165. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1

3773. Pass ICA/W. Libyan talks opened morning January 15 with Kirkpatrick, Permanent Under Secretary Foreign Office, presenting UK position. He indicated UK reappraising foreign policy throughout the world with a view to refashioning UK commitments into pattern more consonant with current British economic and financial limitations. He spoke with particular feeling about financial and manpower burdens presently carried by UK … and expressed UK resentment that UK carrying heaviest burden any European power both in NATO and elsewhere. … In summary, UK economic survival now required realistic tailoring external commitments re resource availabilities.

Against this background Kirkpatrick turned to Libya. He indicated that from point view strictly UK defense interests, value of Libya as base diminishing steadily. As Russian influence in Egypt and Syria increases British becoming increasingly concerned with necessity securing its interests in Iraq and Persian Gulf, with Libya becoming marginal by comparison. UK appreciated, however, that West in general has important strategic and political stake in Libya which might be further secured should Ben Halim idea for North African confederation advance into reality. At same time Soviet threat to Egypt and Syria raises question re security Libya and, in UK eyes, underlines its marginal utility. UK as member of the Western community nevertheless prepared continue assist in Libya but only to extent permitted by her straitened economic and financial circumstances.

US representatives responded by politely emphasizing their assessment that Western interests in Libya of greater importance than indicated by UK. US has fixed military installation there which could not be readily duplicated elsewhere. United States has also noted with interest present trend towards development North African grouping friendly to West. We emphasized importance danger to NATO flank should Libya come under Soviet influence. United States, therefore, considers Libya highly important not only from viewpoint our installation there but also from viewpoint entire Western community. United States representatives indicated United States appreciation United Kingdom contribution to defense free world and sympathy its financial position but stressed United States [Page 466] also carrying heavy burdens. United States considered Wheelus Field to be vital contribution to defense of Western community. Wheelus’ effectiveness depends stable Libyan Government, to which UK contribution highly important. We thought unusual opportunity exists in Libya to create show window for Middle East by developing set of exemplary relations that country. Kirkpatrick stated he too attracted by show window concept and cited West Berlin as successful example. However, problem of finances inevitably enters picture, Ben Halim pressing UK to reduce its military presence in Libya and substantially increase its contributions to Libyan revenue. British Cabinet today considering reducing present UK annual contribution of approximately 4 million pounds to new level of 1 million pounds. UK also considering possibility contributing 2.75 million pounds to equipping Libyan Army as non-recurring expenditure. This figure represents Foreign Office recommendation re application retrenchment program to Libya and Treasury eager cut even this amount. Kirkpatrick indicated that gap between UK availability and Libyan request in amount approximate 12 million pounds.

Kirkpatrick went on to say UK planning progressive withdrawal UK troops from Libya from present strength seven units (8,000 men) to four by end 1957 and two (2,000 men) by end 1958. These two units would be stationed Cyrenaica to assist maintenance law and order and assist defense against Egypt. Future these two units would be reviewed end 1958. UK would also wish retain overflight and reentry rights Libya for which it regards foregoing financial arrangements price willing pay.

We expressed deep concern at large gap which would be exposed Libyan financial situation if UK reduction implemented. We hoped UK would make every effort continue maximize its contribution. We added, we obviously could not say what action United States Government would take if confronted situation outlined above. We would, however, report UK views to Washington and try give UK at least preliminary reaction during present series talks.2

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 773.5–MSP/1–1557. Secret; Priority; Noforn. Repeated to Tripoli.
  2. In telegram 3774 from London, January 15, Aldrich indicated that, pending instructions, he would try to persuade the British to continue their aid at the present level. He recommended against informing the Libyans of the British intention and suggested informing the British regarding the possibility of the United States assuming responsibility for the Libyan army. (Department of State, Central Files, 773.5–MSP/1–1557) Telegram 3815 from London, January 18, reported that the United Kingdom was willing to maintain current funding levels through March 31, 1958, but no decision had been made regarding future aid. The British agreed to delay informing the Libyans until the United States had the chance to formulate its position. (Ibid., 773.5–MSP/1–1857)