Memorandum of Informal United States–United Kingdom Discussions in Connection With the Visit to London of Assistant Secretary of State McGhee, September 19, 19501
top secret
Participants: Foreign Office:
Mr. Michael Wright, Assistant Under-Secretary of State
Mr. Roger Allen, Head, African Department
Mr. R. H. G. Edmonds, African Department
Mr. K. J. Simpson, African Department
Department of State
Hon. George C. McGhee
Mr. Samuel Kopper
Mr. Elmer Bourgerie
American Embassy, London
Mr. Joseph Palmer 2nd
Miss Margaret Tibbetts
Mr. John F. Root
[Page 1632]

[Here follows a discussion of Anglo-Egyptian relations and the Suez Canal.]

Libya (Item 2 under Africa)

Mr. Wright, reviewing the situation in Libya, said the UK’s forebodings with respect to the UN Advisory Council had been pretty well realized. As for the UN Commissioner, however, the UK had, as we knew, made great efforts to adjust its plans to his and on the whole the relationship with him had been a successful one.

The UK understood that Mr. Pelt had failed to obtain agreement on a list of Tripolitanian representatives to the Constituent Assembly and felt that the Assembly could now not be convened until after the United Nations had had a chance to deal with the Libyan question. The UK hoped it would be possible to convene the Assembly shortly thereafter and that agreement would be reached on a loose federation under the Emir. As soon as possible following this, the UK hoped to conclude a treaty with the Emir, including a defense arrangement covering the whole of Libya. He thought the UK would probably be willing to agree, in this connection, to come to the defense of the whole of Libya and not just Cyrenaica. It might, however, want to limit itself to stationing troops in Cyrenaica only and furthermore he thought the UK would be unwilling to contribute to the budgetary deficit of the Libyan state beyond the proportion representing the deficit for Cyrenaica. The UN Commissioner had made clear to the UK he considered provision of defense facilities conditional on a contribution to the Libyan deficit, and Mr. Wright felt Mr. Pelt would take the same position with respect to our interests in Tripolitania.

Mr. Allen said the UK estimated that the deficit for Cyrenaica was roughly in the nature of £1.25 million to £1.5 million annually, and that it was about the same for Tripolitania. It was, for example, calculated that the deficit for Cyrenaica would be £1.4 million in 1952 and decrease in the succeeding years until it approximated £800,000 in 1956. He felt this contribution was the maximum to which the Treasury would agree.

Mr. McGhee stated that he thought it would be advisable to have the UK arrange for financial assistance to the new Libyan state, and not just Cyrenaica, otherwise the Libyans might play off one power against the other in an effort to secure additional financial aid.

Mr. Wright noted that the US had confirmed in writing last year that it was US policy to maintain strategic facilities in Tripolitania. It was not yet clear, however, how we proposed to accomplish this. Mr. McGhee replied that we would probably want to reach some agreement with the Provisional Government of Libya for obtaining our base rights at Wheelus Field and subsequently to have this agreement [Page 1633] ratified by the Libyan state. The exact form the agreement would take was not yet certain and would depend largely on future constitutional developments in Libya. Mr. Bourgerie explained that, while we wanted to reach some agreement covering Wheelus Field, we did not envisage having a defense treaty with Libya. Mr. McGhee indicated that the US preferred to leave any formal or comprehensive defense arrangement with Libya to the UK.

The Fezzan was discussed briefly and the UK felt that the French had become pretty well reconciled to the idea of federation. In the meantime, of course, it was not giving any of its bargaining power away. Mr. Allen thought the officials in the Quai d’Orsay were, in their own thinking about Libyan constitutional development, somewhat ahead of political thinking in France and were somewhat circumscribed in their efforts by the political problem. The UK had no objection if we wanted to “jog the French along”.

As for French interest in strategic facilities in the Fezzan, Mr. Wright said the UK had no objection whatsoever. Schuman had already told the UK he would not object to a special strategic position for the British in Tripolitania and made clear he was hoping to achieve a similar position in the Fezzan. Mr. Kopper said that we had indicated to the French in Washington that we had no objection either.

In answer to a question from Kopper, Mr. Allen said the UK did not feel that Italy was trying to interfere with Libyan constitutional development and that what it was genuinely interested in was economic security for the Italians in Libya.

[Here follows a discussion of Eritrea; for text, see page 1678.]

  1. McGhee was en route to a conference of U.S. diplomatic officers in Tangiers; for documentation on this conference, see pp. 1569 ff.