60. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Minister Zawawi, Oman Minister of State for Foreign Affairs


  • President Jimmy Carter
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Assistant Secretary Harold H. Saunders, Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, Department of State
  • Reginald Bartholomew, Director, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Department of State
  • Gary Sick, NSC Staff
  • Minister Zawawi, Oman Minister of State for Foreign Affairs
  • Timothy Landon, Adviser to Sultan Qaboos
  • Omani Ambassador Sadek Sulaiman
  • General William Parris
  • Mr. Chester Nagle

During introductory pleasantries, the President and the Foreign Minister discussed the Foreign Minister’s recent visit to Georgia where [Page 209] he went quail hunting. As the meeting began Foreign Minister Zawawi presented the President with a letter from Sultan Qaboos.2

The President opened the meeting by expressing his deeply felt gratitude and strong feelings about the relationship developing between the U.S. and Oman. The President admired the courage exhibited by the Sultan in standing firm against the very serious Communist and Soviet threat to the region. The U.S. shares the concerns of Oman and looks forward to a close relationship. We appreciate the Omani decision to permit U.S. forces to use facilities in Oman.3 This will send a clear signal to Oman’s neighbors and the Soviets not to interfere in the internal affairs of the nations of the region. The geographical placement of Oman is of great strategic importance. The U.S. looks forward to working closely with Oman in its economic progress. The President thought there was a good opportunity for U.S. private business relations with Oman, and he specifically mentioned the possibility of EXIM Bank credits as a possible means of assisting Oman’s economic development.

Foreign Minister Zawawi said he wished to convey the Sultan’s best wishes. The Sultan is satisfied with the talks we have had so far about the cooperation between our two countries, which had discussed U.S. access to military facilities, and the advantages to the civil sector in Oman. He hoped that development of airports, ports and other facilities could be valuable for civil as well as military uses. The Sultan is also interested in security assurances from the President. The Sultan is outspoken in his response to the U.S. initiatives. He has recognized the Soviet threat for many years. The threat is not Communist, since Oman maintains good relations with China, Romania and others. It is not an ideological question. Rather, the intent is to safeguard the integrity and independence of Omani territory. So when the U.S. approach came, Oman was ready, and now Oman sees a new era of relations with the U.S. Oman would like to go slow in this process. The proper way is not to affect the traditions, culture and customs of the country. It must also be a two-way street. The U.S. has its requirements, and Oman has its own. We understand the strategic nature of the region and we wish to cooperate in the interests of Oman’s security. We are [Page 210] prepared to be outspoken in forming a relationship with the U.S., while our neighbors are reluctant to say openly what they may believe in private. These other states stress the liabilities of open cooperation with the U.S., but we do it, not them. We want to give you the ability to maintain a credible military capability, but we would like as little fanfare as possible. We would prefer as few discussions as possible with others in the area. The PDRY did not inform Oman when it accepted a close military relationship with the Soviets, so why should we inform them of the nature and scope of our relationship with the U.S.? The Sultan is frank and open in wishing to establish good relations with the U.S. I am here to confirm this and to stress the importance of economic assistance which Oman seeks from the U.S. The Sultan is presently on the campaign trail, visiting towns and villages throughout the country. He must be seen to show the extent of our cooperation and what is in it for the people. Internal stability is as important as external stability. We seek this assurance from you, and we would like a continuing response from the U.S. Our needs are modest. Unlike some others, when we presented our military needs, we were realistic about what we could absorb and did not ask for everything. At times, the lead time for delivery of military equipment is longer than we feel is necessary. For example, about a year ago we asked about the 175 mm. artillery gun. Now your Defense people say we have changed our requirement to the 155 mm. gun, but that change was made on the basis of the U.S. recommendation. We can purchase the Soviet 130 mm. from European sources at a much lower delivery time and at very competitive prices. We would like to see a quicker response to our minimum and modest needs.

The President asked if the Sultan covered these points in his letter.

Foreign Minister Zawawi said that he did not.

Mr. Bartholomew said we were checking on the 175 and 155 mm. guns.

Foreign Minister Zawawi interjected that the artillery was no longer an issue. He simply raised it as an example of the kinds of problems which can arise. “We know that when you want, you can respond. We would not want to wait two years . . .”

The President said to let him or Dr. Brzezinski know directly if something arises which needs attention.

Foreign Minister Zawawi said their most urgent requirement is for Sidewinder Missiles. They would like to see the early dispatch of these missiles, together with their launchers.

The President asked Mr. Bartholomew to let him know about that case.

Foreign Minister Zawawi asked the President if he would not like to read the Sultan’s letter.

[Page 211]

The President said he would, and opened the letter and read it. He said it was a very nice letter and he appreciated it. The President said there were two other items of evidence of the new closer relationship between us. One was the hospitable reception given to our military team during its visit to Oman. The other is the constructive attitude of Oman toward the Camp David negotiations, which he hoped and trusted would be successful. He asked what are Oman’s relations with South Yemen.

Foreign Minister Zawawi said Oman had received overtures over the past 6 months to normalize relations, using Kuwait as an intermediary. Oman saw this gesture merely as a tactic, but they were willing to go along. They asked the Kuwaitis to set a date and they would be willing to meet with the South Yemenis. Thus far no satisfactory date had been found, due to no lack of interest by them or reluctance on the part of Oman. The PDRY had raised some points, which were not conditions to a meeting, that Oman should have discussions with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman. This used to be called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman and the Arabian Gulf, but now it has been cut down to size. Oman no longer sees the PFLO as a threat, but it is unacceptable for Oman as a sovereign nation to meet with an organization dedicated to its overthrow. The PDRY has also asked Oman to pay compensation for damages incurred during the struggle over Dhofar. Oman has replied that if there were some damages, Oman had not started that conflict and whatever damages had occurred were deserved. The Foreign Minister had personally passed that message along to the Yemenis. He told them that if they wish to normalize relations, they must show some gesture of cooperation and denounce the activities of the PFLO. So a dialogue is going on, but this is merely a tactic on their part and is temporary until they achieve their goal of unity with North Yemen under South Yemen domination. Oman’s relations with Saudi Arabia are good. The Saudis are supportive except from time to time when they offer some suggestions about Camp David, but that is only in passing.

The President said that the Saudis make some suggestions to us on the same subject—and not just in passing. He asked the Foreign Minister whether he had personally gone to China to establish diplomatic relations.

Foreign Minister Zawawi said that he had, in 1978. He thought it had worked well. At the President’s request, he then reviewed his relations with his Gulf neighbors. With Iraq, Oman has normal diplomatic relations, though they do not see eye to eye on several issues. Oman welcomed the Iraqi condemnation of the USSR for its invasion of Afghanistan. The recent Iraqi proposal opposing any foreign invasions in the region was probably a ploy or an attempt to focus attention [Page 212] on the future cooperation between our two countries. There was some prospect that Iraq and Saudi Arabia would get closer together. Kuwait is an unusual case since they tend to be the socialists or liberals in the group of governments in the Persian Gulf, but relations are normal. Oman gets on well with Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE. They have been working on an agreement demarcating the border with the UAE, and it has taken quite a while. On Iran, he was aware that most of the Iranian diplomats have problems communicating with their Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He had met with some of them in Islamabad who were old hands there of five or six years before. These diplomats talk of a new phase of Iranian history starting now to build at the roots, with the people. It was his view that this process will take some time to reestablish any stability in the country. The Foreign Minister had not personally met with Ghotbzadeh or Bani-Sadr.

The President said that he would like to see the Iranian situation resolved, with the release of the hostages. He wondered about Oman’s relations with Egypt.

Foreign Minister Zawawi said their relations were good.

The President said that he viewed this time as an exciting new phase of our relations with Oman. He hoped the Sultan would be able to visit.

Foreign Minister Zawawi said they had been considering a visit in December, but now they thought that a visit next February or March would be more appropriate—and the Sultan specifically hoped to meet with President Carter at that time.

The President said that the Sultan’s letter indicated his hopes in that regard. He said he was pleased to see General Parris here since he had been the head of the Georgia National Guard when the President was Governor of the state.

Foreign Minister Zawawi said that Oman wanted to have some friends. When he was in Georgia, he had seen some farms and some remarkable sprinkler systems. He hoped that the U.S. would be able to assist Oman in this area. He thought that the Corps of Engineers could be helpful in planning dams, and there was much that could be done in agriculture. This kind of effort would make it credible for the Sultan to go ahead with the relationship with the U.S. in future long-term cooperation.

The President said that Secretary Vance had outlined for the Foreign Minister the budgetary problems which we are now experiencing. The President will instruct Secretary Vance to work in the closest possible way in the area of economic development of Oman, including direct aid, EXIM Bank financing, private business investment, the Corps of Engineers, and technical assistance. Again he welcomed Foreign Minister Zawawi to the United States and said he looked forward to the [Page 213] Sultan’s visit and to the long term close cooperation between our two countries.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 38, Memcons: President, 3–4/80. Confidential. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. In his February 18 letter to Carter, Qaboos commented: “we trust that the United States will consider adopting a more energetic policy in our Area and Globally, with the aim of pre-empting further Soviet attempts at subversion or aggression.” He continued: “We must say that we feel the Western World has for the past few years been complacent in the face of the massive Soviet psychological and subversive effort. We very much hope that you and your Allies in the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe will be prepared to combat the Soviet threat, not only in the short-term but also in the long-term.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800057–1182)
  3. See Document 53.