80. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, November 29, 19561


  • Conversation With Algerian Leaders
[Page 256]


  • Ferhat Abbas
  • Abderrahman Kiwan
  • WE—Matthew Looram
  • AF/N—John Bovey
  • AF/N—Donald Norland

After describing his mission to South America, Mr. Abbas said he had been sent by the FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) to discuss the Algerian situation with U.S. officials.

He launched first into a long and bitter review of French activities in Algeria, the burden of which was that the Clemenceau laws of 1919 and the Statute of 19472 were all based on a false conception that Algerians could be somehow assimilated as French citizens. Moreover, this assimilation had never been carried through in good faith, since Algerians were in fact disenfranchised through a system of unequal representation in the municipal councils (2/5 Moslem, 3/5 French) and by assignment of equal number of seats in the French Assembly, even though the Moslem population of Algeria was eight times that of the French. Even when Paris did act in good faith, any moves to correct this situation were immediately sabotaged, Mr. Abbas said, by the colons in Algeria.

Mr. Abbas said there were four principal facts which American officials should know: (1) They must realize from their knowledge of the Indo-Chinese situation that France would never win the Algerian war. Algerians would continue to fight until the French accepted the principle of equality rather than assimilation. (2) The war would continue to cause grave repercussions in Tunisia and Morocco, whose close relation to Algeria explained French creation of the Protectorates and which was still a fundamental fact of political and strategic life. (3) The war created a danger of increasing Communist penetration of North Africa. If the liberation movement were decapitated (it had not been, Mr. Abbas hastily added, by the capture of the five FLN leaders on October 22), red maquis might well take over, although they had not done so anywhere in Algeria to date. (4) North Africa was North African and not Egyptian or Middle Eastern; it could therefore form a useful new element in the Arab world if the settlement of the Algerian conflict permitted.

Mr. Kiwan adverted to the possibility of North Africa serving as bridge between the West and the Middle East, and he emphasized [Page 257] the evident U.S. interest in the stability of the area, not to mention our moral interest in settling a colonial conflict.

Mr. Abbas reviewed the successive failures of his own movement, the UDMA and the MTLD of Messali Hadj, to persuade the French to drop their unreasonable insistence that Algeria was French and that Algerians were French rather than North African. In reply to a question, he tried to straighten out the orientation of the various Algerian labor organizations. Mr. Kiwan came to his rescue and explained the significance of the different groups as follows: The UGTA (Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens) was the true national labor front, which represented the FLN leadership. Upon its formation last year members of the Communist-dominated CGT had immediately deserted to UGTA and it had become affiliated with the ICFTU. The few remaining hard-core Communists had formed the UGSA (Union Générale des Syndicats Algériens), while the MTLD of Messali Hadj was grouped in the USTA (Union Syndicale des Travailleurs Algériens). USTA and UGSA were really paper organizations; they were analogous in the labor field to the maquis which Messali and the Communists respectively had tried to form for their own use instead of joining with the FLN.

In response to Mr. Looram’s questioning, Mr. Abbas set forth four conditions which the French would have to accept before the FLN would accept a cease-fire: (1) recognition of the national existence of Algeria; (2) recognition of her right to independence; (3) a political amnesty; (4) recognition of a provisional Algerian Government, with which France would negotiate. Mr. Looram asked where elections fitted into this picture; Mr. Abbas emphasized strongly that elections could only be held after the provisional government was formed.

We pointed out that insistence on these points, and particularly the fourth, would probably result in an impasse, especially in the light of the present political situation in France and asked whether more gradual formulas, such as those which appeared to interest Mr. Bourguiba, could be found. Mr. Abbas said we should try to see the arguments on the Algerian side instead of coming to the rescue of Mr. Mollet. He was told it was not our intention to take sides, much less mediate, on the Algerian issue; what we were interested in learning, however, was whether Mr. Abbas foresaw, given the realities of the situation, any possibility for a peaceful compromise solution of this tragic conflict.

Mr. Kiwan interrupted to say that there really was no impasse as “our friend” Abbas might have led us to believe. He said that the provisional “government” would not need to have all the attributes of sovereignty and indicated it might be analogous to the type of Tunisian Government which had been set up to negotiate local [Page 258] autonomy in 1955. Both he and Mr. Abbas seemed to agree, however, that the right of Algeria to ultimate independence would have to be recognized before the FLN would stop fighting.

Comment: Kiwan seemed to be speaking as an authentic member of the FLN and constantly referred to Abbas as a “friend” rather than a colleague. He corrected at least twice the version of the situation presented by Abbas, who seemed less sure of himself.

Abbas’ insistence that elections could be held only after the provisional government was formed might indicate a certain uneasiness as to the FLN’s position in popular elections held before it was firmly entrenched.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 751S.00/11–2956. Confidential. Drafted by Bovey.
  2. The Clemenceau laws of February 4, 1919, made French citizenship more accessible to the Muslim population and increased the local government role of Muslims who were French subjects. The Statute of September 20, 1947, defined Algeria as a group of overseas departments. It recognized two separate communities forming distinct electoral colleges, each of which selected 60 members of the local Assembly and sent 15 representatives to France.