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Foreign Relations of the United States, 1955–1957
Volume XVIII, Africa, Document 166


166. Memorandum of a Conversation, Tripoli, March 15, 195711. Source: Department of State, S/P–NSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, NSC 5614, 5614/1). Secret. No drafting information is given on the source text. Attached as Tab F to Document 19.

  • SUBJECT
  • Visit of Vice President Richard M. Nixon
  • PARTICIPANTS
  • Libyan:
  • His Excellency Mustafa Ben Halim, Prime Minister of Libya
  • Dr. Wahbi Al-Buri, Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Libya
  • American:
  • Vice President of the United States Richard M. Nixon
  • Ambassador John L. Tappin
  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Joseph Palmer 2nd

The Prime Minister welcomed the Vice President and said that he was delighted that it had been possible to arrange to include Libya in the Vice President’s tour of Africa. The Vice President said that he was most happy to be here and to have this opportunity to exchange views with the Prime Minister. He added that he was extremely disappointed that it had not been possible for him to get to Tobruk, as he had particularly wanted to pay his respect to and to talk with King Idris.

The conversation then ranged over the following subjects:

1. Libya’s Foreign Relations

The Prime Minister said that he was most happy about the close relationship which exists between Libya and the United States. He thought that a great future was opening up for Africa in general and Northern Africa in particular. He spoke with concern about developments in the Middle East and the current situation in Egypt and Syria and said that he saw very little hope for the future with respect to those two countries. He said that Libya’s foreign policy is predicated on the preservation of its independence. For this reason, he could not accept the leadership or domination of any other country. Cooperation among the Arab States, he emphasized, must be based upon the conception of “brotherhood”. Such a concept does not admit of the existence of leadership, a fact which Egypt has not accepted. The Prime Minister went on to say that it is unfortunate but true that Libya has not been able to trust Nasser’s word. He then reviewed the recent history of Egyptian-Libyan relations, including the activities of the Egyptian Military Attaché, the plot to assassinate Libyan Government leaders, the activities of the teachers, assassinate Libyan Government leaders, the activities of the teachers, propaganda, etc. He went on to say that there are other like-minded states in North Africa who see the problem of relationships among the Arab States in the same way as Libya, and he thought that the great hope for the future lies in their cooperation. He mentioned specifically Morocco, Tunisia, and the Sudan and foresaw the future existence of a bloc which would include these states and Algeria, Ethiopia and possibly Saudi Arabia as well. He spoke in the highest terms of Bourguiba and the Sultan of Morocco and of the benefits to North Africa, the West and the Middle East of cooperation among them. He thought that a bloc such as he had described would prove to be a great attraction to the Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

The Vice President asked the Prime Minister whether Colonel Nasser is still popular among the masses in the Middle East and North Africa. The Prime Minister replied that unfortunately this is the case. He said that Nasser plays strongly on the Israel question to arouse the emotions of the Arab people and that he turns this against the US and the West. He went on to say that he does not agree with the US Israeli policy, but that he sees no point in insulting the US in this respect. The Arabs have only three places to go! The first is a close relationship with the Soviet Union, which is repugnant to Arabs on political, religious and ideological grounds and therefore can never be accepted. The second course is neutrality, which is impractical for any small state in the world today. This brings him, he said, the only possible alternative—a close relationship with the U.S., which has shown itself dedicated to the principle of the independence of small nations. The Prime Minister made it clear that in his judgment a close relationship with the U.S. was the only course of action compatible with Arab dignity and independence. He said he had often said to his friends in the other Arab states, including the Egyptians, that the most hopeful means of changing U.S. policy with respect to Israel is to form a close relationship which will permit the Arabs to reason with and to influence the U.S. on this question.

2. Algeria

The Prime Minister said that the Algerian situation gave him great concern. He had recently talked to several of the FLN leaders who had told him that they were most fearful that the Communists would exploit the situation in Algeria, as they in fact are already attempting to do through the French Communist Party. The Prime Minister believed that there is a real danger that the prolongation of the struggle may facilitate the Communists’ seizing control of the Nationalist group in Algeria to the great detriment of North Africa and the West. He expressed the strong hope that the U.S. would find it possible to influence France in this situation in a way which would remove this cancer on the body of North Africa.

3. The American Doctrine

The Prime Minister said that he had read President Eisenhower’s statement five times and that he did not see how any Arab states could be opposed to the principles involved which seemed to him entirely compatible with Libyan foreign policy and the demands of the Middle East situation. He stated that he intends at the state dinner this evening to make a public statement to the effect that Libya welcomes the doctrine in principle22. During his remarks, Bin Halim stated that he was convinced that the doctrine was designed to preserve Libya’s independence in the face of any effort to undermine it. The text of his comments is ibid., NEA Files: Lot 57 D 616, Libya. and will discuss details with Ambassador Richards when he arrives here on March 17.33. See infra. The Prime Minister confessed to great disappointment at the communiqué which had resulted from the meeting of the four Arab leaders in Cairo on the occasion of King Saud’s return from the U.S. He said that when King Saud earlier visited King Idris, the Libyans had worked out a draft text of a communiqué in which both Libya and Saudi Arabia would give endorsement to the Eisenhower doctrine. This draft had been based on a formula which had been generally acceptable to King Saud but was watered down by a member of King Saud’s staff when reduced to writing. The Prime Minister went on to say that there was no question about Saud’s agreement with the doctrine. It was apparent, however, that when the King reached Cairo, he was unable to make his views prevail with the other three Arab leaders and therefore unfortunately compromised on equivocal language Which does not correspond to his true feelings. The Prime Minister said that this is a case in point where Arab solidarity on a basis of equality would have been salutary. Had all the Arab states been at this meeting instead of just four, there would have been an overwhelming sentiment for the Eisenhower Doctrine and Egypt and Syria, instead of Saudi Arabia, would have found themselves in a position of having to compromise for the sake of unity.

The Vice President said that he was most happy to hear of Libya’s endorsement of the principles of the Eisenhower Doctrine. He then went on to explain the philosophy which lay behind it. He said that he had observed in all the states he had visited in Africa a common determination on the part of those countries to maintain their independence and not to follow slavishly the lines of others through blocs, etc. He said that the Eisenhower Doctrine is intended to protect the independence of the states of the Middle East through the extension of security assurances and through the economic development of the countries concerned so as to enhance their capabilities to resist subversion. He stated that the U.S. is opposed to all forms of domination and, contrary to the impression the Communists endeavor to create, has no wish itself to dominate.

The Prime Minister said that he understood this. He thought the Eisenhower Doctrine is exactly what is required in the Middle East at the present time and he was happy to give his public endorsement to it this evening.

4. Foreign Aid

The Prime Minister expressed his gratitude for the assistance which the U.S. has extended to Libya, which has made a very great contribution to the development of the country. The Vice President asked which the Prime Minister felt had highest priority: military or economic development assistance. The Prime Minister replied that Libya needs to develop both aspects side-by-side. The building of an army is necessary to preserve Libya’s security and the strengthening of its economy is necessary to the creation of stability.

The Vice President asked whether the Prime Minister had any criticisms to make of the operation of U.S. programs. He said that he had noted a tendency elsewhere in the world to build up large staffs in capital cities which do not make the same contribution to the success of a program as do the technicians in the field. The Prime Minister replied that certain members of Parliament have been critical of the size of the USOM in Tripoli, but that he does not regard their criticisms as fair. He said that three years ago there had been many difficulties in connection with the administration of the Point IV44. This involved technical assistance under a program which began in 1949. projects but that great progress had since been made and he thought the situation now was good. Ambassador Tappin explained the workings of LAJAS55. Libyan-American Joint Services was established in 1955 to offer aid in the implementation of U.S.-financed projects. and LARC, emphasizing the cooperative nature of both organizations. He thought that while these instruments are far from perfect, they nevertheless are doing a good job. The Prime Minister expressed his agreement and added that the major difficulty with the Point IV projects appears to arise from lack of funds. Often plans are drawn up as the result of great effort but funds are not available to implement them. The Vice President spoke of the desirability of concentrating on a few projects, rather than scattering aid with the result that no one project is successfully completed. He thought that it is a great waste to have people tied down in a capital drawing up plans which have no immediate prospect of realization. It would be much better to concentrate on a few projects which can be brought to completion.

5. Communism

The Prime Minister said that he thought that North Africa at the present time is comparatively free of Communist influence and could, with continued progress, remain that way. He reiterated that his greatest fear in this respect arises from the danger of Communist penetration in Algeria. The Prime Minister then went on to emphasize his strong opposition to Communism. He spoke of the expanded Soviet Embassy staff in Tripoli, and said that the Government of Libya had recently requested the Soviets to reduce the size of their mission.

6. North African University

Mr. Palmer referred to a brief comment which the Prime Minister had made earlier about Libya’s desire to build up its National University. He inquired whether Libya and the other North African states had given any thought to the possibility of pooling their resources to build a common university in North Africa which would serve the needs of all of them and which would, perhaps, enable them to build a more effective institution than their individual resources would permit. The Prime Minister said he had several discussions with Dr. Jamali66. Mohamed Fadhil Jamali, former Iraqi Prime Minister and U.N. Representative. of Iraq about this. Dr. Jamali had told him that he had talked to the Department of State about it and had urged the Department to try to find a means of establishing an American University somewhere in North Africa. The Prime Minister said that he thought this is an excellent idea and one which he hoped the U.S. could assist with. He did not think it made any great difference where the university was established—whether in Tripoli, Tunis, or Morocco. He felt that the U.S. would derive great benefit from initiating such a project under American auspices. Although this might cause criticism in some quarters, it would be generally welcomed.

The Vice President said he thought the idea of a North African University had great merit. He suggested the possibility of combining under one university administration a number of separate institutions in various North African centers in a manner analogous to the system at the University of California. Thus Tripoli might have a medical or an engineering school, Tunis an agricultural school, etc.

At a subsequent occasion after the Prime Minister’s luncheon for the Vice President, the following items were touched upon:

1. Oil Development

The Prime Minister explained the hopes that he had for oil discovery in Libya, mentioning the promising strikes the French had made next door in Algeria. He said, in this connection, that the best route for a pipeline from the Algerian fields would appear to be through Tripoli. He added that he is very pleased with the large number of reputable American companies which are engaged in exploration activities in Libya and he ascribed this fact to the forward-looking oil legislation which Libya has enacted.

2. Private Enterprise

The Vice President said that he had noted in almost all countries he had visited in Africa that there is a growing awareness of the desirability of creating an atmosphere conducive to the attraction of private enterprise. He thought that this is a most encouraging development, since this is the greatest available source of capital for economic improvement. If countries can develop legislation which will at the same time embrace protection for themselves and extend assurances against arbitrary actions, they could benefit greatly from increased private investments. The Prime Minister expressed himself as being in entire agreement and said that Libya had already put legislation in effect which he thought would serve this purpose.

1 Source: Department of State, S/P–NSC Files: Lot 62 D 1, North Africa (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, NSC 5614, 5614/1). Secret. No drafting information is given on the source text. Attached as Tab F to Document 19.

2 During his remarks, Bin Halim stated that he was convinced that the doctrine was designed to preserve Libya’s independence in the face of any effort to undermine it. The text of his comments is ibid., NEA Files: Lot 57 D 616, Libya.

3 See infra.

4 This involved technical assistance under a program which began in 1949.

5 Libyan-American Joint Services was established in 1955 to offer aid in the implementation of U.S.-financed projects.

6 Mohamed Fadhil Jamali, former Iraqi Prime Minister and U.N. Representative.