176. Telegram From the Embassy in Libya to the Department of State1

244. Deptel 276, repeated London 2571.2 I am afraid that I have somehow failed to get across to Department principal point of recent cables from this Embassy (especially Embtel 226),3 although upon review of all of them back as far as Embtel 518 of February 4,4 I must frankly conclude that these have been both complete and explicit. However, danger of psychological defeat and even loss of position for US is so great over next few months as British withdraw that it essential that Department and Embassy see eye to eye on handling. Therefore this latest attempt describes situation.

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Basic questions confronting Embassy are not only when to discuss future intentions with GOL but also what we say when we do discuss them. Availing myself of option offered me by Department in Deptel 769,5 I have chosen only practicable tactic on question of “when” in interest of maintaining solid western front in Libya. I have waited for Libyans to approach me when British intentions have been revealed to them. I am sure Department appreciates that I could not and cannot as American Ambassador go to Libyans and confidentially inform them that US knows that British plan drastic withdrawal but are concealing fact from Libyans. This would be extremely damaging. Furthermore, since I have absolutely no basis or authority for assuring Libyans that US will be able cover gap created, such action would represent such real risk of causing Libyans to turn precipitously to Egyptians and Soviets that neither Embassy nor Department would be prepared accept.

I have been in constant touch with British Ambassador and members Embassy staff have been in constant touch with their opposite numbers in British Embassy. Confidentially, we find British here no happier than we are with proposed British course of action. In particular, they have been unhappy over heel-dragging on part London in revealing to Libyans British intentions reduce subsidy drastically. Personally suspect London has delayed in hopes US would break down and confirm intention underwrite gap, thus softening revelations considerable.

As for question of “what”, there is nothing complicated about this part of issue. Do we intend take action that will result in maintenance preeminent US position in Libya, in accordance with NSC doctrine, Vice President’s report6 and other policy statements? Or do we intend take risk involved in sharing costs of Libya with Egypt-Soviet axis? Or are we prepared to apply real pressure at top level to get British to continue previous subsidy rate?

Personally, I feel strongly that one more strenuous effort should be made at highest possible level to change British decision. But if decision is unchangeable, hard facts of life are that present US plans for continued economic assistance to Libya (Deptel 230)7 are inadequate and I must warn that, unless they are revised upward, US faces real likelihood of substantial loss of position here in favor of Egyptians and Soviets. There is no fancy language that I can use Libyans which will convert sympathetic consideration into sustaining diet. This is my personal and considered estimate of situation. Every [Page 501] member of country team concurs in this view. Facts as viewed from ground in Libya appear incontrovertible.

In accordance with instructions contained Deptel 276 I conferred again with British Ambassador October 9. Our staffs met as working party yesterday. We are all meeting again this morning. Results these conferences will follow by cable soonest, but frankly we are miles apart on handling.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 773.5–MSP/10–1157. Secret. Repeated to London and Benghazi.
  2. Supra.
  3. Telegram 226 from Tripoli, October 4, concluded that “dollar diplomacy” was required to buy time for the continued operation of U.S. air facilities. Tappin stressed the military, strategic, and political considerations compelling the United States to maintain its position in Libya and counter Egyptian and Soviet pressures. (Department of State, Central Files, 773.5–MSP/10–457)
  4. Telegram 518 from Tripoli, recommended that the United States press the British to finalize their plans. Tappin emphasized that the United States would inevitably have to make up the shortfall if Free World interests were to be preserved in Libya. (Ibid.)
  5. Document 171.
  6. Document 19.
  7. See footnote 8, supra.