153. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Libya1

304. Department studying problems raised your recent messages re situation Libya created by Soviet offers and apparent lack determination Libyan leaders to pursue policies affording adequate assurances continued cooperation with West and protection Libya against Soviet penetration.

As you surmised in Embtel 3712 permanent solution these problems must be based on long-term, area-wide policies designed to counter new Soviet threat. Our understandable unwillingness respond to intense pressure should not cause Libyans assume we do not care whether Soviet offers accepted and Russians permitted enter Libya in large numbers. On other hand because of implications going far beyond Libyan problem, we cannot afford give Libyans impression we prepared outbid Russians and that all Libya has to do is name price for its undertaking to turn down Soviet offers (which Ben Halim seems recognize would be against Libya’s ultimate national interest).

In Deptel 2803 Department sought find acceptable course between foregoing extremes to guide you in reacting to Libyan pressures. [Page 435] We set forth extent to which commitments could now be given to Libyans regarding specific American aid. We had in mind putting this to Libyan leaders in such manner as to indicate neither (a) that US frantically seeking placate Libyans by offers which would not have been made in absence Soviet moves; nor (b) that offers were on take it or leave it basis. Regardless of whether US might later determine it possible and feasible increase aid to Libya, most essential element in present situation is recognition by Libyans that it would not be in their national interest or consistent with their efforts maintain Libyan independence and sovereignty if they should be misled by Soviet blandishments and fail recognize obvious purpose of Soviet move.

Department fully appreciates fact you view present situation with deep concern and are striving energetically to put forward recommendations which in your judgment might meet problem. While, as stated above, what we do in Libya must be carefully weighed in light implications elsewhere, we believe it possible, assuming some reasonableness on part of Libya, work out understanding re aid that will reassure both sides as to need, timing and effectiveness. Would be extremely helpful if you could return Washington as soon as convenient to participate discussions this matter. Travel orders being telegraphed separately.

Important that purpose your visit Washington not be taken as connoting anything more than routine consultation. Certainly Libyans should not be given basis for belief visit will produce substantial additional aid, which, when it failed materialize, would cause severe disappointment. For same reason hope you can avoid pleas for additional aid from Libyans.

Before departure you should hold discussion with King along lines Deptel 280. (To avoid any possibility confusion, you may wish have your own interpreters present.)4

Department will discuss with you in Washington your suggestions re US participation in joint “working party” suggested Embtel 3815 as well as question your attending Libyan cabinet meeting. [Page 436] Suggest these meetings not be held at least until after your return Tripoli. Decision re your proposal Sahili visit Washington also deferred.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 773.5–MSP/1–2656. Repeated to Benghazi and by pouch to London and Paris.
  2. Telegram 371, January 26, suggested that strategic considerations conceivably justified treating Libya as a special case. Ambassador Tappin requested permission to be more forthcoming in promising additional economic assistance to Libya. Otherwise he foresaw Libya’s acceptance of the Soviet offer. (Ibid.)
  3. Document 150.
  4. Telegram 414, February 13, summarized the Ambassador’s February 11 discussion with the King. Idris repeated that Libya’s establishment of diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union had been designed to show the nation’s independence. Tappin brought up the Soviet aid offer. The King’s response was that the logical answer was sympathetic consideration by the West of Libya’s needs in the form of concrete assistance. He promised to discuss the matter with the Prime Minister. (Department of State, Central Files, 123–Tappin, John L.)
  5. Telegram 381, January 30, reported the substance of a meeting between Tappin and Bin Halim. The Ambassador raised the possibility of a roundtable conference between himself, Embassy, USOM, and Wheelus Field representatives and the Libyan Prime Minister and Cabinet members. Tappin noted his disillusionment that Libya would even contemplate a flirtation with the Soviets. Bin Halim recognized the good intentions of the United States but maintained that Libya required an adequate response to present needs. Tappin recommended to the Department that Finance Minister Ali al-Sahili be invited to Washington as a first step in giving serious consideration to Libya’s Five-Year Plan. (Ibid., 773.5–MSP/1–3056)