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Persian Gulf (Secretary Of State's Visit)

Volume 892: debated on Tuesday 13 May 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Defence if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the Gulf area.

I visited Saudi Arabia and Oman. In Saudi Arabia I was received by King Khalid and had talks with him and leading members of the Government. In Oman I visited British troops in the Dhofar region and had talks with Sultan Qaboos and the Deputy Minister of Defence.

Was there any discussion of the future use of Masirah or other bases in that area by the Americans? Did my right hon. Friend gain any impression of the attitude of the local people towards increased American involvement, particularly after Dr. Kissinger's statement earlier this year about the conditions in which the United States would use force in the case of an oil embargo? Would such involvement still be welcome?

My hon. Friend refers to Masirah, and not to my talks with Sultan Qaboos of Oman. Those talks were confidential, but I can say that the question of Masirah was not raised, neither have we had any detailed representations from the Americans for the use of Masirah.

Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to clarify the statement he is reported to have made during his visit to the Gulf to the effect that in the foreseeable future British forces might be withdrawn from Oman? Is that withdrawal foreseen because of the imminent defeat of the Dhofar Marxist rebels or because he cannot appreciate the possibility of defeat by his own Left-wing rebels?

If the hon. Gentleman reads the defence review statement, he will see that we have no intention of withdrawing our forces in present circumstances. That still stands. Secondly, the Sultan's armed forces, with assistance from Her Majesty's Government and the Jordanians and Iranians, are having success and are driving the rebels back to the South Yemen frontier. They are professional and trained rebels from Communist sources crossing into the Dhofar province from the Yemen. Gradually, as we succeed and Omanisation takes place, our forces can be lessened in numbers.