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[casi] If Arabs Mistrust America, There's Good Reason


Published on Thursday, December 19, 2002 by the
International Herald Tribune

If Arabs Mistrust America, There's Good Reason
by Raymond Close

WASHINGTON -- People who don't know the Middle East
sometimes wonder why Arabs mistrust the United States.
Perhaps an old story - from another time when people
were worried about war and oil prices - will explain
some of what motivates the Arabs now.

In January 1974, President Richard Nixon's back was to
the wall. Watergate was only the most prominent of his
troubles. The continuation of the OPEC oil embargo,
and the economic consequences of that situation, were
a major frustration and embarrassment. Nixon and
Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were looking
impotent before the world and before the American

In late December 1973, there had been a meeting of
Arab oil ministers in Kuwait at which they had reached
a decision that lifting of the oil embargo should be
accomplished in stages directly linked to commensurate
steps toward "full implementation of United Nations
Security Council Resolution 242," which called for
Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian lands in exchange
for full Arab acceptance of Israel.

Kissinger was furious, seeing this as another instance
of intolerable Arab "blackmail." A month of nasty
bickering ensued, with Kissinger growing increasingly

Despite efforts by all the Arab leaders to find a
compromise solution that would placate Kissinger, the
Saudis, Egyptians and Kuwaitis remained in agreement
on one crucial point of principle: No linkage to
Resolution 242 meant no lifting of the embargo. The
U.S. president had repeatedly promised full
implementation of the resolution, and his secretary of
state should be expected to honor that commitment.

On Jan. 25, Nixon sent another in a series of personal
letters to King Faisal, in which he made this crucial
statement: "In earlier messages to Your Majesty I have
said that events have proven the wisdom of your
counsel over the years. My Government is now embarked
upon and committed to a course of action that can, I
am convinced, bring a just and durable peace to the
Middle East. The first fruits of that commitment are
reflected in the agreement on the disengagement of
forces signed last Friday, under which Israel forces
will withdraw into Sinai as a first step toward a
final settlement in accordance with Security Council
Resolutions 338 and 242."

On Jan. 28, as the CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia,
I received an urgent privacy-channel message from
Kissinger explaining in confidence that Nixon was
becoming desperate. Would it be possible, Kissinger
asked with extravagant politesse, to obtain King
Faisal's permission for the president to announce to
the American people in his State of the Union address
two days later that the oil embargo would soon be

I met that night with two of King Faisal's sons, Saud,
now foreign minister, and Turki, newly appointed
ambassador to Britain. After lengthy consultation with
their father, they agreed that I could convey King
Faisal's approval on two conditions.

First, Nixon would be welcome to announce in his
speech that he had received assurances from "friendly
leaders" in the Middle East that an urgent meeting
would be called to discuss lifting of the embargo.

Second, the president's announcement should include
unequivocal linkage to full implementation of a Middle
East peace settlement based on Resolution 242. The
explicit enjoinder conveyed by King Faisal was that
Nixon should employ in his State of the Union speech
precisely the same phraseology that he had used in his
personal letter to Faisal just three days before: that
the recent disengagement in Sinai was only the "first
step" toward full implementation of resolutions 242
and 338.

I conveyed the Saudis' insistence that the key words
"first step" be included in the speech. This specific
prearranged signal would confirm and validate the
public commitment of the president of the United
States to follow through on his repeated private
promises to King Faisal to put the full energies of
the U.S. government behind the achievement of a just
and lasting peace for the Palestinians.

I clearly recall an observation made that evening by
Prince Turki, a young man of 27 at the time. He
remarked that by asking the U.S. president to employ
the same words that he himself had just written in a
personal letter to a fellow head of state, we could be
confident that no one, not even Henry Kissinger, would
dare to portray the request as an unreasonable
"demand" on the part of the Saudi king.

Two days later, Nixon declared the following before a
joint session of Congress: "Let me begin by reporting
a new development which I know will be welcome news to
every American. As you know, we have committed
ourselves to an active role in helping to achieve a
just and durable peace in the Middle East, on the
basis of full implementation of Security Council
resolutions 242 and 338. The first step in the process
is the disengagement of Egyptian and Israeli forces
which is now taking place."

"Because of this hopeful development," Nixon
continued, "I can announce tonight that I have been
assured, through my personal contacts with friendly
leaders in the Middle Eastern area, that an urgent
meeting will be called in the immediate future to
discuss the lifting of the oil embargo. This is an
encouraging sign. However, it should be clearly
understood by our friends in the Middle East that the
United States will not be coerced on this issue."

It seemed that Nixon, with Kissinger at his elbow,
could not bring himself to honor the true spirit of
the agreement. That last sentence, containing a veiled
but unmistakable threat, probably reflected the
resentment that Kissinger felt at having been
outmaneuvered. Certainly in Arab eyes, Nixon's choice
of those words seemed to deprive the statement of
sincerity and credibility. After all, this tough talk
was coming from a frightened and insecure man who had
been begging King Faisal for help just 48 hours

The writer, a CIA officer for 26 years, was the
agency's chief of station in Saudi Arabia from 1970 to
1977. He contributed this comment to the International
Herald Tribune.

Copyright  2002 the International Herald Tribune

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