711.56373/4–153: Telegram

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


814. Prime Minister returned yesterday from Cairo and I had hour’s conversation with him today regarding Base Agreement.

I said first that our Embassy London had discussed UK-Libyan negotiations with Foreign Office and had received impression that speed of Libyan negotiations was affected by progress in solution of Egyptian problem. Muntasser said he understood this and had been under same impression, but that it might take two years to reach agreement between UK and Egypt and Libya could hardly wait that long. He had signed temporary financial agreement with British for four-month period, which was positively last time he could agree [Page 572]on such interim measure. Libyan financial situation required prompt settlement with British and it was not fault of Libyan Government that discussions were still pending. Meanwhile, it had been physically impossible for Council of Ministers to devote attention simultaneously to US agreement.
I then said I was under instructions to request Libyan Government take up US agreement at earliest possible date. I said we had waited considerable length of time and since UK discussions were not proceeding rapidly we hoped receive Libyan views without further loss of time. Muntasser replied he thought this could be arranged and agreed to take up question at Council of Ministers meeting tomorrow and on April 4. He would request Council prepare draft and open discussions with us next week.
Prime Minister said he had another important point to make. US Government had now been tenant at Wheelus Field for 15 months since independence and so far had paid nothing for facilities accorded by Libyan Government. It was, of course, assured that Libya would in due course ratify Base Agreement and likewise that US would pay at least $1 million annually for economic aid to Libya. It was expected that actual sum would be materially larger but in any case $1 million was due and payable at end of December 1952. He had, therefore, to request that this sum be advanced to Libyan Government against total amount which would eventually be agreed upon in form of annual payments.
I said I regretted that I could give him no encouragement on this score. While appreciative of Libya’s financial position and entirely sympathetic to need for economic aid, I could not imagine US Congress authorizing such expenditure without agreed and finalized version of our base rights in Libya. Moreover, there still appeared to be some misunderstanding between us, for which I hoped he would not hold me personally responsible and which we should soon endeavor clear up once and for all. It was still my understanding that payments for economic aid would commence only from date of ratification of Base Agreement instead of being retroactive as he implied. Muntasser said we should certainly clear away all misapprehensions and start afresh, but it was inconceivable that US Government would decline to pay for rights and facilities which it had enjoyed without interference over past year. If US refused to pay it would be same as if tenant of house declined to assume responsibility for rent while terms of lease were yet unsigned. Libyan people could never understand such attitude and failure of US to make payment retroactive would jeopardize existence of government.
I said I would, of course, transmit his request to Washington, together with an explanation of Libyan Government viewpoint, but that in my personal opinion appeal would have much better chance of receiving consideration if it could be accompanied by agreed-upon version of Base Agreement. Even if it were admitted that some payment were due I was unable see how $1 million could be made available in absence of any definite understanding re base rights between US and Libyan Governments. Muntasser said that financial situation was urgent (he almost said “desperate”), else he would not make this request. He could assure me that Libya would sign new agreement; surely US could not refuse to make “Beau Geste” at this critical juncture in Libyan affairs. He had recently discussed matter of US financial aid with “mutual friends”, who had been shocked at smallness of sum provided for Libya and who had offered to “mediate” on subject between us. (I gathered he was referring to members of Arab League at recent meeting in Cairo.)
I urged Muntasser proceed quickly with US negotiations if need of funds was so great. I said I hoped that modifications and amendments would be as few and simple as he had given us to understand they would be, and that it would be unnecessary to spend time arguing over words and phrases. Muntasser said it would, of course, be necessary to incorporate in agreement fundamental principles safeguarding Libya’s sovereignty and that he could not give us more liberal terms than he could grant to others. I pointed out it would be desirable have something accomplished before Secretary Dulles visit to Tripoli in May. Finally, in order to expedite negotiations, and since decision on modifications would have to be made in Washington in any event, he offered to ask Council of Ministers concentrate on US agreement immediately and present us with full text of all desired changes within one week. I accepted this suggestion and said I would forward proposed revisions to Department as soon as received.
  1. This telegram was repeated to London, Paris, and Benghazi.