The Director of the Office of African Affairs (Bourgerie) to the First Secretary of the Embassy in the United Kingdom (Palmer)
top secret

Dear Joe: Our reply to your letters of October 23 and November 151 concerning Wheelus Field has been withheld pending the despatch of Secretary Acheson’s letter of December 5 to Secretary Marshall2 on this subject. A copy of the Secretary’s letter is enclosed for your information.

The possibility of the Air Force wanting to use Castel Benito has been decided in the affirmative and hence our top secret telegram No. 2884 of December 4 to you.3 We await the British reaction with interest. We realize that the situation at Castel Benito may be complicated (as compared to Wheelus Field) by the presence of RAF and/or civil aircraft with whom USAF would become co-users of the field. Air Force has raised no objection to co-usage, so it apparently does not consider the presence of these elements as a bar to obtaining its requirements at Castel Benito. We’ve heard rumors to the effect that certain civil air lines may cease operations at Castel Benito.

In our letter to Secretary Marshall we tried to present impartially the two possible methods of obtaining base rights at Wheelus from [Page 1639] the Libyans. George McGhee wants to receive the Defense Department’s views on this subject and you may rest assured that the views reported in your letters will be considered thoroughly in making a decision on this subject. Incidentally, Roger Allen was in town a few days ago and we took occasion to ask him whether the Emir will be in a position by January 1, 1951 or February 1951 to talk business with the British or ourselves on this question of our strategic requirements. Roger said he was recommending to the British Foreign Office that an approach to the Emir should await such time as the permanent Libyan Government is in operation under a final constitution. He feels that security is such in Libya that even the most guarded approach to the Emir would be known too widely in a short time, and that such knowledge of British and/or American negotiations in Libya would have an adverse effect at the next session of the UN, particularly since the establishment of the Libyan state will still be in process. Of course he advocates being prepared with drafts of agreements to be negotiated whenever the UN launches the Libyan state. We were impressed by his views in this regard. Apparently the time for negotiating base rights is not as imminent as we had thought.

In any event we can’t get too excited about details of procedure so long as we’re still groping for an answer to the basic question of how the new Libyan Government’s operations are to be financed while it is getting strength in its legs. It was the consensus of a recent meeting within NEA that we must have more exact knowledge of Libya’s financial position, broken down as between Tripolitania, Cyrenaica and the Fezzan, before we can know the scope of the operation which we and the British may have to finance. In this connection we will also have to find out how much the Air Force is prepared to pay in the future for rental of its facilities in Libya, what their estimated dollar expenditures in Libya are expected to be in 1951, 1952, etc. This is a real project involving concentrated study and we wonder how best to go about it. Any suggestions you may have would be appreciated. We should acquire this knowledge without delay, so that we will be prepared to proceed intelligently with negotiations whenever that becomes possible.

Our reaction in NEA regarding inclusion of Libya in NATO is the same as yours. If you think the Foreign Office is serious about it, we will urgently explore it with other Bureaus of the Department and with the Defense Department.

Sincerely yours,

E. H. Bourgerie
  1. Regarding Palmer’s letter of October 23, see footnote 3, supra.
  2. Not printed; it asked for the views of the Department of Defense concerning leasing Wheelus Field directly from the Libyan Government or as a sublease from the British, indicating that the British preferred the former method. (711.56373/12–550)
  3. Not printed; it informed Embassy London that the Department of Defense needed base rights at Castel Benito in Libya and at Nicosia in Cyprus and asked that the British be approached with the view to securing U.S. use of the bases under informal permissive agreements similar to those in effect at Wheelus Field. (711.56373/12–450)