105. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Williams) to Secretary of State Rusk1
- Libyan Policy toward Wheelus Air Base
Our attention has recently been focused on the future of Wheelus Air Base by 1) the resolutions at the Addis Ababa conference; 2) the organization of a Libyan Air Force; and 3) Libyan requests for additional aid.
Criticism in the Libyan press and on the floor of the Libyan Parliament of the presence of a foreign base on Libyan soil, while not new, has recently become more pointed as a result of the resolution, adopted by the African summit conference at Addis Ababa in June, that African states should negotiate the elimination of military bases from their territory.
The relatively new and more “nationalist” government of Prime Minister Fekini has shown itself sensitive on this subject, and has avoided denying forthrightly and publicly that it contemplates measures to eliminate the Wheelus Air Base. During discussion of a possible joint statement on the recently-expanded U.S. military assistance program, including the allocation of a part of Wheelus Base for the use of the new Libyan Air Force, Fekini attempted to introduce language suggesting that this action was preparatory to the take-over of the entire base by the Libyans. As demonstrated by the good-will trip he has just concluded to the Maghreb states, and by his recent public remarks on Palestine, the Prime Minister desires to associate Libya more closely with the mainstream of African and Arab unity movements.[Page 157]
We see no indication, however, that the basic Libyan policy of respecting the Wheelus Air Base Agreement (which expires in December, 1970) has been altered; indeed, a high Foreign Ministry official has assured our Embassy that such is not the case. However, under arrangements made with the Libyans in 1960, the $10,000,000 annual “rent” payment for the base is reduced to $1,000,000 at the end of CY 1964. We interpret recent, unfocused, requests for U.S. economic aid by Fekini and certain of his ministers as an effort to establish a favorable bargaining position for discussions on the future quid pro quo for the Base in anticipation of this reduction. As Libyan oil revenues grow, the economic justification declines, but the political pressures for such payment will remain.
The assignment to the Royal Libyan Air Force of facilities at Wheelus gives Libya a stake in the Base which we anticipate will be a moderating factor in Libyan attitudes toward the future presence of Wheelus.
King Idris retains ultimate control over Libyan policy, and the cabinet could take no fundamental action affecting the Wheelus Base without the King's approval. We have instructed our Ambassador in Libya to endeavor to establish such relations with King Idris as will ensure the preservation of our strategic and other interests in Libya. (Attached.) We anticipate ultimately extended negotiations on the future of Wheelus, but do not feel the time for such discussions has yet come.
The Wheelus Base is used primarily as a very important all weather training facility for U.S. Air Force, Europe. Insofar as we have ascertained the views of the Armed Forces, we understand that the Base will be required at least during the life of the present agreement, i.e., through CY 1970.