IO Files: Lot 71 D 440

Position Paper Prepared in the Department of State1


United States Position on the Report to the General Assembly of the United Nations Commissioner for Libya

the problem

The problem is to (a) secure formal General Assembly approval of the way in which the steps leading to Libyan independence have been taken; (b) repel charges from any quarter that the process of implementing General Assembly resolutions of November 21, 1949 and November 17, 1950 has been attended by a number of illegal steps; (c) elicit recognition by the Assembly of the outstanding achievement by the United Nations, the Administering Powers (United Kingdom and France) and the people and political leaders of Libya, jointly, in making possible the completion of the constitution and the establishment of a “duly constituted government” to which all powers have been transferred within the schedule prescribed by the General Assembly; (d) stimulate action to carry out the pledge that Libya will be admitted to United Nations membership after achievement of independence.


1. The United States should maintain that remarkable success has been achieved by the UN Commissioner and the UN Council, by the Administering Powers (United Kingdom and France), and most important of all, by the Libyans in carrying out the terms of the General Assembly resolutions of November 21, 1949, and November 17, 1950.

2. The United States should mobilize maximum support for the broad content of the UN Commissioner’s Report, and for the way in which he has sought and utilized the advice of the UN Council on particular questions. The United States should strongly advocate General Assembly approval of the fact of Libyan independence, assuming [Page 1335] that it will have been proclaimed before Assembly discussion of the Libyan item. Where the Commissioner, in his report advances views divergent from those expressed by the United States Representative in the Council for Libya, the United States should support the positions taken by that United States Representative.

3. The United States should take the following specific positions on particular aspects of the question which will arise:

The Libyan National Assembly, which prepared the constitution, is “duly representative” of the inhabitants of Libya; the method of choosing representatives to that National Assembly (equal representation for the three parts of Libya) and its membership (selected rather than elected) was accepted by the United Nations Commissioner with the concurrence of the Council for Libya, after full consultation with responsible Libyan political figures and the local British and French administrations; the basis on which the National Assembly was formed was also accepted implicitly by the General Assembly when that body rejected (November 17, 1950) an Egyptian amendment calling for an elected National Assembly.
The idea of federation was not imposed upon the Libyans but was freely chosen by the Libyan National Assembly as the only feasible basis on which unity and independence could be established.
The powers of government have been transferred to the Provisional Government by the Administering Powers in orderly fashion, according to a schedule which the United Nations Commissioner helped to prepare. This assured that the “duly constituted Libyan Government” would be established on an independent basis on or before the time limit of January 1, 1952 set by the General Assembly.
In accordance with paragraph 3 of the General Assembly resolution on Libya of November 21, 1949, the Libyan constitution has been determined by the representatives of the inhabitants of the three parts of Libya in their National Assembly, and it is not desirable for the General Assembly to debate the intent of specific elements or decisions embodied in that constitution since it is a matter for the Libyans.
The Government of Libya which will have assumed all sovereign powers in accordance with the provisions of the Libyan constitution (whether this takes place before or after elections) is the “duly constituted Libyan Government” foreseen by the General Assembly in paragraph 3(c) of its resolution of November 17, 1950.
The suggestion made by Mr. Pelt in the General Assembly on November 16, 1950, that the Libyan constitution be considered as a draft to be enacted in provisional form and be made subject to final approval and possibly amendment by the elected Libyan parliament, was not concurred in by the Council and was in effect rejected by the Libyans through their decision to make the constitution a final document, subject to amendment by normal constitutional process.

4. When Libya’s independence has been proclaimed and a membership application submitted, the United States should press vigorously for Libya’s admission; this position should be made clear in discussions of the present item.

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5. The United States should vigorously resist any efforts to have the Assembly call into question the presence of foreign military personnel in Libya or question the existence of military bases in that country. (A separate paper on this subject will be provided).

6. The United States should show sympathetic interest in the proposals, worked out by the UN Commissioner and interested states, recommending to Libya a plan for currency arrangements, for a possible Libyan Development and Stabilization Authority, and for a Libyan Finance Corporation.

[Problems of technical assistance to Libya and monetary and development problems are dealt with in detail in a Committee 2 position paper.]2


1. The Delegation should stress the fact that, in the face of numerous difficulties and the shortness of time allowed, the method laid down by the General Assembly for the achievement of Libyan independence has been faithfully and successfully pursued by the Commissioner and the Council, the Administering Powers, and by the Libyans. This achievement is a striking example of the effectiveness of the United Nations in action on a problem for which it assumed responsibility at the end of 1948 and which it has brought to successful solution in just two years since the original General Assembly resolution of November 21, 1949. By emphasizing the very competent performance of the United Nations Commissioner, Mr. Pelt, the Delegation should find it easier to dissuade him from pressing his own ideas on two or three aspects of the problem in which the United States is unable to agree with him. (See Section 2 below).

2. The primary objective of the United States in dealing with the Libyan problem is to have the General Assembly accept and enthusiastically endorse the Commissioner’s report and acknowledge with satisfaction the achievement of Libyan independence on schedule. It follows that, when the reports to the Assembly of the Administering Powers (United Kingdom and France) are available, they should also be accepted by the Assembly with some expression of appreciation and commendation to the Administering Powers for the way in which they have discharged their responsibilities in Libya under the General Assembly decisions. The important steps which the Administering Powers have taken (particularly under Paragraph 10 of the 1949 resolution and under paragraphs 3(c) and 3(d) of the 1950 resolution) have been taken in consultation and agreement with the Commissioner. It is also of importance to give wholehearted support to the way in which the Commissioner has sought and utilized the advice of the Council on particular questions at appropriate stages of his work.

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While strong general support should be given to the Commissioner, the Delegation should retain sufficient flexibility of position on details to permit the expression of the United States view on two matters on which the Commissioner has a somewhat different approach. The first point involves the view expressed by Pelt on November 16, 1950 in the General Assembly that he would wish to advise the Libyan National Assembly that the constitution, when completed, should be regarded as a provisional one subject to approval and possible amendment by the elected parliament. The United States view on this point is covered in Section 3 (f) below. The second point of difference rises out of Pelt’s idea (paragraphs 126 and 127 of the Commissioner’s report) “that the Libyan Government should request the appointment of a [United Nations] resident technical assistance expert who would have advisory powers in the expenditure of foreign aid” extended to Libya. The United States attitude on the role and scope of authority of a United Nations technical assistance resident expert for Libya is given in the position paper on technical assistance for use in Committee II. For the purposes of this paper it is sufficient to say that the U.S. does not wish to see any form of international supervision or control over Libyan affairs after independence.

3. (a) The Libyan National Assembly first met on November 25, 1949, to begin its work on the constitution. The basis on which the National Assembly was to be formed had been decided by the Libyans in the Preparatory Committee (Committee of Twenty-one) which had been established, at the initiative of the Commissioner and the Council, to prepare a plan for the organization of the National Assembly. Oh October 23, 1949, the Committee of Twenty-one made two fundamental decisions: first, that the National Assembly should be composed of twenty representatives each from the territories of Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and the Fezzan; and second, that the members of the National Assembly from each territory should be selected rather than elected. These decisions of the Committee of Twenty-One were brought to the attention of the General Assembly during its discussion of the Libyan question on October 30, 1950.

It is to be noted that Paragraph 3(a) of the General Assembly resolution of November 17, 1950, (adopted after the General Assembly was informed of the decision of the Committee of 21), does not specify that the National Assembly must be an elected body. In fact, Egypt attempted to amend Paragraph 3(a) of the resolution in the plenary meeting of the General Assembly on November 17, 1950. Egypt proposed that the text should read “that a National Assembly duly elected and representative of the inhabitants of Libya …, etc.” The amendment failed, with twenty-four votes in favor, twenty against, and fifteen abstentions. The United States Delegation should point out that the U.S. has consistently maintained, both in the Council for [Page 1338] Libya and in the General Assembly, that the basis on which the National Assembly would be established should be determined by the Libyans. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that had the General Assembly wished to insist that the Libyan National Assembly must be elected, it would certainly have adopted the Egyptian amendment. However, that would have amounted to imposing a particular procedure on the Libyans, thus limiting their freedom of action.

3(b) As pointed out in Chapter 1 of the Commissioner’s report, the Libyan National Assembly made two decisions, on December 2. 1950: that the form of the Libyan State should be federal, and that the Emir of Cyrenaica, Mohammed Idris el Senussi, should become the King of Libya. It was therefore a Libyan decision, whereby the National Assembly itself recognized that a federal system was the only feasible basis on which unity and independence could be established. Any idea of a tighter, unitary form of government (which incidentally would have given Tripolitania the dominant position in the Libyan state because of its greater population) was entirely unacceptable to Cyrenaica and the Fezzan, without whose agreement no unity whatever could be achieved in Libya. Charges by Arab states or the Soviet bloc that federation was forced on the Libyans by the Commissioner and the Administering Powers in order to cover up imperialistic designs or to prevent true unity should be vigorously rejected. The Delegation can conveniently recall the section of the Ad Hoc Political Committee’s report to the General Assembly on Libya last fall, in which the Committee stated that:

“The form of state to be created and whether it would be a unitary or a federal state, must be left entirely to the representatives of the Libyan people, meeting and consulting in a national assembly.”

In speaking on this issue, the United States Delegation should assert that the Federal plan was freely chosen by the Representatives of Libya and that any attempt by the General Assembly to impose or demand a tighter, unitary form of government would have destroyed the only basis on which Libyan unity can possibly be achieved. In private discussions with other friendly delegations, the United States should remind them that all members of the free world have a vital interest in the sound and stable development of an independent and unified Libya. We are convinced that anything which would disrupt the federal plan now established could plunge Libya into political chaos, open the way to political agitation and violence, have a harmful effect on the stability of the entire area, and give the Soviets further avenues for penetration of the Near East.

3(c). In accordance with Paragraph 3(c) of the 1950 General Assembly resolution, powers are being progressively transferred to the Provisional Government of Libya by the Administering Powers in [Page 1339] such, fashion as to ensure that all powers exercised by them will, by January 1, 1952, have been transferred to the duly constituted Libyan Government. As required by the 1950 resolution, the Commissioner—in cooperation with the Administering Powers—drew up last summer a detailed plan according to which governmental powers would be transferred in three stages beginning in September 1950, so that the process would end just prior to the establishment of the duly constituted government. The Commissioner held preliminary consultation with the Council on this transfer of powers plan late in July, 1951; in September he presented the more fully developed plan together with pertinent decisions by the Libyan National Assembly determining the powers of the Federal Government and of the provincial administrations.

The Council studied the Commissioner’s plan and advised him that, in its view, the program for the transfer of powers conformed to the provisions of General Assembly Resolution 387 (V), Paragraph 3. The United States Representative in the Council actively advocated the expression of such advice to the Commissioner. Thus the requirement of having a detailed program worked out between the Commissioner and the Administering Powers, and on which the Council has given its advice, has been fully met. In accordance with that plan the United Kingdom and France have been transferring governmental powers according to the stages prescribed.

If Egypt, other Arab States, or the Soviet bloc charge that the method and timing of the transfer of powers (like other steps in Libyan constitutional development) were improper or illegal, the United States should firmly resist such charges and point out that only those who have some reason to wish to undermine Libyan unity and independence could object to the speedy and orderly transfer of powers which is a central point in the General Assembly resolutions of 1949 and 1950.

3(d) Efforts will doubtless be made, by Egypt and others, to insist that the General Assembly should scrutinize the Libyan constitution minutely seeking elements in it to which a number of Member states might take exception. Since it is expected that the Libyan constitution will already be in effect when the Libyan item is considered in the General Assembly, the Delegation can, of course, point out that any attempt by the General Assembly to review or pass upon the Libyan constitution is both out of order and unnecessary. In addition, however, the Delegation should maintain that the Libyan constitution is based squarely on democratic principles, with guarantees for the observance of human rights and the protection of minorities, and with an appropriate distribution of powers as between the federal government and the provincial governments, and between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government itself.

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The constitution provides for a parliament consisting of two houses, the senate and the house of representatives. The senate will be composed of 12 members appointed by the King, and of 12 members elected by the legislative councils of the three provinces. Members of the house of representatives will be elected on the basis of one member for twenty thousand inhabitants. (Thus Tripolitania will have 35 representatives, as compared with 15 for Cyrenaica and 5 for the Fezzan). Laws adopted by both houses are to be sanctioned and promulgated by the King. The ministers are responsible as a cabinet and individually to the house of representatives, and provision is made for interpellation of cabinet ministers by members of parliament.

3(e) Both the 1949 and 1950 General Assembly resolutions specify that powers should be transferred to the “duly constituted” independent government of Libya. The Commissioner and the Council carefully considered the question whether a “duly constituted”, sovereign government would have to be one which included an elected parliament. In other words, the question arose whether the General Assembly resolutions would be properly carried out if Libyan independence were proclaimed and exercised by a Libyan government before parliamentary elections had been held. It is the United States view that this was an issue for the Libyans themselves to decide. In addition the United States has maintained in the Libyan Council that that government of Libya which is established in accordance with the provisions of the constitution is the “duly constituted” government which meets the requirements of the General Assembly resolutions. A United States-sponsored resolution embodying this position was adopted by the Council for Libya at the end of September. The Commissioner has acted generally in accordance with the advice to that effect from the Council.

Furthermore the Libyan constitution, which was completed by the Libyan National Assembly on October 7, 1951, includes specific, transitional provisions for the period between promulgation of the constitution and the time when other chapters of the constitution will come into effect when independence is proclaimed: (Article 202, ff.) During the transitional period the provisional government will exercise the powers transferred to it by the administering states. When independence is proclaimed the King will appoint a “duly constituted” government. The provisional government will prepare the electoral law for the first parliamentary elections and that law is subject to approval by the national assembly. This law must be in force twenty days after promulgation of the constitution which will be in force when Libya becomes independent. Elsewhere it is provided that the elections will take place not later than three and a half months after announcement of the electoral law, and parliament is to convene within twenty days after elections. In the light of the above facts the Delegation [Page 1341] should urge unhesitating acceptance by the General Assembly of that Libyan government established at the time of independence as the “duly constituted” government of Libya.

3 (f) On November 16, 1950, the day before adoption by the General Assembly of Resolution 387 (V), Mr. Pelt made an extended statement in plenary meeting of the General Assembly. He indicated that, while he had felt it necessary to go along with an appointed rather than an elected national assembly, he had had grave doubts as to whether it would have “the necessary moral and political authority to elaborate a final and definite constitution for Libya”. He then declared that, on his return to Libya, he intended to ask the Council for its advice on the following proposals which he might make to the Libyan National Assembly:

That the constitution as prepared by the National Assembly should be considered as a draft, to be enacted in a provisional form and subject to final approval and if necessary to amendment by the elected Libyan parliament;
That the legislative branch should consist of two chambers—a small upper house whose members would be elected from the three territories on a basis of equality, and a popular chamber to be elected by the people as a whole;
That the Libyan Government (Cabinet) should be responsible to the popular chamber.

In March, 1950, the Commissioner took up this matter with the Council. The dominant view in the Council, actively shared by the United States Representative, was that the Commissioner should not attempt to give such specific advice on details to the national assembly, unless, at least, that body specifically requested the advice. The United States Representative introduced a resolution in the Council which would advise the Commissioner that “he might appropriately offer suggestions to the National Assembly with the idea that these suggestions, modified as the National Assembly may deem necessary to care for the particular needs of Libya, may prove to be acceptable to the majority of the Libyan people”. The United States draft resolution eliminated the thought of having the constitution considered as a provisional one. With respect to the method of naming the members of the upper house, the United States draft suggested that, while the three territories should be represented therein on a basis of equality, the representatives could either be elected or designated by the government of each territory and appointed by the King. Alternatively the National Assembly might choose to have a portion of such representatives in the upper house named by the King on his own initiative, the others being designated by the government of each territory and appointed by the King. Finally, the United States draft pointed out that the constitution itself might contain provisions for [Page 1342] its eventual amendment by the Libyan parliament, and that the constitution as a whole might be reviewed by the parliament in the light of experience after perhaps five years. In other respects the United States draft resolution essentially covered points which the Commissioner had had in mind.

On March 13, 1951 the Council adopted the United States resolution, Cyrenaica, the Fezzan, France, the United Kingdom and the United States voted in favor; Egypt, Pakistan and Tripolitania voted against; Italy and the representative of the Minorities in Libya abstained. The Commissioner transmitted the Council’s advice to the Libyan National Assembly along with his own comments. (United Nations Press Release LIB/47, March 14, 1951.) In effect, the National Assembly pursued the line advocated by the Council in dealing with such matters in the constitution. Thus the constitution now adopted is a final document which can, of course, be amended by due constitutional process in the future. The United States Delegation should confirm the position taken by Ambassador Clark in the Libyan Council since that time, namely that the United States did not agree at the last General Assembly to support the ideas which Mr. Pelt expressed in the plenary meeting of the General Assembly on November 16, 1950. While the United States, like other free nations, is devoted to democratic principles and practices, the United States has not felt that it could support any moves which would appear to violate the freedom of decision on such matters guaranteed to the Libyans in Paragraph 3 of the General Assembly Resolution on Libya of 1949. As Mr. Pelt himself stated the issue on November 17, 1950:

“The General Assembly has granted the Libyan people the right to determine their own fate. We want them to behave democratically but charity begins at home. If we want them to behave democratically, let the General Assembly behave democratically toward the Libyans.”

4. If, as expected, Libyan independence has been proclaimed prior to General Assembly consideration of the Libyan item, it can also be expected that Libya would immediately make an application for membership in the United Nations. It would be politically advantageous for the United States at an early stage of the General Assembly discussion of the Libyan question to draw attention to the fact of Libyan independence and the pending Libyan application for membership, recalling the pledge of the General Assembly that Libya should be admitted to membership after independence. Depending upon the circumstances at the time, it may be useful for the United States to urge the Assembly to take note that a Libyan application for membership has been made and to urge early consideration of the matter by the Security Council. Such a move could be without prejudice to the full and necessary discussion of the Commissioner’s report; it would [Page 1343] have the advantage of confronting those who intend to challenge the whole course of Libyan constitutional development with the necessity of taking a public stand on the question of whether they would favor Libya’s admission. It will, of course, be necessary to consult the Department on any preliminary move of this nature. The utility of any such move would depend on the timing of General Assembly discussion of the Pelt report and on the submission of Libya’s application for membership.

5. At the Fourth and Fifth General Assemblies, the Soviets advanced draft resolutions calling for the withdrawal of foreign military personnel in Libya and the dismantling of military bases in that territory. Both times the Soviet resolutions were decisively voted down. However, at the Fifth Assembly, the clause in the Soviet draft calling for withdrawal of foreign military personnel received disturbingly significant support in the paragraph by paragraph vote in the Ad Hoc Committee, from Arab States and some Asiatic and even Latin American states. It is of importance vigorously to counteract any tendency among non-Soviet states to dwell on this issue at the Sixth Assembly. This theme may well be pressed not only by the Soviets but by Egypt whose policy in that respect is in sharp conflict with that of both the United Kingdom and the United States. A supplementary position paper3 containing guidance on the handling of this issue, and on a possible challenge to the exercise by the United States of base rights in Libya, should be used in conjunction with Recommendation Five of this position paper.

6. On September 29, 1951 the meeting of financial experts under the auspices of Mr. Pelt (including the United States, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Egypt) completed proposals to be made to the Libyan Government for the creation of the following bodies under Libyan law: A Libyan Development and Stabilization Authority, and a Libyan Finance Corporation. Egypt has not agreed to the proposals, since it favored another arrangement involving a certain amount of international control over Libyan finances and development. Membership on these bodies would be open to representatives of states contributing to the short-term and long-term development and stabilization programs for which those bodies would be responsible. Detailed plans for the operation and activities of the two bodies are given in Chapter IV of the Commissioner’s report. While the United States has reserved its position on the matter of contributing directly to the funds to be used by these bodies, the United States has participated in the discussions leading to the proposals made, which are subject to acceptance by the Libyan Government. Furthermore, the United States has repeatedly indicated its intention of making a suitable contribution to the development of the Libyan economy through technical assistance [Page 1344] programs. For further details on the United States position on Libyan monetary, development and technical assistance questions, the Delegation should consult the position paper prepared on these matters for use in Committee II.

  1. Prepared as a briefing paper for the U.S. Delegation to the sixth session of the United Nations General Assembly, which was held in Paris from November 6, 1951, to February 5, 1952. Consideration of the Libyan question by the General Assembly began at the 48th to 54th meetings of the Ad Hoc Political Committee on January 23–28, 1952.
  2. Brackets in this document are in source text.
  3. SD/A/C.l/374/Add 1/Rev. 1, dated November 6, p. 1359.