711.56373/1–1253: Telegram

The Minister in Libya (Villard) to the Department of State1

secret priority

536. I had one hour conversation regarding base agreement with Prime Minister this noon, which was earliest appointment I could obtain following receipt of Deptel 406 January 9.2 Muntasser saw Kirkbride earlier morning, when latter made arrangements start immediately discussions of British draft. (Kirkbride had previously notified me London has given him green light commence negotiations without any commitments, and I told him that I was authorized informally [Page 569]endeavor ascertain just what changes Libyans considered necessary in his original agreement to make it acceptable to Parliament).

I informed Prime Minister, as suggested in Deptel 406, that US Government was surprised and disappointed at his note of January 3, that it was never our intention infringe on Libyan sovereignty, but that we sincerely appreciated spirit of friendship he had displayed in note. While Department still adhered to terms of original agreement I would be glad take advantage of goodwill in our relations and on strictly personal and informal basis examine with Libyan Government precise wording it desired to incorporate in our agreement to safeguard principles of Libyan sovereignty. I would do everything I could assist Libyan Government in this task and if I considered results so warranted I would forward suggested language to Department for its consideration. I stressed that I could make no commitments in advance for my Government, that proposed alterations or amendments should be minimum possible and that we should proceed rapidly in matter owing to necessity for prompt decision in Washington regarding defense plans for Libya.

Prime Minister said he was very gratified with this proposal and that the Department had left negotiations “in good hands”. He is certain of my friendship and cooperation and that it would not take long to agree on essential points. Question of sovereignty was of paramount importance. US especially should perceive necessity for safeguarding independence of new country, since US had fought for its own freedom and was champion of smaller nations. Libya trusted US implicitly, but could not be so sure of others. Only weapon Libya possessed to preserve its sovereignty was interest and friendship of US, on which it counted heavily.

Prime Minister introduced new line of thought to explain need for revisions in original agreement. He said Arabic translation prepared by Consulate General, which had been handed him at last minute prior independence, was couched in language which would be “incomprehensible” to laymen and in particular to members of Parliament. Suleiman Jerbi, who was present at our interview today, said he had attempted day or two before independence to prepare agreed Arabic text in consultation with Consulate Generals translator, but that time was inadequa’e. Muntasser said he had begged Lynch to defer signing for few days in order to give opportunity for study and comparison, but Lynch had insisted agreement must be signed without fail night of December 24. British Administrator Blackley had likewise put pressure to sign exchange of letters with United Kingdom on date set or else “there would be no independence”. In signing our agreement under such circumstances, Muntasser said, he had most assuredly understood that he could study Arabic version later and make such modifications or corrections as deemed necessary. Now after reviewing Arabic text at [Page 570]length, he could not assume risk of presenting Parliament with an agreement of highly technical nature, Arabic wording of which Libyan Government itself scarcely understood and was not therefore, in a position to defend intelligently in public. He had thought that with additional compensation he might nevertheless get agreement approved, but his request had been met with flat rejection and meanwhile other elements had entered picture.

When I taxed Prime Minister with fact that he had allowed nearly one year to elapse before calling attention to defects in agreement, he acknowledged that the fault was his, but made excuse that he and other members of Government had been too preoccupied with other matters following independence to get around to serious consideration of US agreement. I said that unfortunately US Government had all this time assumed agreement was complete and merely awaiting Parliamentary action, so that what appeared to be dilatory tactics on part of Libyan Government had made unfortunate impression. However, I would transmit his explanations and hoped that we could remedy situation quickly at this late date. Muntasser agreed, again expressed confidence in US and reiterated his belief that only few changes in agreement would be required, mainly for purposes of clarification and leaving no doubt as to Libyan sovereignty. Subject of counter proposals was not discussed.

Procedure agreed upon is that Prime Minister will submit proposed changes to Council of Ministers. When approval is obtained he will delegate Suleiman Jerbi to discuss wording with Legation representative, after which he and I will go over final draft. As preliminary step, Legation translator Afifi will make study of Arabic text of present agreement in order determine its accuracy and comprehensibility. Department will be kept closely informed of progress.

  1. This telegram was repeated to London, Paris, and Benghazi.
  2. Not printed; it reported the Departments of State and Defense regretted the apparent impasse in the base negotiations resulting from the Libyan note of Jan. 3 (see footnote 2, supra ) It authorized the Minister to engage in exploratory conversations with the Libyans on an informal basis as proposed in Tripoli telegram 509, supra . (711.56373/1–653)