5. Action Memorandum From the Acting Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Bartholomew) and the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton) to Secretary of State Vance 1

Circular 175 Procedure:—Request for Authority to Negotiate and Conclude an Executive Agreement with the Government of Bahrain regarding the Termination of the Homeporting Arrangement for Middle East Force, and the Retention of Administrative and Logistic Facilities to Support the Middle East Force Command Afloat


In 1975, the Government of Bahrain gave us notice that it wished to have the U.S. Navy’s Middle East Force withdraw from Bahrain by [Page 13] June 30, 1977.2 Recently the Bahraini Government formally decided that it would consider an arrangement with the following features: a) the current stationing agreement would be terminated; b) homeporting in Bahrain for the Middle East Force Command and flagship would cease; c) Middle East Force Command would have no ostensible connection with Bahrain other than as a periodic visitor; d) Bahrain would permit Commander Middle East Force and his flagship to visit Bahrain for at least 4 months per year (in-port time); and e) the US would be permitted to retain logistic support facilities in Bahrain manned by Department of Defense personnel.

Department of Defense has indicated that an arrangement along these lines would be feasible, provided in-port time for the flagship in Bahrain and other Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean countries could total at least 6 months, per year with a requisite number of two-week visits for maintenance purposes. Queries to Embassies in the area indicate that this criterion could probably be met through regular ship visits to other ports.

The Government of Bahrain’s desires regarding compensation are unclear and are likely to remain so until negotiations begin. We now pay $4 million in annual rent, which we hope to reduce. The Bahrainis have in the past suggested concessional arms assistance; we intend to keep arms supply questions separate from these negotiations and to hold the line at non-concessional sales within our limited Persian Gulf arms transfer guidelines.


The U.S. Navy’s Middle East Force has for over a quarter century operated in the Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean and used support facilities at Bahrain, originally under informal arrangements with the UK, and since Bahrain’s independence in 1971 under an Executive Agreement.3 The agreement provides the US Navy access to Bahrain and incorporates customary status of forces privileges and rights for US Department of Defense personnel. At present, the Command consists of a Rear Admiral, with a staff of 64, a flagship (auxiliary command ship) with a complement of 387, and a shore-based support group of 82, all stationed or homeported in Bahrain, in addition to two Atlantic Fleet destroyers under the Force’s command during their rotational assignments to the area. The primary mission of Middle East Force is to [Page 14] evidence U.S. Government interest in the stability of the region by making goodwill visits to friendly ports.

During the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Government of Bahrain invoked the one-year termination clause of the 1971 Executive Agreement, but as US-Arab relations improved, we were able to negotiate the continuation of the Middle East Force presence by meeting certain Bahraini concerns about exercise of criminal jurisdiction over U.S. Navy personnel and by increasing the rent for the Middle East Force facilities from $600,000 to $4 million per year.

In August 1975, bowing to pressure at home and in the region against providing military facilities to a major power, the Government of Bahrain notified us it wished to have the U.S. Navy withdraw from Bahrain by June 30 of this year.4 Since June 1976, however, there have been discussions, initiated by the Government of Bahrain, to seek a way in which Middle East Force might continue to use facilities in Bahrain. The Bahrainis indicated a need to have other states in the region share the political burden of support for the regional U.S. Navy presence.

The Government of Bahrain has now formally decided to consider an arrangement which would permit the U.S. to retain its logistic support facilities manned by 75 Department of Defense personnel and would allow Commander Middle East Force and his flagship to visit Bahrain at least 4 months per year, provided the 1971 agreement were terminated, Bahrain ceased to be homeport for the Command and flagship, and the Middle East Force Command had no ostensible connection with Bahrain other than as periodic visitor.

The Department of Defense has indicated it could maintain the Middle East Force presence in the area on this basis, provided that the flagship has access to at least six months in-port time in Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean countries, with at least four of those months in Bahrain, and with a requisite number of two-week visits for maintenance purposes. On the basis of the Department’s queries to certain of our Embassies in Indian Ocean countries,5 it is our assessment that sufficient in-port time for the flagship can be arranged in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kenya which, along with the time assured in Bahrain, would meet Department of Defense requirements. (We may possibly also be able to obtain some in-port time in Pakistan, should our relationship permit.)

[Page 15]

As soon as we are reasonably assured of a workable arrangement in Bahrain, we propose to approach other Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean governments about providing additional in-port time for the MIDEASTFOR Flagship. We are fairly confident that such friendly states as Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Kenya (and possibly Pakistan) would not seek specific compensation for permitting the MIDEASTFOR Flagship to conduct visits of somewhat greater frequency or duration than in the past.

Since last June, the Government of Bahrain has periodically suggested that some form of increased security assistance relationship with the US would be one of the conditions for its continuing to provide support for the Middle East Force. In keeping with our Lower Gulf arms policy, we have discouraged informal Bahraini feelers in the last few years about supplying such weapons at TOW, HAWK and REDEYE, but on the basis of surveys in 1972 and 1976 we have recommended that Bahrain acquire a small number of coastal patrol boats and 10 helicopters. We have provided a limited amount of training for Bahraini officers in the U.S.

Throughout the latter part of 1976, the Bahraini Prime Minister urged that future US/Bahraini Security Assistance arrangements involve concessional U.S. funding for arms purchases, while the Crown Prince/Defense Minister expressed interest in purchasing F–5 aircraft and missile-armed naval patrol craft. In December 1976, a Department of Defense survey team concluded a visit to Bahrain to take a comprehensive look at Bahrain’s defense requirements. Its recommendations are currently under review in the Departments of State and Defense prior to release to the Government of Bahrain. In recent discussions of possible new arrangements for support of the U.S. Navy in Bahrain, the Bahraini Foreign Minister has refrained from raising with our Ambassador the question of future security assistance, but this issue could arise again as formal negotiations with the Government of Bahrain proceed.

The recommendations on military equipment, (helicopters, Vulcan anti-aircraft guns and lightly armed patrol craft) which we anticipate making to the GOB will be well within the parameters of the restrictive policy we have maintained for sale of military equipment to Lower Gulf countries since their independence and should be fully in accord with the thrust of the present world-wide review of arms transfer policy. Our Ambassador anticipates that these recommendations will meet with general approval within the GOB. While certain Bahraini leaders may wish to consider our willingness to provide such equipment as a condition for the U.S. Navy’s continued use of facilities, we will insist that arms supply questions are outside the scope of these negotiations. We can with accuracy maintain that we are prepared to [Page 16] sell to Bahrain only equipment that would be justifiable on policy grounds without reference to the future status of the U.S. Navy there.

U.S. Negotiating Approach

Since the feasibility of maintaining an afloat Middle East Force Command depends on in-port time in the area for the command and flagship totalling at least six months per year, our strategy will be to commence negotiations with the Government of Bahrain for access and support facilities and—as soon as the course of negotiations gives reasonable assurance of an agreement with Bahrain—to approach other regional governments including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and possibly Pakistan, to ensure reasonably that the required additional in-port time is obtainable.

With the Government of Bahrain, we will: a) agree to terminate the Executive Agreement of 1971; b) seek written assurances that the Middle East Force Command and flagship will be allowed at least four months in-port time per year; c) seek authorization to retain a logistic and administrative staff (reduced from the present 82 to 75, with accompanying dependents) and facilities, including facilities for the MIDEASTFOR flag aircraft and its crew, in Bahrain; d) seek to continue the status of forces provisions of the Executive Agreement of 1971 for any Department of Defense personnel residing in or visiting Bahrain. We plan to propose the exchange of notes at Tab 2;6 further details of the arrangement would be contained in a lease.

Regarding compensation, we will seek to reduce the annual rent payment from the present $4 million. If necessary, we could fall back to the current $4 million figure, in recognition of inflationary pressures and the value of the Bahraini facilities to maintenance of the afloat Middle East Force.

If the Bahrainis request military equipment as a condition for continued facilities for MIDEASTFOR, we will insist on handling this request as a separate aspect of our relationship. We would handle such requests on the basis of the existing Lower Gulf arms policy and in keeping with the present worldwide policy review on transfer of military equipment and training.

Legal Considerations

The U.S. negotiating objectives can be achieved in agreements which can lawfully be concluded as Executive Agreements, although the payment of rent for the use of facilities will have to be made subject to the appropriation of funds by Congress.

[Page 17]

A Memorandum of Law analyzing the relevant legal issues is at Tab 1.7

Congressional and Public Considerations

The proposed new agreement relates to a continuation of a currently existing U.S. presence under a changed format. No new U.S. facilities are contemplated. However, raising with Congress the administrative support arrangements for Middle East Force in Bahrain may well lead to questions concerning the general value of keeping this U.S. presence in the area. We believe that our case will be sufficiently strong and reasonable that, if necessary, it can be made public and successfully defended. It would, however, be inappropriate to invite public interest groups or other public comment, since the Bahrainis would be uneasy with any publicity about these arrangements. We can anticipate media interest which should be handled in close coordination with Bahrain.

We do need to consult with the Congress on the new arrangements, including any rent or other fees which the Department of Defense must pay in Bahrain for facilities. We do not anticipate serious Congressional opposition to the proposed new arrangements. However, there will be Congressional interest in the number of Department of Defense personnel remaining in Bahrain, or visiting there, and in the retention of status of forces privileges for them.

We can anticipate significant Congressional concern about any appreciable military supply commitments we make with Bahrain, particularly if Congress perceives them as linked to facilities to support MIDEASTFOR.

Once concluded, the agreement would be transmitted to Congress in accordance with 1 U.S.C. 112b (The Case Act).8

Indian Ocean Arms Control

As we progress toward USUSSR discussions on arms limitations in the Indian Ocean, our negotiating position will be best served by maintaining our force presence in the area—including Middle East Force—at a steady level. Continuance of Middle East Force as an afloat command would not limit our flexibility in these discussions since: a) agreement on actual limitations is likely to be a lengthy process; b) review and adjustment of Middle East Force is always possible; c) Soviet interest is focussed on Diego Garcia, rather than on deployments.

[Page 18]


1. That you authorize our Ambassador in Bahrain to enter into negotiations with the Government of Bahrain looking toward an agreement regarding access and support facilities in Bahrain for Middle East Force Command and flagship.

2. That you authorize an approach to other governments of the Persian Gulf/Indian Ocean area as appropriate, to arrange the required additional in-port time for Middle East Force Command and flagship.

3. That you authorize the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, with the concurrence of PM, L, DOD and other concerned offices and agencies, to approve the wording of the above draft agreement with the Government of Bahrain.

4. That you authorize our Ambassador in Bahrain to sign the above agreement with the Government of Bahrain.9

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Program Files for Oman, 1974–1989; UAE, 1989; Political Relations, 1969–1989, Lot 91D491, Box 6, Def–15—MidEastfor 1977. Secret. Sent through Habib. Drafted by George Churchill (PM/ISO) and Twinam on April 28; cleared in DOD/ISA/FMRA and by James Rohwer (L/PM), William Lewis (AF/I), and Robert Flaten (H). Churchill initialed for all clearing officials. A handwritten notation in the upper right-hand margin of the first page reads: “Approved by P—‘not necessary to go to S’ 5/4/77.”
  2. In telegram 859 from Manama, July 26, 1975, Twinam described the meetings he had conducted with the Bahraini Foreign Minister. He noted the Government of Bahrain’s desire that the Middle East Force leave Bahrain by mid-1977. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750258–0511)
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. XXIV, Middle East Region and Arabian Peninsula, 1969–1972; Jordan, September 1970, Document 113.
  4. The Bahraini Government’s letter of notification was handed to Ambassador Twinam in a meeting with the Foreign Minister on August 12, 1975. (Telegram 948 from Manama, August 12, 1975; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D750278–0587)
  5. See footnote 2, Document 2.
  6. Attached but not printed at Tab 2 is the text of the draft notes.
  7. Attached but not printed at Tab 1 is the April 28 Memorandum of Law.
  8. Reference is to the section of Title 1 of the United States Code governing the transmission of international agreements for congressional approval.
  9. Habib approved all four recommendations on May 3.