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

2566. Subject: Unity and Subversion—the PDRY, the NDF, and the YAR.

1. (C-entire text)

2. Summary: The impetus towards unity between the YAR and the PDRY appears to have stalled. For a variety of reasons, the PDRY and the NDF, supported by the Soviets, are now concentrating on infiltrating the YAR and building up the country with the ultimate goal of taking over the country from within. The SAG and the USG have not organized an effective program to block this drive. Unless we do so soon, the continued growth of anti-Saudi and anti-U.S. feeling within the YAR and an eventual move to the left is inevitable. End summary.

3. The drive for unity between the PDRY and the YAR, which was kicked off a year ago at the Kuwait summit meeting between YAR [Page 901] President Ali Abdullah Salih and PDRY leader Abd Fatah Isma’el,2 has run out of steam. This has happened for a number of reasons: First, those in the YAR who are opposed to unity with the present PDRY Government and who were opposed to President Salih’s moves in this direction during the past year, have gained strength. Although they may not have convinced President Salih to give up the idea of unity entirely, they appear to have exerted enough pressure on him to halt the drive, at least temporarily. Second, the pressure for unity from the PDRY has eased. The so-called “Southerners” in the PDRY leadership, led by Defense Minister Ali Antar, who was never enthusiastic about unity in the first place, have gained more influence. One knowledgeable source says that this group is now talking about unity within five years. Even the “Northerners”, led by Abd Fatah Isma’el, are reported to be less enthusiastic about immediate unity than they were a year ago. We hear that this group is now talking about unity in one or two years. Although the unity committees continue to meet regularly and YAR Presidential Advisor for Unity Affairs, Hussayn Dafa’i, constantly shuttles between Sana and Aden, what we are witnessing is a reconciliation and rapprochement between two independent countries rather than a serious effort towards unity.

4. This definitely does not repeat not mean that the Marxists of the PDRY and their NDF allies have given up their plans to take over the YAR. As the prospects for meaningful unity have faded, the NDF has increased its efforts to deepen and widen its influence throughout the country. The NDF is now using not only assassination and intimidation but is also establishing quasi-government organizations in various parts of the country that have traditionally been outside of the authority of the YARG in Sana. As these organizations grow in strength and legitimacy, the people are increasingly turning to them to carry out the normal functions of government. The visits of NDF leaders and PDRY unity committees to Sana provide excellent opportunities for these men to keep in touch with their agents in the YAR.

5. At the same time, the Soviets are expanding their offers of assistance to the YARG. A steady stream of Soviet weapons of all kinds is now flowing into the country. We do not know exactly how many additional Soviet technicians have arrived, but the total number in country may well be about 300, up from 120 a year ago. At the same time, Yemeni military men are again being sent to the Soviet Union for training on these newly arrived weapons. In addition, the Soviets are pressing the YARG to accept their offer to train between 200 and 500 Yemeni students in the Soviet Union. The Yemenis have not sent [Page 902] any new civilian students to the Soviet Union for the past two years, but they may not be able to resist these new Soviet offers.

6. The U.S.-Saudi response to this Soviet/PDRY/NDF challenge has been weak, confused and ineffective. Since the delivery of large quantities of U.S. arms a year ago, our military assistance program has been plagued with difficulties—the full complement of F–5s did not arrive until September 1979, combat ammunition for the M–60s is still not in country, and the Jordanians, who were playing a key role in training the Yemen armed forces on U.S. origin equipment, have been gone for three months. Nor has our economic aid program been large enough, visible enough or effective enough to have a significant political impact. We have some good projects underway but others are bogged down. This is partly our fault, because of the incredible slowness of AID procedures, compounded by the four month drawdown of U.S. personnel between November 1979 and March 19803 and partly the Yemenis’ fault because of their bureaucratic inefficiency and lack of high level understanding and support.

7. During this period, Saudi-Yemeni relations, which have never been warm, disintegrated still further. The Saudis have been worried about Salih’s flirtation with the South in the unity talks, were furious that he lied to them about the Soviet arms deal, and have further exacerbated relations by taking a very tough position on the border incidents.4 Open hostility has been avoided because the YARG desperately needs Saudi money, but the distrust and suspicion between the two countries has grown. The overall result has been that for the past year the NDF and the Soviets have been gaining influence within the YAR while we and the Saudis have been losing.

8. The personality of President Salih has played an important role in this process. We have previously speculated on the question of Salih’s intentions—does he have a long run plan for unity, toward which he is working step-by-step, or is he simply lurching from crisis to crisis, doing whatever he thinks is necessary to stay in power? To a certain extent Salih is operating from a politics of fear; he is afraid that if he does not cooperate with the Soviets, the PDRY, and the NDF, they will remove him. On the other hand, he knows from his own involvement in the Hamdi assassination5 that if he pushes the Saudis [Page 903] too far, they may react violently. The Soviets, PDRY and NDF have probably promised to protect him against the latter threat but Salih may know that he cannot really trust them and that in any case the Saudis have a long arm in Yemen.

9. Conclusion: A year ago, the PDRY and the NDF, with Soviet acquiescence if not outright support, tried to bring down the YAR Government by a frontal assault across the border. They failed for a number of reasons—the PDRY and the NDF miscalculated the number of Yemenis who would rise against Salih the moment the attack began, they miscalculated the Iraqi-Syrian attitude, and the Soviets probably miscalculated the U.S. reaction. They have learned from their mistakes. This time they are patiently building support inside the country. The unity talks continue because neither side wants to take responsibility for breaking them off, but their main purpose as far as the PDRY and the NDF are concerned is to soften up the YAR for further NDF penetration. The Soviets are assisting this process by offering President Salih almost unlimited quantities of arms and by attempting to convince the YARG that they are the traditional friends of the Yemenis and can be counted on to assist the country’s development. The purpose of the Soviet arms deliveries is not to provide weapons for Salih to use against the PDRY or the NDF but to weaken as much as possible the joint Saudi-U.S. military assistance program. We and the Saudis have so far been ineffective in countering this strategy. In fact, the Saudis have actually contributed to the weakening of anti-Marxist forces in the YAR by their policy along the border. Unless we and the Saudis can come up with a substantial and effective program to counter growing Soviet/PDRY/NDF influence, the continued erosion of our position seems inevitable.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800186–0802. Confidential. Sent for information to Jidda, USLO Riyadh, the Department of Defense, and USCINCEUR Vaihingen.
  2. See Document 281.
  3. Reference is to the personnel drawdown that occurred in a number of. Embassies following the seizure of the Embassy in Tehran.
  4. Reference is to a reported incident on February 17 between Saudi and YAR military units along a disputed region along the border of the two nations. The Embassy reported on this clash in telegram 1355 from Sana, February 25, and telegram 2004 from Sana, March 19. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800101–1014 and D800139–0738, respectively)
  5. See Document 233.