8. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Arab Emirates to the Department of State1

409. Subject: UAE Desire for Military Relationship With U.S. USCINCEUR for POLAD. Refs: (A) Abu Dhabi 0286,2 (B) Abu Dhabi 0408.3

1. In course of my February 12 meeting with Shaikh Sultan bin Zayid, new Commander in Chief, of UAE Defense Forces (reftels), he said moves toward unification of UAE armed forces had increased interest in UAE having real military relationship with U.S. He said UAE must take necessary steps to protect its wealth and assure stability. This required UAE to improve not only training but equipment of its armed forces so that it could provide a credible deterrent in the event of an external attack. To my question of where he felt the threat lay for UAE, Shaikh Sultan said that at moment, there is no immediate palpable external threat to UAE but situation could suddenly change.

2. After I had reviewed at some length the history of U.S. arms policy in lower Gulf and its constraints and U.S. belief that the UAE’s security can best be achieved through regional cooperation especially with its two large neighbors in the Gulf, Shaikh Sultan said UAE understood U.S. policy but did not believe it was logical. UAE security, just as for any other country, first depended on UAE itself. Iran and Saudi Arabia played an important role in the general security of region but UAE could not rely on Saudi Arabia and Iran forever. What would happen if there were a sudden change in either of these two countries? He thought UAE had two choices, either to have capability to defend its oil resources or to ask Saudis or Iranians to do it but in latter case, UAE could not maintain its independence and it would be back to where situation was when British were responsible for regional security.

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3. Warming to his point, Shaikh Sultan said that UAE does not want intermediate military relationship with us, “one that is restricted to M–16s.” While UAE has funds to purchase almost any kind of sophisticated weapons it wants from various sources, it would much prefer to have “a real military relationship with the U.S.” so that it knows where to look for its security and for development of its armed forces. He believed U.S. had real interests in Gulf and particularly in UAE, which has now become important source of energy for U.S. markets. UAE welcomed this and wanted to expand its relations in all fields. However, he felt U.S., while outwardly manifesting interest in security and stability of UAE, was in fact “selective.” If there are to be close relations between U.S. and UAE, it has to be close in all its aspects, neither side can pick and choose. If U.S. really interested in UAE security, then it should be willing to respond to requests which UAE believes are necessary for its defense.

4. My response was to point out where we had tried to be responsive, within the limits of our policy, in responding to felt UAE desires for cooperation in military field. A well disciplined and highly trained force could in many cases be just as effective as one with large amounts of sophisticated equipment. Given the small number of native Emirians, it seemed to me that UAE would want to improve quality of its native personnel rather than buy fancy equipment which could only be used by foreigners now in UAE armed forces. I also pointed out that thrust of U.S. administration to curb new arms sales abroad made it highly unlikely that UAE could expect any change in policy we had pursued in lower Gulf.

5. Shaikh Sultan indicated he hoped we could discuss issue again. He had raised matter to know where UAE stood so that government not stumble should matter be raised at higher levels in future. If UAE could not count on U.S. for help in protecting country’s patrimony, it would like to know so that it could look elsewhere.

6. Comment: Shaikh Sultan’s comments are a more expanded version of comments he and older brother Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayid conveyed to me last year (77 Abu Dhabi 7084 and 156).5 However, now that Sheikh Sultan has his new position, he speaks in much more authoritative terms and undoubtedly has done this to probe again [Page 24] USG attitudes. Bright and ambitious but still young and relatively inexperienced in managing a modern military institution, Shaikh Sultan is less likely than Chief of Staff General Khaldi to understand and accept gracefully the broad policy reasons why the U.S. has been unable to meet the requests for TOW and other sophisticated weapons. While UAE President Shaikh Zayid probably did not instruct him to discuss issue with me, Zayid will have to listen to what Shaikh Sultan (his second son) has to say and weigh how U.S. response to kind of open-ended military relationship that Sultan seems to desire will affect nature of growing U.S.–UAE relationship in other fields.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780067–0602. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information to Doha, Jidda, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Tehran, and USCINCEUR.
  2. In telegram 286 from Abu Dhabi, February 1, the Embassy described UAE plans to reorganize the country’s military. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780048–0314)
  3. In telegram 408 from Abu Dhabi, February 13, the Embassy reported on a conversation between Dickman and UAE Commander-in-Chief Brigadier Shaikh Sultan bin Zayid during which they discussed Zayid’s desire to amend or cancel the 1975 U.S.–UAE agreement governing foreign military sales. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780065–0871)
  4. In telegram 708 from Abu Dhabi, March 8, 1977, the Embassy reported on a conversation between Shaikh Sultan and Dickman during which they discussed U.S. lower Gulf arms policy and the sale of TOWs to the United Arab Emirates. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770079–0405)
  5. In telegram 156 from Abu Dhabi, January 13, 1977, the Embassy reported on Dickman’s conversation with Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayid during which they discussed the United Arab Emirates’ acquisition of TOWs. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770013–0255)