a result of the failure of past efforts to strengthen the YAR. President Salih is a sincere individual, but he is being pulled in many directions. A key factor is Saudi Arabia’s attitude. The Saudis need to understand that it is important that there be a strong government in Sana. Unfortunately they have not recognized this in the past and the US should try to convince the Saudis that this is in their interest.

7. Regarding President Salih’s relations with the NDF and PDRY, Ambassador al-Ayni commented that everyone in Yemen welcomed the recent dismissal of the head of national security since that organization had treated people badly. He was unaware of any particular significance to the timing of the dismissal. Ambassador Mutawakel interjected [Page 889] that the replacement of Khamis did not signal a turn to the left since his replacement was neither pro-Aden nor pro-Soviet. However, he speculated that the replacement would please the NDF. President Salih had been in touch with elements of the NDF who are the main forces in some areas of the country. Speaking personally, Mutawakel did not believe these contacts would work out. He was not aware of any new steps towards unity and did not think there would be movement in the short term. Al-Ayni stated the NDF is a committed Marxist group and that President Ismail is firmly in control in Aden and growing stronger.

8. Newsom said we recognize that the YAR’s relations with Saudi Arabia are complex, but it would be tragic if that relationship were seriously disrupted. The US wished to work with Saudi Arabia in Yemen, but this did not mean we could not have a direct relationship with Sana. The US would be very interested in the results of the meeting between Prime Minister al-Ghani and Saudi officials. We hoped that it would smooth out current difficulties.

9. Comment: Salih’s message was delivered orally and was simply a reiteration of his willingness to cooperate with the U.S. Neither al-Ayni nor Mutawakel appeared prepared to suggest detailed steps the US might take to strengthen ties with the YAR. Al-Ayni appeared to be speaking personally when he urged we stress to the Saudis that it is in their interest that the YAR have a strong government. End comment.4

10. For Ambassador West: In following up on our commitment to consult with the Saudis on the results of the al-Ayni and al-Ghani meetings, you should draw on the above, without mentioning al-Ayni’s personal comments in para. 6.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800026–0942. Secret; Immediate. Drafted by Michael R. Arietti (NEA/ARP); cleared by Twinam; approved in P.
  2. In telegram 96 from Riyadh, January 12, the Liaison Office informed the Department that Gerlach had conveyed U.S. concerns over trends and events in the Yemen Arab Republic to Saud. Gerlach stressed the U.S. view that “SAG and the USG should emphasize in our conversations with YARG the importance of preserving the independence of North Yemen.” While Saud indicated that the Saudi Government agreed with the U.S. position on Yemen, the government “questions the sincerity of South Yemen especially in light of the USSRPDRY treaty.” The Prince noted that the Saudis were fearful “that we might see the events of Afghanistan repeated here on the Peninsula.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800021–0158)
  3. Document 292 and footnote 2 thereto.
  4. In a January 16 memorandum to Vance, Brzezinski noted that Carter had read a report of Newsom’s meeting with al-Ayni, adding that the President noted that “we should follow up on this.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 56, Yemen)