158. Memorandum of a Conversation, Tobruk, April 5, 19561


  • Conversation with King Idris, April 5, 1956, Part I

Accompanied by Prime Minister Mustafa Ben Halim, Ambassador Tappin called on King Idris in Tobruk on April 5, 1956, to discuss with him the program of U.S. economic assistance to Libya and Libyan policy in connection with Soviet activities within the country. Colonel William J. Cain, Jr., Commanding Officer of Wheelus Air Force Base, and First Secretary Rodger P. Davies of the Embassy’s Benghazi office were present.

His Majesty, who appeared in good health, received the Ambassador warmly. After appropriate greetings, the Ambassador spoke of his recent visit to Washington and of the sympathetic interest in Libya’s problems he had found among officers of his Government. The recent decision of His Majesty’s Government, under its capable [Page 450] caretaker the Prime Minister, to recognize Soviet offers of assistance as part and parcel of an effort to undermine good relations of the countries of the Near East and Asia with the United States and to reject these offers would most certainly confirm the confidence of the United States in the sincerity of Libya’s past affirmations of friendship.

The Ambassador said that Libya was the first country in the area to recognize officially the real basis of Soviet economic policies. In addition to serving as a reaffirmation of Libyan integrity and loyal support for the free world, this would also serve to make Libya better known and admired among the general public in the democratic world.

As His Majesty was aware, the Ambassador said, economic assistance offered by the United States to Libya preceded by many years the Soviet campaign and changes in the program recently discussed with His Majesty’s Government were not related to Soviet offers but were a result of the agreement in Washington in 1954 to consider sympathetically forms of economic assistance which eventually would enable Libya to stand on her own feet. Libya’s needs had been reviewed carefully and increased assistance seemed warranted by Libya’s progress. While the Ambassador was certain that the Prime Minister had familiarized His Majesty with details of the United States offer for this and the coming year, he stood ready to answer any questions His Majesty might wish to raise about details of the program.

The Prime Minister translated this to the King and in addition gave him a run down of the new program which was as complete an inventory as if he had read from a memorandum.

The King replied that he was familiar with the program from the Prime Minister’s discussions with him the previous week and it was pleasing to him. His Majesty said that Libya’s rejection of Soviet offers was in no way related to the new U.S. program; that Soviet offers would have been rejected in any case because he did not trust the Russians. He had confidence in his friends in the West and he hoped that they had equal confidence in Libya. He praised the Ambassador for his assistance in interpreting Libyan policies to the U.S. Government.

The Ambassador said that members of the Prime Minister’s staff and of his own staff were drawing up secret notes reaffirming the policies of the two Governments. While they would be classified, he was certain that those in both Governments who saw them would realize the strength of mutual confidence existing between the two. The Prime Minister translated this and, in addition, recalled to His [Page 451] Majesty the details of the proposed notes. His Majesty replied that he was familiar with the texts and approved of them.2

The Ambassador then said that Mr. Davies had informed him when he boarded the plane in Benghazi of a cable from Washington which said that strategic conditions and the favorable political climate in Libya were such that the Department of Defense had requested the Department of State to enter into discussions with the Government of Libya for expanded military facilities.3 In translating this, the Prime Minister informed the King that the Government of the United States was willing to discuss construction of a new base in Cyrenaica. The Ambassador continued that in expanding military facilities it would seem to be in Libya’s interest to have facilities in Cyrenaica so that the economic benefits in terms of employment and increased purchases of commodities would be better balanced as between Tripoli and Cyrenaica. The Ambassador also recalled that His Majesty had several times suggested construction of facilities in Cyrenaica in discussions with such visitors as former Air Secretary Talbott4 and General Tunner.

His Majesty seemed genuinely pleased and remarked that he had told various American officials that Cyrenaica was the logical place for construction of facilities since the danger was “from the East.” He said that in addition to the economic benefits which Libya would welcome, the United States would gain strategically in that “the Russians are now almost our neighbors.” (His Majesty obviously meant that the Soviets were penetrating through Egypt. His remark was accompanied by a hearty laugh). His Majesty said he accepted the principle of additional U.S. military facilities and would be pleased if they could be in Cyrenaica.

His Majesty excused himself for the mid-day prayers and then entertained the group plus Buseiri Shalhi, Nazir of the Royal Household, at luncheon. His Majesty’s remarks on other subjects are summarized in a separate memorandum.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 873.482/4–1082. Secret. Drafted by Davies. Enclosure 1 to despatch 346, April 10. Enclosure 2, not printed, was a memorandum of Part II of the conversation, which considered the Near Eastern and North African situations and radio communication equipment.
  2. For text of the Bin Halim note, see infra.
  3. Instructions on this matter were sent to the Ambassador in telegrams 433, 462, and 472, March 25, April 3 and 5, respectively. (Department of State, Central Files, 711.56373/3–2556, 4–256, and 4–456)
  4. Harold E. Talbott visited Libya in April 1955. Documentation on his trip is ibid., 033.1100–TA and 711.56373.