Memorandum of Conversation, by the Principal Secretary to the United Nations Commissioner in Libya (Power)1

Memorandum of Conversation With the Emir of Cyrenaica at Benghazi, Libya, March 20th, 1950

Participants: His Highness the Emir of Cyrenaica
Mr. Pelt, United Nations Commissioner in Libya
Mr. Power, Principal Secretary
Mr. Mahmoud, Political Advisor

Subject: Discussion of Libyan problems including views of governments members of Advisory Council; establishment of Preparatory Committee for National Assembly; proposed declaration of Cyrenaican independence

Mr. Pelt called on His Highness at his palace at Lete by appointment for a conversation which lasted two and one-half hours.

Mr. Pelt indicated at the outset that he would like to give His. Highness a report on his trip to the capitals of members of his Advisory Council since he had last been in Benghazi and also would like to be informed regarding the Cyrenaican nominee for a post on his Advisory Council. The Emir indicated that he would be pleased to hear an account of Mr. Pelt’s trip.

Mr. Pelt’s Visit to European Capitals

Mr. Pelt said that in Cairo he had been assured by Foreign Minister Mohamed Saleh El Dine Bey that the Egyptian Government would fully cooperate in the implementation of the Assembly resolution on Libya. The Egyptian Government was opposed to the formation of separate governments in Libya. It had been stated that the Egyptian Government had no designs on Libya and that there were no outstanding questions or differences between the Egyptian and [Page 1613] Libyan peoples. Mr. Pelt had been assured of the Egyptian desire fully to support him in carrying out his tasks as Commissioner in Libya.

In Rome, Mr. Pelt said, he had a long conversation with Count Sforza, the Italian Foreign Minister, as well as with Mr. Zoppi, Secretary-General of the Foreign Office. He had received a pledge that Italy had no colonial ambitions and had abandoned all thought of returning to its former African territories. He had been assured that it was the official policy of the Italian Government that its nationals resident in Libya should become Libyan citizens. However, Mr. Pelt had been waited upon by a number of delegations of former Italian colonists in Libya who indicated their strong desire to return to that territory. Mr. Pelt commented that a considerable number of such persons had no realization of the changed situation in Libya. He had told them that there was no possibility of their returning to Cyrenaica and advised them to abandon any such hope. The Emir intervened at this point to confirm that it was the policy of his Government that no Italians should return to Cyrenaica. He thanked Mr. Pelt for having expressed these views which were unanimously held by the Cyrenaican people. It was, he said, inconceivable that any Italians should be allowed to return to Libya. He commented that the Cyrenaican hatred of the Italians sprang from their policy of taking their lands, particularly from 1936.

Mr. Pelt said he fully recognized and sympathized with the Cyrenaican views on this question. However, he was reporting this matter to the Emir to point out that outside the Italian Government, there still existed among some groups the same colonial mentality and ambitions for a North African empire. This was not shared by the Italian Government.

In Paris, Mr. Pelt reported, he had found some differences of opinion between himself and the French Government which had proposed a scheme for a transfer of broad powers of administration to a Fezzanese Government. However, Mr. Pelt had maintained strongly that those proposals would transfer too much political power, with the result that the unity of Libya would be jeopardized. He was glad to be able to inform the Emir that, following his representations, the French Government had altered its plans substantially so that the functions of the newly-chosen Chief of Territory, Bey Ahmed Seif Al Nasr, and his advisers, would be limited to gradually learning the administrative problems and techniques which would be needed in the Fezzan as part of a future united Libya.

Mr. Pelt also reported that he had found differences between himself and the Government of the United Kingdom over the latter’s proposal to substantially increase the amount of self-government in [Page 1614] their Libyan territories. Mr. Pelt had urged that the emphasis in the British plans should be on increasing Libyan participation in administration rather than on the transfer of political authority and powers. Mr. Pelt recapitulated the British proposal for Tripolitania under which an executive council would have been endowed with wide powers of self-government. The Emir intervened to observe that Tripolitania was now at the same stage at which Cyrenaica had been two years before when they had requested and received a substantial increase in self-government.

Tripolitanian Administrative Council

At this point the conversation turned to the establishment of the Administrative Council in Tripolitania, which the British were proposing to set up, modified along the lines suggested by Mr. Pelt, so that his functions would be confined to administrative matters. Mr. Pelt said that Beshir Saadawi felt very strongly that a Libyan should serve as Chairman of this Council and he also strongly opposed Italian representation on it. Mr. Pelt informed the Emir that while he sympathized with Beshir’s views on the Libyan Chairmanship of the Council, he believed that it would be most unwise to insist on excluding an Italian representative in view of the fact that the Council would be dealing with local matters in which the substantial Italian minority obviously had a clear interest. He observed that he was very certain that there would be criticism in the General Assembly if an Administrative Council were established in Tripolitania without Italian representation in view of the great importance attached to the principle that there should be no taxation without representation. Accordingly, he had advised Beshir Saadawi that his wisest tactics would be to offer to make a trade with the British authorities by which he would secure their agreement to a Libyan Chairman in return for accepting an Italian member on the Council. As part of this formula, the British members of the Council would not be entitled to a vote. He had informed Beshir Saadawi that it would be difficult to persuade the British to accept such a compromise, but he thought that if he pressed hard, he could probably succeed.

Preparatory Committee for the Libyan National Assembly

Mr. Pelt said he wanted to secure the Emir’s advice on a suggestion for a Preparatory Committee for the Libyan National Assembly. He had made this suggestion to the French and British governments and to Beshir Saadawi, who had authorized Mr. Pelt to inform the Emir that he approved. The Preparatory Committee might consist of an equal number of representatives from each of the three territories. The Committee should not include any foreigners, but consist entirely of Libyans since it would be dealing with Libyan problems. Mr. Pelt [Page 1615] suggested that the Committee members might be selected through a process of indirect election in each of the territories. For example, in Tripolitania, the five members might be elected by the Administrative Chamber which it was expected would be elected in late June. In The Fezzan, the five members might be chosen by the same council of notables which had selected Seif Al Nasr as Chief of the territory and had later chosen the Fezzanese representative on the Commissioner’s Advisory Council. Mr. Pelt would suggest that it would be possible to have the five Cyrenaican members chosen by the Cyrenaican Assembly which, he understood, would be elected late this Spring. The Emir inquired whether Mr. Pelt envisaged that the members of the Preparatory Committee would be chosen from among the members of the Cyrenaican Assembly, or outside of that body. Mr. Pelt said that he thought they could be chosen from either and that this was a matter to be decided by the Cyrenaicans themselves. The Emir commented that there would be an election in Cyrenaica in late April or early May. Mr. Pelt said that he hoped the Preparatory Committee would begin its work in July.

The Emir said that he saw no objection to the Preparatory Committee and that it seemed to him to be the shortest way to reach the desired goal of establishing a Libyan state. Therefore, he approved Mr. Pelt’s suggestion.

Mr. Pelt’s Visit to Washington

Returning to an account of his recent trip, Mr. Pelt said that after his return to Lake Success, he had also visited Washington, where he had been assured by the Department of State that they fully supported the resolution of the General Assembly and would support him in his efforts to implement it. He reported that he had discussed with the State Department the possibility of aid to Libya under the Point Four Program, a matter which he had also discussed with the FAO and at United Nations Headquarters in relation to the Technical Assistance Program. He said that he was most hopeful that technical aid and assistance would be furnished to Libya by the United States as well as by the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies. The Emir intervened to express his sincere thanks to Mr. Pelt for raising this question since Libya was in great need of technical assistance. He was most appreciative that the United States looked with favour upon the Libyan needs.

Mr. Pelt informed the Emir that just before his departure from Lake Success he had received a memorandum from the British Delegation stating that in response to a request from the Emir, His Majesty’s Government proposed to recognize the independence of Cyrenaica and to negotiate an agreement to that end and regarding [Page 1616] future British relations with Cyrenaica. Mr. Pelt said that he had expressed his concern to the Foreign Office in London that such action would violate the provisions and intentions of the Assembly’s resolution. However, he was not certain just what was meant by this note and he had to say frankly that he had received no satisfaction on this point during his talk in London. He had informed the Foreign Office that it seemed to him that they were trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

It appeared to him that to establish Cyrenaica as an independent state would endanger the establishment of an independent, united Libya; Consequently, there would certainly be severe criticism of the United Kingdom expressed in the General Assembly, and this criticism might go so far as to lead to a re-opening of the whole question of Libya. This might raise the possibility of a revival of an agreement along the lines of the Bevin–Sforza agreement which would give the Italians a predominant place in Tripolitania. The Emir appeared quite disturbed at this suggestion.2

Mr. Pelt explained that certain members of the Assembly might very well feel that since a declaration of independence and agreement by Cyrenaica made implementation of the resolution impossible, a solution should be worked out which would give the Italians a privileged position in Tripolitania to balance the special British position in Cyrenaica and the probably comparable position which the French would establish in the Fezzan. He particularly referred to the Latin-American and the Arab states as likely to demand a re-opening of the whole question in the General Assembly. Mr. Pelt pointed out that such an action by Cyrenaica also raised the possibility that the Assembly, concluding that the United Kingdom and Cyrenaica had prevented the implementation of the Assembly resolution, would decide that no United Nations technical assistance funds could be made available to Cyrenaica.

Mr. Pelt pointed out that the resolution provided that Libya should become a Member of the United Nations. It was quite clear that the intention was that one Libyan State should be admitted to the United Nations and that the Assembly had not intended that one part of the territory should become independent in advance of the other parts. In sum, Mr. Pelt believed that the contemplated action by Cyrenaica might jeopardize Cyrenaica’s international position.

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Mr. Pelt would advise the Emir and the British Government that they should wait at least until the Preparatory Committee had decided the form of the future Libyan State. He did not think that earlier action was in the self-interest of the United Kingdom or Cyrenaica. He reiterated that there was the danger that the French would take parallel action in The Fezzan and that as a result, there would then be a move to establish an independent Tripolitania or to give the Italians a predominant position there.

The Emir, in reply, said that he wished to rid himself of the reserved powers which were still in the hands of the British Administration even after the declaration of Cyrenaican independence on 1 June 1949. He said that any agreement would provide that it would terminate by 31 December 1951. Mr. Pelt pointed out that if and when a Constitution for Libya was put into effect, the reserved powers would end automatically. He believed that while there had been no objection raised to the advanced state of Cyrenaican self-government when the Assembly approved the Libyan resolution, the members of the Assembly would not consider that they had therefore agreed to an extension of such self-government. He felt certain that the Assembly would feel that the resolution was inconsistent with the extension of powers of government to Cyrenaica which had been previously contemplated. In fact, the passage of the resolution created a new situation to which an adjustment had to be made.

Mr. Pelt urged that by pushing for a lifting of the reserved powers, the Emir would run a greater danger than if he bided his time for approximately six months to a year, at which time, through the orderly process of drafting a Libyan Constitution and moving towards independence, the reserved powers would automatically come to an end. The Emir commented that Mr. Pelt’s suggestion meant that Cyrenaica would have to be burdened with the reserved powers for another six months or a year. Mr. Pelt agreed that this was a trying situation, but he thought it was necessary to choose between greater and lesser evils. He thought the lesser evil was to continue the reserved powers for a little while, until the form of the Libyan State was decided upon, rather than to run the risk of compromising the whole situation. He said that he feared for the future of Libya if the contemplated action were taken. He emphasized that he himself wanted Libya to achieve independence at the earliest possible date. He feared that a re-opening of the question, which would probably result from such action in respect to Cyrenaican independence, would jeopardize the attainment of Libyan independence.

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The Emir stated that at the time the British Government had proposed to him the establishment of a Council to increase the amount of self-government under the direction of the Cyrenaicans, he had replied that he was not satisfied with such a plan, but wanted to bring an end to the reserved powers. He stated that there was a draft agreement which was being discussed with the British Government and he requested Mr. Pelt to ask the United Kingdom for a copy of that agreement in order that he could see whether or not it were harmful and prejudicial to the Assembly resolution.

Mr. Pelt inquired whether the agreement had already been signed. The Emir replied that it had not been signed, but was simply a draft which was under study. Mr. Pelt said that he would like to suggest to the Emir that he not sign such an agreement because he was certain it would be embarrassing for the United Kingdom, for the future Libyan State, and for Cyrenaica.

The Emir commented that it was not an easy matter to sign a treaty. Such a step required serious study and the taking of much advice. He believed that the provisions of the draft treaty did not conflict with the provisions of the United Nations resolution since it stated that all action was taken without prejudice to the terms of the resolution and the agreement would be valid only until 31 December 1951. He said that if Mr. Pelt would read the treaty and find that it was not in conflict with the United Nations resolution, the Emir would be most happy because he would like to be rid of the reserved powers before 1951. He thought that it was too long to wait until that time, if nothing in the treaty conflicted with the United Nations resolution. He reiterated that the primary condition of the treaty was that it would not do harm to the United Nations resolution.

Mr. Pelt observed that he did not believe that it would be sufficient to have a clause in such a treaty stating that it did not prejudice the Assembly resolution. It was more than a matter of interpretation, for the world would consider that a treaty providing for Cyrenaican independence went beyond the letter and spirit of the resolution. He hoped that the Emir would not sign the treaty until he had received Mr. Pelt’s advice which he would be able to render next month.

The Emir said that he would ask Mr. Pelt to study the treaty to see if anything conflicted with the resolution and to advise the British authorities and himself on this point and to make suggestions concerning it.

Mr. Pelt said that he would be very glad to make such a study and to advise bath the British and the Emir. He said that he would go to London to discuss this matter on 30 and 31 March and hoped to have an opportunity to study the treaty before that date.

  1. The memorandum was transmitted as an enclosure to despatch 52, from Tripoli, April 5, not printed (773.02/4–550).
  2. In telegram 80, from Tripoli, March 29, not printed, Lynch commented on this paragraph of the memorandum, stating that he considered it unfortunate for Pelt to resurrect the Bevin–Sforza plan which the British had repeatedly declared “dead and buried”. He had told Pelt this on March 28 and the United Nations Commissioner seemed to realize the implications of this part of the conversation. (357.AG/3–2950)