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

567. London for Under Secretary Newsom. Subject: Meeting With President Salih. Ref: State 012142.2

1. (S-entire text)

2. Summary: Ambassador and DCM met with YAR President Salih for one hour on January 22. Salih, who was in a testy mood, blamed U.S. for any problems in bilateral relations. He had no specific suggestions to make about ways to improve relations and seemed basically uninterested in the subject. He again defended his acquisition of Soviet arms and expressed confidence that he and YAR could dominate Communists and PDRY in any union between the two countries. He criticized U.S. press campaign against him and YAR and said nothing but platitudes on subject of YAR-Saudi relations. Salih gave impression of a man who has made his plans, and, that they did not include closer relations with U.S. Following this meeting, President reportedly had lunch at local hotel with visiting NDF leaders. End summary.

3. In response to my request, President Salih received me for about an hour on the morning of January 22, (on 25 minutes advance notice). [Page 893] DCM Gnehm accompanied me and YAR Chief of Protocol was also present.

4. I opened meeting by telling Salih I welcomed this opportunity to review with him status of our bilateral relations. Referring to January 14 Newsom/al-Ayni meeting,3 I said that USG considered these relations very important. I then reviewed efforts we had made to assist YAR during past year, particularly in military field, mentioning specifically arms deliveries in March, F–5 program (in which Salih’s brother is one of the top pilots), and our continuing efforts to provide spare parts and ammunition for U.S. origin arms as witnessed by ship deliveries last month and further deliveries, including tank ammunition, scheduled for March. At same time, I said, USG was concerned about certain recent developments. As Salih knew, we were concerned about recent Soviet arms deal because it meant more Soviet technicians in the country and more Yemeni trainees going to the Soviet Union. I mentioned Senator Percy’s letter to Salih,4 to which we have not received a reply, and said that this was an example of honest concern by a distinguished and influential American who was a friend of Yemen. Salih acknowledged that Senator Percy was a friend of YAR and said that a reply to his letter was on the way. I then asked Salih for his views on YARUS relations and ways in which they could be improved.

5. YARUSG relations. Salih replied that as far as he was concerned relations with USG were excellent; all the problems seemed to be from U.S. side. He and his government had done their best to develop and sustain these relations. If there were any shortfalls or weaknesses it was because of American hesitations and doubts. Throughout discussion he repeatedly returned to theme that USG support for him and his government had not been wholehearted, particularly since the Kuwait unity declaration of March 30, 1979.5 He also referred repeatedly to unfavorable articles about Yemen and him personally that have appeared in the American press, beginning with the stories of over a year ago predicting that he would not last six months, and continuing up to the January 17, 1980, article in the Washington Star (see Sana 523).6 Despite these attacks (which he obviously believes, despite our [Page 894] denials, were inspired by the USG), the YAR has not responded with a similar campaign against the U.S. He also reiterated his familiar theme that YAR wants a direct bilateral relationship with the U.S. He referred in this regard to his letter to President Carter, which was hand carried to the U.S. last spring by Abdullah Asnaj.7 He mentioned pointedly that he had sent this letter prior to making the Soviet arms deal. He noted that when he acquired Soviet arms they did not arrive via the PDRY. When I pressed for his suggestions on what we could do to strengthen our bilateral relations, he referred in vague terms to need for U.S. military personnel to train Yemenis on M–60 tanks, now that Jordanians are leaving. He had no other suggestions.

6. Soviet influence. Salih repeated several times during the conversation his earlier arguments that acquisition of Soviet arms did not mean that Soviets controlled YAR foreign policy. He said that arms were simply hardware and that it was Yemenis who were operating them, that it was Soviet not American arms which had been used in fighting against PDRY. He had used them once to kill the Communists in the South and would not hesitate to do it again. He dismissed subject of Soviet technicians, saying that there had been 700 in the country eight years ago and the country had not gone Communist; therefore, the small number present today constituted no threat. The policy of the YAR has not been affected by source of arms, neither when he received U.S. equipment nor when he acquired Soviet arms.

7. Afghanistan. Referring to Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, I said USG was disappointed that YARG had abstained in UNGA vote. In our view, Soviet actions marked new step in Soviet foreign policy that constituted a potential threat to YARG and Salih personally. Initially Salih responded that YAR abstained because that was YAR policy. When I pressed for a reason why, Salih said that USG kept saying it wanted an independent YAR; YARG vote was an expression of his government’s independence. It did not always have to go along with the majority. At conclusion of brief discussion of this subject, Salih said YARG was opposed to Soviet invasion, but had not made public statement on this subject or voted against Soviets in UN for special reasons.

8. Unity talks. In response to my questions on progress being made in unity talks, Salih asked why I wanted to know, and said that it was not the business of the U.S. to concern itself with YARPDRY unity talks, or indeed YAR relations with any other country except U.S. I replied that unity was a question for the Yemen people themselves to [Page 895] decide, but we are naturally interested, given Soviet domination of PDRY and potential threat this presented both to YARG and to President Salih personally. After some bobbing and weaving, Salih said progress towards unity would depend largely on USG action. If USG was prepared to undertake direct military assistance program with YAR and provide the country with all the support and guarantees it needed, unity might be delayed a long time. If on the other hand, YARG could not count on USG backing, unity might come much sooner. Salih dismissed suggestions that unity with Communist dominated PDRY could pose any threat to Yemen independence, citing Yemen’s history as the “graveyard of the conquerer” and fact that there were only one-half million people in PDRY. He suggested confidently that YAR would swallow PDRY, not vice-versa.

9. Relations with the Saudis. I repeated Mr. Newsom’s remarks in para 8 reftel, saying that USG hoped for good relations between Yemen and Saudi Arabia. We wished to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in Yemen but this did not mean we could not also have a direct relationship. Salih interrupted to say that YAR relations with Saudi Arabia were excellent and USG should not repeat not believe false intelligence reports to the contrary. He had nothing more to say on this subject.

10. Comment: Salih was in a confident and aggressive mood. In contrast to previous meetings I have had with him he was sure of himself and less friendly. Several times during the conversation Salih stressed that good relations between any two countries was the Ambassador’s responsibility. I tried to explain that Embassy reported and made recommendations but there were many people in Washington who influenced policy. Salih persisted and told me not to believe false intelligence reports and street rumors but to keep in touch with senior YARG officials about YARG policies and plans.

11. Salih seemed to have no concerns whatsoever about greater reliance on Soviet weapons, closer relations with the NDF or unity with the PDRY, being confident that North Yemen’s numbers and its tradition of independence would triumph over the small number of Communists in the South. He said that he was still interested in expanding direct bilateral military relationship with the U.S. but had no specific suggestions to make. He gave the impression that he has given up hope of getting what he wants from the U.S., has made other plans, and doesn’t really care what we do at this point. I still think there is a chance that a specific offer by us to provide the kind of training, maintenance and logistical assistance Salih wants might pull him back from greater reliance on the Soviets but I am less certain of this today than I was before the meeting.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800039–0862. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Priority to Amman, Jidda, London, Muscat, and USLO Riyadh.
  2. See Document 293.
  3. See Document 293.
  4. Not found.
  5. See Document 281.
  6. In telegram 523 from Sana, January 22, the Embassy referenced a recent Washington Star article entitled “North Yemen Reported Easing Ties to Soviets,” noting: “In our view, this article is a disaster for U.S.–YAR and U.S.-Saudi relations and may have totally negated any possible positive results of Riyadh talks.” Lane concluded: “In short, this article has seriously damaged chances that we and/or Saudis can repair relations with Salih and convince him to reduce his dependence on Soviets.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800037–1057)
  7. The letter, which was not found, was presumably delivered by al-Asnaj during his June 1979 visit to Washington. See footnote 4, Document 291.