UAE-Saudi Arabia Border Dispute: The Case of the 1974 Treaty of Jeddah
Al Mazrouei, Noura Saber Mohammed Saeed
Date: 3 October 2013
University of Exeter
PhD in Arab and Islamic Studies
In 1974, after forty years of negotiations over the disputed sovereignty of the Al-Ain/Buraimi region, Zararah/Shaybah, and Khor al-Udaid, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE signed the Treaty of Jeddah, apparently ending the dispute. But the dispute was not settled as far at the UAE was concerned, owing to discrepancies between ...
In 1974, after forty years of negotiations over the disputed sovereignty of the Al-Ain/Buraimi region, Zararah/Shaybah, and Khor al-Udaid, the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE signed the Treaty of Jeddah, apparently ending the dispute. But the dispute was not settled as far at the UAE was concerned, owing to discrepancies between the oral agreement before the Treaty’s signing and the final text of the Treaty itself. The UAE government did not notice this discrepancy until 1975, likely due to the absence of lawyers, technicians, and geographers on its negotiation team. The UAE has attempted to bring Saudi Arabia back to the negotiating table ever since. In 2004, thirty years after the Treaty was signed, the UAE launched a public diplomatic campaign to persuade Saudi Arabia to revisit parts of the Treaty, especially the question of the Zararah/Shaybah oil and gas field. The public campaign has had a detrimental affect on UAE-Saudi relations and the border dispute remains unresolved to this day. This thesis seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the Treaty of Jeddah by examining the negotiations that led to its signing on 21 August 1974, focusing on the period of 1970-74, about which relatively little has been written. It explains the process of negotiations, the context in which they took place, the role and influence of Britain (as Abu Dhabi’s protecting power up to 1971), why Abu Dhabi signed a treaty it quickly came to regret, the resulting aftermath, and how the UAE might yet obtain the Treaty’s revision. This thesis argues that Britain, as Abu Dhabi’s protecting power, played different roles through the negotiation process, and that Britain did not always negotiate in Abu Dhabi’s interests –– particularly during the final years of British protection (1968-71), when it increasingly advised Abu Dhabi to compromise. It shows how Abu Dhabi’s position weakened substantially after the withdrawal of British protection in 1971, while Saudi Arabia’s position was strengthened considerably by the US government’s Twin Pillar policy. It argues that Saudi Arabia maintained an inflexible position during 1970-74, when it adopted a ‘controlled negotiating strategy’ with aggressive tactics (including the threat of military intervention) designed to force Abu Dhabi into a corner, giving it no choice but to sign the Treaty. This approach allowed for a ‘win-lose’ outcome only. Indeed, there were no ‘negotiations’ as such –– the huge differences in power between Saudi Arabia and the UAE enabled the former to more or less impose a settlement on the latter. Finally, this thesis argues that the UAE’s claim to Khor al-Udaid, which is the most visible aspect of the dispute since it can be clearly shown on maps, is not in fact the most important issue for the UAE –– it is the oil and gas sharing arrangements in for Zararah/Shaybah oil field, due to their huge economic implications.
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