The First Secretary of the Embassy in the United Kingdom (Palmer) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern, South Asian, and African Affairs (McGhee)
top secret

Dear George: After our conversation the other day on Egypt (reported Embtels 2717 and 2718, November 91) Michael2 stated that he would like to discuss informally with me a new idea on Libya which had occurred to the Foreign Office and which he outlined as follows: [Page 1636]

Since your conversations here and since Brownell’s informal talks; reported in my letter of October 23,3 the Foreign Office has been giving further consideration to the problem of obtaining the strategic rights which both the US and UK require in Libya.
During the course of this consideration, the idea has occurred to those concerned with the problem that there might be definite advantages in including Libya in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and solving our defense problems by obtaining our rights through a multilateral arrangement of this kind rather than through bilateral arrangements.
The idea had considerable appeal to him since it would, in addition to securing our base rights, greatly strengthen the whole Mediterranean area, by constituting an earnest of our good intentions towards the security of the area. He thought, moreover, that the idea would probably commend itself to the French, since it would simultaneously take care of their defense requirements in the Fezzan, and to the Italians who would undoubtedly like to be associated in a defense arrangement with Libya.

Michael asked what I thought of the idea and whether I had any objections to putting it informally to you.

I told Michael that I would be glad to ask you for an informal reaction as to whether you thought it worth pursuing the matter further. I added that speaking entirely personally, I found the idea interesting but one which raised a number of problems, for example:

How could we justify to the Greeks and Turks our inclusion of Libya as a full member of NATO while denying the same full role to Greece and Turkey?4
Would the Libyans themselves want to be associated in a pact with Italy?
What provision would be made to contribute to the budgetary deficits of the territories under such an arrangement?
I recall that at the time the negotiations were taking place on the North Atlantic Treaty, the French desired the inclusion of all of Algeria instead of just the French departments. Would not the inclusion of Libya lead to renewed French demands for the inclusion of the rest of Algeria and perhaps Morocco and Tunisia as well?

Michael’s replies were as follows:

During the discussions here on Turkey,5 you indicated that the US was not opposed in principle to the inclusion of Turkey as a full partner in NATO, but that it was not thought that the present time [Page 1637] was propitious since it might indicate the bareness of the cupboard to the Turks. Michael deduced from this that at such time as our strength increases, and we are in a position to make an effective commitment to Turkey, we would have no objection to Turkish participation. Libya will not obtain its independence for more than a year and perhaps by that time we will be in a position to admit Greece and Turkey to full membership.
The advantage which Libya would derive in the way of increased security from membership in the Atlantic Pact would probably outweigh any objections to association with Italy in such a pact.
Michael felt that in any event, the United Kingdom would be prepared to make up the Cyrenaican budgetary deficit and guardedly suggested that we might do the same thing in Tripolitania as payment for our use of NATO facilities. I pointed out that this raised a new problem and that I doubted that we would be willing to make such a payment for such a purpose, if for no other reason than the precedent which it might create for similar demands by other NATO countries.
Michael had no comment on the difficulty posed by French North Africa, other than to suggest that some means could probably be found for dealing with it.

I am passing the foregoing on for what it is worth and would appreciate receiving in due course any informal observations which you might care to make to Michael on this subject. I should add that neither Julius nor I think very highly of the suggestion.

The foregoing completes the burden of my conversation with Michael, but there are two other questions with respect to Libya that I would like to take this occasion to raise. Both arise from the Memorandum of Conversation of October 26th between George Brownell and you.6

In the second paragraph, I have noted that Mr. Brownell stated that Michael Wright had indicated that there would seem to be no objection to the use of Castel Benito Air Field by the United States Air Force. This does not accord with my recollection of the conversation, which is to the effect that Michael replied that he was unable to give any immediate answer but that he would be glad to look into the matter informally. (See page 2 of my letter of October 23rd.)
Both Julius (with whom I have discussed this problem) and I are somewhat disturbed at the indications in the final paragraph of page 2 of the Memorandum of Conversation that it might be preferable for us to endeavor to obtain our defense requirements in Libya as the result of a sub-tenancy from the British. In the first place, I do not think that this line of action will commend itself at all to the British since it will complicate their negotiations. Secondly, I take it that a general third country clause would be required and I would doubt very much that any Government in Libya would agree to an [Page 1638] arrangement which would permit the leasing of facilities to third countries. Finally, if there were a general third country clause, it seems to me that we could anticipate the possibility of similar requests to the British from the Soviets, which, while they could undoubtedly be knocked down, might nevertheless be embarrassing from a propaganda point of view.

I am sending a copy of this letter to Wayne Jackson.7

Sincerely yours,

  1. Neither printed; the former reported on British arms policy towards Egypt, while the latter reviewed the latest Anglo-Egyptian treaty developments (774.00/11–950 and 641.74/11–950).
  2. Michael Wright, Assistant Under Secretary of State for Africa, British Foreign Office.
  3. Not printed; it reported that George Brownell, Special Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force, had discussed with Wright the possible use by the United States of airfields at Castel Benito in Tripolitania and at Abu Suweir in Egypt (711.56373/10–2350).
  4. For documentation on the admission of Greece and Turkey to NATO, see vol. iii, pp. 1 ff.
  5. For a record of McGhee’s discussion of Turkey, see the memorandum of informal U.S.-U.K. discussions, dated September 19, p. 1631.
  6. No record of this memorandum of conversation has been found in Department of State files.
  7. Officer in Charge of United Kingdom and Ireland Affairs in the Office of British Commonwealth and Northern European Affairs.