179. Telegram From the Embassy in Benghazi, Libya to the Department of State0

72. From Williams.1

During Tunis visit I was struck by warmth shown by both Tunisian Government and people. I could detect few signs US position on Bizerte had seriously harmed US-Tunisian friendship.
Outwardly at least I could also see little evidence Tunisian public any longer much aroused by Bizerte issue. This impression no doubt had limited significance however for pullback French forces just being completed2 and public not yet aware negative French reply to Bourguiba request for negotiations on evacuation.
Foregoing notwithstanding, I was made feel aware deep impact of Bizerte episode and President Bourguiba spent most my 75-minute meeting with him dwelling vividly on repercussions which Bizerte has had and will continue to have so long as French refuse negotiate for total evacuation. Come what may, he insisted, Tunisia would push “decolonization” to end. Decolonization and dignity: West had to realize these were for new nations primary goals to which everything else subordinate. Tunisia had resisted aggression on its own soil and had suffered terrible massacre. Report international jurists attested to atrocities. (Bourguiba indulged in impressive histrionics at this point.)
I think he was particularly depressed by French reply he had just received through Swiss. He apparently found no shred of encouragement in it. “French seem to have understood nothing,” he said.
Second way in which Bizerte impact could be measured was in serious problems created by departure French teachers, professional people and technicians. I was told Tunisian Jews as well as French and Italians apprehensive and many wanting to get out. Basis confidence on which previous GOT-GOF cooperation depended badly shattered by Bizerte and unlikely be restored in foreseeable future. GOT will certainly look elsewhere to fill gaps and additional problems this will create for us can be readily imagined.
Our group was made rather conscious of dogmatic, paternalistic even authoritarian way in which GOT directs Tunisian society, politically [Page 269] and economically. Seen in small way, for example, in obvious organization behind public welcome for foreign visitors. More serious, there is growing malaise and dissatisfaction among important elements Tunisian elite. However, there seem to be considerable difference of opinion and discussion on different points by policy makers.
In field economic development we wondered whether GOT really had capacity carry out all its fine plans. There is self-satisfaction here bordering on smugness. I am also apprehensive Tunisian planners giving insufficient consideration to role private enterprise and I took occasion tell Bourguiba so. He assured me there would be much for private enterprise to do. (Ben Salah tends to slight this role but in contrast representative government banking institutions I met with appear consider it very important.)
Despite these misgivings, I am still impressed by Tunisia’s great possibilities. I think US is presented opportunities with few parallels in Africa. GOT has energy, buoyancy, drive and intelligence. In experience and trained manpower Tunisia is years ahead of countries we have just visited south of Sahara. I think most important consideration of all is influence which Tunisia, small in itself, can have, we hope, in greater Maghreb context. No telling what problems we will face in future Algeria and we will need all restraint, moderation and influence Tunisia, as friend of West, can bring to bear. If Tunisia is not proof, politically and economically, of advantages close cooperation with West, we will certainly have hard time making headway in Algeria. In short, I counsel continued emphasis on Tunisia for itself and especially for Maghreb context.
Last but by no means least I wish to report I was deeply heartened by Bourguiba’s emphatic and what I took to be quite genuine reassurances about his basic affinity for West and especially US. He said this was matter of conviction which nothing not even Bizerte could change. This because we had same fundamental values, same conception of life and liberty. He felt same way we did about danger in USSR desire extend hegemony over world. In showdown Tunisia, so long as he was its leader, would be at our side.

As I was first high-level Washington official he has had chance to talk with since Bizerte, I took these assurances as special effort impress on us his friendship and goodwill.

Embassy Tunis comments this telegram would be welcome.3

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 110.15-WI/10-2061. Confidential. Repeated to Tunis, Paris, and Khartoum for Williams.
  2. Assistant Secretary Williams, who was on his third trip to Africa September 29-October 26, visited Tunisia October 15-18. He was in Khartoum, Sudan, October 21-24.
  3. On September 29, a Franco-Tunisian agreement was signed at Bizerte, whereby French forces withdrew October 1-3, 1961, to positions held before fighting broke out in Bizerte on July 19.
  4. On October 26, Ambassador Walmsley reported that he supported Williams’ observations and conclusions. (Telegram 601 from Tunis, October 26; Department of State, Central Files, 110.15-WI/10-2661)