Our attention has recently been focused on the future of Wheelus Air Base
by 1) the resolutions at the Addis Ababa conference; 2) the organization
of a Libyan Air Force; and 3) Libyan requests for additional aid.
Criticism in the Libyan press and on the floor of the Libyan Parliament
of the presence of a foreign base on Libyan soil, while not new, has
recently become more pointed as a result of the resolution, adopted by
the African summit conference at Addis Ababa in June, that African
states should negotiate the elimination of military bases from their
The relatively new and more “nationalist” government of Prime Minister
Fekini has shown itself sensitive on this subject, and has avoided
denying forthrightly and publicly that it contemplates measures to
eliminate the Wheelus Air Base. During discussion of a possible joint
statement on the recently-expanded U.S. military assistance program,
including the allocation of a part of Wheelus Base for the use of the
new Libyan Air Force, Fekini attempted to introduce language suggesting
that this action was preparatory to the take-over of the entire base by
the Libyans. As demonstrated by the good-will trip he has just concluded
to the Maghreb states, and by his recent public remarks on Palestine,
the Prime Minister desires to associate Libya more closely with the
mainstream of African and Arab unity movements.
We see no indication, however, that the basic Libyan policy of respecting
the Wheelus Air Base Agreement (which expires in December, 1970) has
been altered; indeed, a high Foreign Ministry official has assured our
Embassy that such is not the case. However, under arrangements made with
the Libyans in 1960, the $10,000,000 annual “rent” payment for the base
is reduced to $1,000,000 at the end of CY 1964. We interpret recent,
unfocused, requests for U.S. economic aid by Fekini and certain of his
ministers as an effort to establish a favorable bargaining position for
discussions on the future quid pro quo for the Base in anticipation of
this reduction. As Libyan oil revenues grow, the economic justification
declines, but the political pressures for such payment will remain.
The assignment to the Royal Libyan Air Force of facilities at Wheelus
gives Libya a stake in the Base which we anticipate will be a moderating
factor in Libyan attitudes toward the future presence of Wheelus.
King Idris retains ultimate control over Libyan policy, and the cabinet
could take no fundamental action affecting the Wheelus Base without the
King's approval. We have instructed our Ambassador in Libya to endeavor
to establish such relations with King Idris as will ensure the
preservation of our strategic and other interests in Libya. (Attached.)
We anticipate ultimately extended negotiations on the future of Wheelus,
but do not feel the time for such discussions has yet come.
The Wheelus Base is used primarily as a very important all weather
training facility for U.S. Air Force, Europe. Insofar as we have
ascertained the views of the Armed Forces, we understand that the Base
will be required at least during the life of the present agreement,
i.e., through CY 1970.
Department of State, Central Files, DEF 15, LIBYA-US. Secret.
Drafted by Stookey on September 5. Attached to the source text is
telegram 262 to Benghazi, Document