Memorandum of Conversation, by the Officer in Charge of Northern African Affairs (Cyr)1


Subject: Morocco.

Participants: French Ambassador Henri Bonnet
Mr. Gabriel van Laethem, Secretary of the French Embassy
NEA—Mr. McGhee
NE—Mr. Funkhouser
AF—Mr. Bourgerie
Mr. Cyr

Mr. Bonnet opened the conversation by stating that Iran and the rest of the area which Mr. McGhee has just visited,2 like the rest of the world, have many problems. He said that in most instances of political unrest, nationalism is found in the vanguard, closely followed by Communism.

Mr. McGhee stated that the NEA area does, indeed, have its share of troubles these days. He referred specifically to the British difficulties in Egypt,3 to the nationalization of oil in Iran,4 and to the Syrian-Israeli dispute.5 He suggested that part of the problem in Iran is to convince the people that the oil companies are for the people; the main issue everywhere is to decide who can capture nationalism and whether nationalism can be channeled in the right direction.

The Ambassador agreed that nationalism is a good force but that it must be properly channeled. Mr. McGhee said that France has an excellent opportunity in Morocco to do just that, but that our information indicates that French policies have not gained the confidence of the Moroccan people.

Ambassador Bonnet stated that obviously there was a misunderstanding between us as to the facts in Morocco. He said that the recent trouble in Morocco is the result of a two-year delay on the part of the Sultan in signing dahirs for reforms which the people want. He described the Istiqlal Party as a representative of nothing but a few members of the privileged classes consisting of such people as Azzam Pasha. The French authorities in Morocco have made every [Page 1382] effort to collaborate with the Sultan but the fact remains that he is advised by people like the Istiqlal, which makes successful cooperation impossible. He said it simply is not true that the French had incited the Berbers of Marrakech in the recent incidents in Morocco. The Istiqlal Party, he declared, represents an element that the West should not support. Its link with the Arab League is dangerous. The Istiqlal Party must be stopped so that there will be no repetition of the situations such as have developed in Asia.

The French Ambassador went on to say that the French are attempting to prepare the Moroccans for eventual self-government. They are not trying to do this in the way that the Istiqlal Party would like but they are trying to do it the right way. The Istiqlal are interested in nothing but an assumption of power and they are people who, once in power, would have no following and no interest in the common good. Under the French plan preparations for self-government would be gradual; dahirs must be signed for representative government to evolve in three stages: (1) tribal assemblies restricted to small areas must first be set up in a network throughout the country; (2) the authority and powers of these traditional assemblies would be gradually enlarged in geographic and substantive scope; and (3) finally elections would be held, thereby substituting elected assemblies for traditional assemblies once the people are prepared for such a step. The French plan is one of self-government from the grass roots and not one which springs from the minds of a few Istiqlal leaders for their own good. The French purpose is to forestall Communism by the introduction of democracy with a popular basis. The Istiqlal are not Communists but their activities lend themselves unwittingly to opening the door to Communism. The French Government needs the cooperation and understanding of the United States in its efforts to bring self-government to Morocco and such cooperation cannot exist so long as there is misunderstanding based on misinformation.

Mr. McGhee said that he was glad the Ambassador had come in to discuss this subject because as a result of his recent trip to Morocco he was greatly concerned over indications that the French do not have the confidence of the Moroccan people.6 He pointed out that while the United States is not a party to this problem, it is necessarily interested in seeing the situation there develop in a manner which will be conducive to stability. He said that the United States wishes to see France succeed in Morocco because Morocco means a great deal [Page 1383] to the French. He said he was frankly concerned over the trend of affairs in Morocco and over the great degree of embarrassment which could arise out of the introduction of the Moroccan dispute into the UN by the Arab League. While we or the French may not like the Arab League, the fact remains that it is a force which must be considered in North Africa. He compared the situation in Morocco to that in French Indo-China and agreed with the Ambassador that French action in French Indo-China was important to the United States as well as to France.

Mr. Bonnet indicated that the introduction of the Moroccan dispute into the UN would be embarrassing to the United States but that France was prepared to counter-attack if and when that happened. He said that Morocco was not comparable to French Indo-China. Mr. McGhee agreed that while they may not be identical there are certain broad elements which are similar in both cases.

Mr. McGhee said that we wish to support France in Morocco but that we were extremely concerned when General Juin indicated that the Sultan might be deposed. Our information indicates that the Moroccan people support the Sultan. The Ambassador expressed considerable amazement at this statement. Mr. McGhee indicated that the Moroccan incident has produced sympathetic reactions in Tunisia. Ambassador Bonnet stated that the trouble in Tunisia is being caused by the Arab League and he suggested that we should verify our reports to the effect that the Moroccan people support the Sultan. As a matter of fact, he said, the leaders other than the Istiqlal are against the Sultan. Mr. McGhee asked what other leaders there were in Morocco since political parties are not allowed. The Ambassador indicated that he had reference to the traditional leaders such as the caids and pashas. Mr. Bourgerie indicated that it has been reported that all anti-French caids and pashas are replaced by pro-French leaders as necessary.

In answer to the Ambassador’s statement that only a few educated Istiqlal support the Sultan, Mr. McGhee observed that it seems to happen consistently as people are educated that they feel the nationalist urge. The Ambassador distinguished between legitimate nationalist aspirations and the tenets of the Istiqlal Party. The Istiqlal are not, he declared, in favor of French reforms; they are opposed. The Ambassador indicated that the situation in Morocco at the present time is calm. Mr. McGhee observed that calm based on repressive measures is not really calm. All Ave wish to see in Morocco is effective measures permitting such rights as freedom of the press, of thought, of political parties, and a comprehensive educational system. He said that the progress being made in Morocco is negligible compared to that in India and Pakistan. The Ambassador concluded his remarks on Morocco [Page 1384] by stating that his observations should be studied carefully and that yielding to the Istiqlal opened the road not to democracy but to Communism.7

  1. Copies of this memorandum, which was drafted on April 25, were sent to Paris, Tangier, Casablanca, and Rabat.
  2. For documentation on McGhee’s trip to the Near East and South Asia in February and March, see pp. 49 ff.
  3. For documentation on Egypt, see pp. 343 ff.
  4. Regarding the Anglo-Iranian oil controversy, see p. 544.
  5. For documentation on the Palestine situation, see pp. 559 ff.
  6. Prior to and in connection with his attendance at the North African Diplomatic and Consular Conference at Tangier, October 2–7, 1950, Assistant Secretary of State McGhee and a small party of advisers visited a number of cities in Europe and North Africa including Casablanca on September 29 and Rabat on September 30. For a record of McGhee’s meeting with Sultan Mohammed ben Youssef in Rabat on September 30, see Foreign Relations, 1950, vol. v, p. 1747.
  7. On May 9 the Department of State cabled Rabat, summarizing the substance of this memorandum and instructing the Consulate to tell de Blesson that the United States was disturbed over the divergence between the French and U.S. estimates of the situation in Morocco, which the Department of State believed arose principally from French failure to inform the United States fully on what they were contemplating in the way of reforms. (Telegram 72 to Rabat, May 9: 771.00/5–951)