15. Memorandum for the Record0

At Ambassador Guellal’s request I had luncheon with him and Ben Bella’s special emissary Yazid. It was quickly apparent that I was being given a preview of the Algerian case to be presented to Secretary Rusk that afternoon.1 After a long wind-up about peace-loving Algeria which simply wanted to develop in its own way on its own socialistic model, he pinned the rose on the Moroccans for trying to upset the Ben Bella regime as well as seize the valuable iron deposits at Tindouf. His case was that Algeria did not want a war with Morocco and had repeatedly offered to negotiate “without any agenda” but that the Moroccans had consistently rejected this. He said the Algerians were standing on an issue of principle. All the African states at the OAU Conference in Addis Ababa had agreed that the borders established during the colonial period should be accepted and that no borders should be changed by force. He understood that the US favored the OAU and accepted the decisions of the Addis conference. Therefore, where did the US stand on this question of principle? Would we condone a Moroccan attempt to change by force an existing frontier?

I evaded the issue, saying that we were neutral in this dispute and had taken no position on the merits; however, we understood the question to be what was the “border” between Morocco and Algeria in this area? The Moroccans seemed to claim it was simply an administrative line which had been frequently changed, and that the places in dispute were in fact on their side of the “border.” In any case, I was sure we would not want to get dragged into the middle of a dispute between two friends of ours unless we were forced to do so. Our great concern was that a minor border issue seemed to be blowing up into a major confrontation between Algeria and Morocco, in which each side was claiming that the future of its own regime was at stake. It seemed to us in the best interests of both countries that this trend be reversed before other powers were drawn into the situation and a choosing-up of sides resulted which would make it very difficult for the US to stand aloof. The President had amply demonstrated our friendly interest in Algeria, but we were on good terms with the Moroccans too. They had provided us SAC bases at a time when we needed them, although we were getting out by agreement now. Both Algeria and Morocco were young countries with major [Page 20] internal problems which we were trying to help them surmount. A major fight between them could only interfere with their domestic development; this was worth every effort to avoid. We hoped a situation would not develop in which the UAR and others came so openly to the assist-ance of Algeria as to put great pressure on us, the French, and the Spanish to give countervailing assistance to Morocco and thus convert the issue into an East-West confrontation which would help nobody. Were the issues involved in the border dispute of sufficient seriousness to run this risk? Yazid said he fully understood our position.

Yazid said they did not want to take the issue to the UN precisely because it might prove embarrassing to the US and France. What would we do, however, if the UN became involved? I responded that all one could say at this point was that we would call the shots as we saw them. However, if the issue blew up to the point where UN intervention seemed essential, I was sure we would come down in favor of peacekeeping regardless of whether it made one side or the other sore at us.

At the outset I told Yazid and Guellal that the President had very much wanted to see Ben Bella if he came and regretted it wasn’t possible at this point. After expressing appreciation, Yazid said that since he was a special emissary from Ben Bella, they had thought of asking for an appointment but had concluded it would not be proper. However, he hoped to present their case informally to certain key Congressmen; it had been suggested he talk with Senator Kennedy. What did I think about their using a family connection in this way? My own personal view was that it was probably wiser not to try and exploit a family connection.

I stressed to Yazid the importance of not letting rumor, tendentious press stories, and incipient misunderstandings get in the way of US-Algerian relations. There had been too much of this recently. I hit him hard on Algerian press allegations that US pilots were transporting Moroccan troops. He was most apologetic, mentioning that he hoped to help set the record straight at a press conference after his talk with Secretary Rusk. They hoped to exert more effective influence on the press, which he admitted was often quite irresponsible. But the American press had its flaws too. I countered that we hadn’t yet nationalized our newspapers but if the antics of their press were any guide, this didn’t seem to do much good. Yazid said he expected to tell Ben Bella not to be so sensitive to US press stories, but that we must realize we were dealing with a young and fairly inexperienced regime.

I asked Yazid what had happened to his mission to Marrakech, which at one point seemed to be succeeding. He answered that he had sought a cease-fire and return to positions as of 1 October but the Moroccans insisted on holding Algerian territory. As for negotiations, they insisted that these were possible only if border questions were specifically on the agenda. So it was impossible to reach agreement. When [Page 21] Guellal began talking about Moroccan aggression, I asked about the Hassan-Ferhat Abbas agreement of 1961 just published by the Moroccans, which seemed to indicate that the two parties had agreed to negotiate the border issue. Yazid said that the agreement had been in French but the Moroccans had made their own slanted Arabic translation. As everybody knew, Ferhat Abbas couldn’t even read Arabic so he had been “had.”

As we parted I again mentioned our neutrality on the issue in dispute but our strong feeling that this issue should not be permitted to lead to a major to-do which would encourage outside intervention. We understood Algeria’s desire to develop in its own distinctively Algerian way; we also recognized its right to accept assistance from any quarter and fully expected that it would seek help from East and West. But we hoped the Algerians would recognize that becoming too beholden to any single outside power or group of powers would compromise their own freedom of action over time.

We ended by my mentioning to Yazid that he and I were the same age but the reason why I had so much more grey hair than he did was because of the frustrations of trying to keep up with such volatile people as Sukarno, Nehru, Nasser, and Ben Bella. He laughingly responded by telling me that he tried to call Ben Bella in Algiers last night and the American operator had asked him “do you mean Algiers, Morocco?” However, he would not take this as an indication of US policy.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Algeria, 10/63. Secret. Drafted by Robert W. Komer. Copies were sent to Bundy, Williams, and Newsom.
  2. Yazid’s conversation with the Secretary on October 23 is recorded in a memorandum of conversation in Department of State, Central Files, POL 32-1 ALG-MOR.