Britain and Saudi Arabia, 1969/1971

Willie Morris, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, to Michael Stewart, Foreign Secretary, ‘British policy towards Saudi Arabia’, 16 April 69 (National Archives, FCO 8 / 1181)

‘Valuable as this export market [ie Saudi Arabia] is, it is of less importance to us than Saudi Arabia’s role in the preservation of our wider politico-economic interests in the Middle East… King Feisal’s hostility to communism is as crude and obsessive as the anti-westernism in some other Arab states: but it is solidly based on a sound sense of where Saudi Arabian interests lie – which happens to be where our own lie. The Saudi stand gives encouragement to other Arab governments, and elements within other Arab countries, who wish to resist the extension of Soviet and other anti-western influences… A collapse of the Saudi regime, whether followed by the substitution of some form of revolutionary government or disintegration of the Saudi kingdom, could therefore cause damage far wider than to our commercial interests here. It would leave other non-revolutionary regimes – eg, Jordan, Libya and Kuwait – dangerously exposed… There would be a serious danger of the trouble spreading to other oil producing countries… From this.. it appears that our interests would be best served by: (a) the survival of the present regime for at least the next few years; (b) internal reform and some liberalisation to give it a better chance of survival, and to make external policies more effective and more appealing; (c ) some reinsurance for us against possible change; (d) the continuation of Saudi Arabia’s present general external policies and a more cooperative policy on the Gulf; (e) anything which improves our commercial opportunities in the Saudi market’.

Willie Morris, Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, ‘Saudi Arabia, 1971’, 28 April 71, (National Archives, FCO 8 / 1733)

‘Our narrow commercial interests are of lesser importance than the politico-strategico-economic interest to us of Saudi Arabia as a major supplier of oil to the West, owner of the largest reserves of any country outside the United States and a major factor in the stability of the whole Gulf oil-producing area. To a degree, the stability of Saudi Arabia and that of the Gulf states are interdependent. The Saud regime would be threatened by radical regimes in the Gulf states; the present regimes in these states could hardly be expected to survive a revolution in Saudi Arabia. Libya is a fearful example. We can hope that when change comes in Saudi Arabia, it will be less unpalatable and we can in a limited way reinsure against it by extending non-political contacts outside the regime and the surrounding establishment. But we should work on the assumption that, however unsatisfactory, this is the best regime in Saudi Arabia we have, or can count on getting. There is little or nothing we can do to improve it, so we must make the best of what it is. It is in our interests that it should survive for a few more years’.

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