193. Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs (Elbrick) to the Secretary of State1


  • Status of Moroccan Bases

Background of Air Base Agreement

In 1950 shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War, Defense established an urgent requirement for SAC bases in Morocco. The U.S. accordingly undertook negotiations for the establishment of these bases with the French Government in view of the latter’s responsibilities for Moroccan foreign affairs under the Treaty of Fez.

During the negotiations, the U.S. urged the French to apprise the Sultan of Morocco thereof. The French refused to do this. In light of the pressing need for the bases at that time, the U.S. decided it had to go ahead under the circumstances and conclude an agreement with the French. Subsequent to signing of the agreement, the French were again requested by us to inform the Moroccans in general terms of the agreement. As far as is known, this was never done.

The Air Base Agreement of December 22, 1950 provided that the U.S. would expand and use already existent French facilities in Morocco. The bases were to remain French and any non-removable property would eventually revert to the French Air Force when the bases were no longer required by the U.S. Air Force. The validity of [Page 532] the Agreement was for the duration of the North Atlantic Treaty unless terminated earlier by mutual accord.

Actually, instead of expanding existent French bases, it was found necessary to build completely new air fields. The French Government acquired the land. The facilities have been completed: three SAC bases (Benguerir, Sidi Slimane, Boulhaut) and an Air Force supply depot (Nouasseur).

At the same time that the Air Base Agreement was negotiated, an identical agreement was made with the French for extending the U.S. Navy’s use of the French naval-air facilities at Port Lyautey. The Navy had been operating out of Port Lyautey since 1947.

For the past six months, with the approach of national independence, the Moroccans have made it clear both to the French and to ourselves that they would wish to raise with the U.S. the whole question of the bases. The Sultan took the position, which has since been assumed by the Moroccan Government, that the Moroccans were officially unaware of the bases as they had never been informed of the agreements. The Moroccans indicated that they did not desire the U.S. to quit the bases, but at the same time it was made clear that they wished to negotiate about the bases directly with the U.S. and to obtain extensive financial assistance as a quid pro quo.

The French Government tried to oppose this development and in its negotiations on “interdependence” with the Moroccans, endeavored to obtain Moroccan acquiescence to France’s maintaining responsibility for Moroccan defense and accordingly to the continuation of defense agreements, including the U.S. base agreements. If France could continue to act as an intermediary between the U.S. and the Moroccans, she would have a better chance of maintaining a monopoly over overall Moroccan defense. As was expected, the Moroccans refused to accept the French position and the French-Moroccan conventions just concluded specifically reserve the whole question of the U.S. base agreements. Had the U.S. insisted on the French obtaining Moroccan acceptance of the validity of the base agreements before signing the conventions, this could have long delayed conclusion of the conventions with serious repercussions on future U.S.-Moroccan relations.

Validity of Base Agreements

Whether or not the base agreements are binding on Morocco in the present circumstances is questionable. The agreements were not made in the name of the Moroccan Government. In fact Article 11 of the Air Base Agreement, which states that the French Government “will recommend that the Moroccan Government extend the [Page 533] benefits”, clearly shows that France was not acting as an agent for the Moroccan Government. Moreover, the agreements were not to assure the internal security of Morocco; the preambles refer to respective responsibilities in defense of Western Europe under the North Atlantic Treaty. As a result, the Moroccans may well challenge the validity of these arrangements and deny their binding character with respect to Morocco today.

On the other hand, in view of the existence of the Treaty of Fez, the U.S. had no choice in 1950 as to whom it should negotiate with. It was impossible at that juncture for the U.S. to negotiate with the Sultan; we were therefore obliged to accept the best agreement that could be negotiated with the French.

Regardless of the legal arguments, however, it has been clear that with the termination of the French protectorate, the Moroccans would insist on raising the question of the base agreements with the U.S. The charges on the Moroccan Government are rising daily, and taking Libya as a model, the Moroccan Government is counting on the U.S. for future financial assistance. The bases provide them strong leverage in this connection.


It is recommended that: The Defense Department re-examine urgently the strategic importance of the Moroccan bases and advise the Department of State of the results of this study. (It is understood that Mr. Gordon Gray has now requested the Services to undertake such a study.)2
Following this study and depending on its results, the U.S. be prepared to negotiate about the bases with the Moroccan Government at an early date. This should be a package deal including the Air Base Agreement with technical annexes, the Port Lyautey Naval Base Agreement, a Status of Forces Agreement and a Tax Relief Agreement. As a practical matter these negotiations would probably have to be conducted on a trilateral basis to include the French Government in view of the tie-in of the foregoing with France’s responsibilities in Morocco. This should not, however, preclude bilateral discussions with the Moroccans as may be necessary.
Although we should try to avoid establishing a link between maintaining the bases and economic aid, the U.S. should take under urgent consideration the feasibility of extending financial assistance to the Moroccan Government.
  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 711.56371/5–3156. Confidential. Attached to Phleger’s memorandum, infra. Drafted by Matthew J. Looram and sent through MacArthur to the Secretary and Murphy.
  2. A handwritten marginal note dated June 1 indicates that Gray had not yet decided to refer the matter to the Services.