Cairo, March 19, 1959, 2 p.m.
2695. Following is summary impression my just concluded visit to Yemen:1
Throughout visit we were treated with greatest hospitality and I found atmosphere more friendly than dining any of my previous visits in early 1950s while accredited from Jidda. Unexpected and unprecedented avoidance in all official conversations of “difficult” subjects such as border troubles with British and YDC 2 supports thesis this cordial atmosphere result calculated Yemeni policy.
Important element in improved climate was emergency famine assistance from US, which although still in initial stages, has already proved most effective move ever taken by USG toward better relations with Yemen. Appreciation expressed to me by individuals at all levels unmistakably genuine and the more noteworthy that gratitude is not typical Arab character trait.
Largely as result emergency aid, solid progress already achieved or appears attainable in several fields our endeavor in Yemen during past few years: Legation opened and resident has chargé, Ferguson, introduced not only with [garble] but with warm welcome from GOY; long outstanding offer US economic aid assistance adopted in principle; US oil firm, Sonj, invited make new offer in principle for concession areas it sought but failed obtain in past, while Imam evidently desires give Sonj offer inside track provided it roughly competitive; GOY has requested further emergency assistance in form 5000 tons wheat flour in addition original wheat program.
Concurrently better atmosphere has given Italians several opportunities improve their position and Imam actively encouraging establishment West German diplomatic and commercial representation Yemen. With regard Aden protectorate frontier, chronically most troubled foreign relations field, Imam has made conciliatory overtures and given indication peaceful intention despite formation Aden protectorate federation.
On reverse of coin must be remembered that US only just approaching starting wire, while Soviets and ChiComs have been in field over one year and have lead it will take time to narrow appreciably. In one important respect, effort strengthen Yemeni airlines so as prevent Soviet takeover, we definitely losing ground and situation more precarious than at any time during past two years. Also Crown Prince has been absent during period Imam’s most recent pro-west moves; while one might hope some of Nasser’s current animosity against Communists and Soviets may have rubbed off on Badr, it only prudent assume he will attempt disrupt pro-west trend upon his return Yemen. Protracted periods paralysis GOY authority resulting from Imam’s disability and eccentricity are further complicating factor.
Basic aims of Imam appear be prevent any outside power from usurping Yemen’s independence and strengthen internal position his wobbly regime. In pursuing this policy he is well seconded by his outstandingly able adviser Deputy Foreign Minister Al-Amri who, in addition, has pro-western sympathies. On other hand free-wheeling activities of Crown Prince, imperfectly curbed by Imam, have produced serious Sino-Soviet penetration of Yemen to which moderate elements could oppose little effective resistance so long as UAR, with which Yemen federated and to whose propaganda machine the Imam’s regime is vulnerable, remained at loggerheads with west. However, recent disillusionment of Nasser with Soviets and improvement his relations with US and West have tended free Imam’s hands to begin process re-establishing balance foreign forces in his own country. Meanwhile Consul Crawford’s patient, understanding and skillful work laid groundwork for furnishing, inform US emergency wheat offer, key which Imam eagerly seized in pursuit this goal, and which he has since used to open many doors for west. While new opportunities thus afforded are promising, the difficulties which will attend their exploitations should not be underestimated. Sino-Soviets enjoy entrenched position which they will undoubtedly use to frustrate western activities, abetted by CrownPrince. Ingrained attitude of suspicion toward foreigner, endemic in Arab world generally, assumes its most acute aspect in Yemen and will likely complicate negotiation detailed economic aid agreements to even greater extent than in case of famine aid agreement where urgent need provided stimulus for Yemenis to agree formally to minimum conditions; we must adopt understanding attitude toward wariness of Yemenis of all political complexions toward complex and detailed agreements in order assuage their apprehension of “conditional” aid. We may anticipate that both negotiation and implementation of aid projects will be attended by frustrations stemming from intermittent character of government authority, from present struggle for control of policy and from jockeying for succession to the Imamate. On other hand, there is undoubtedly in Yemen popular ground-swell of demand for economic progress and development. Country itself is at stage where modest effort can produce relatively large and palpable result, with its consequent effect on public imagination. This effort is worthwhile and has good chance of bearing fruit if task approached in patient and unostentatious spirit which has proved successful thus far.
Suggest situation one which would merit discussion with Italian, West German and British Governments. Italians are of course already interested but would do no harm give them a nudge. As regards West Germans we unaware their thinking but believe that, on basis their general experience and interest in area as whole, they should be able assist. As regards British, I believe greatest service we could render would be to strengthen what I gather to be position of British Foreign Office in effort take advantage of present relaxation of tension by instituting quiet discussion of border question as contrasted what appears to be tougher line of Colonial Office. In so recommending, I wish reiterate I have no illusions that millennium around corner and we should not delude either ourselves or our friends on that score. At best Yemen is dismal place these days and difficult foresee much real improvement without exertion governmental leadership which neither Imam nor Badr can supply and also until such time as windows thrown open to enable naturally gifted Yemeni people breathe pure air of educational opportunity. There are however short term gains to be made which can prevent bad situation degenerating further and hopefully pave way for long term advance. In this task believe USG must take lead but preferable if other western or even neutral countries, e.g., Yugoslavs who currently participating in Yemeni airlines, could lend hand, not, I hasten add, in form any grandiose plan which would be unrealistic in existing complexity and fluidity of Yemeni situation but rather in form of each making individual contributions in knowledge of efforts being made by others.