63. Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to President Johnson1
Libyan base issue. Under pressure from the Libyans we’ve agreed to let Libya announce that the US accepts the “principle of withdrawal” from Wheelus air base (with no dates mentioned) when Libyan parliament meets, probably in late August.
We’ve done pretty well stalling the Libyans since the crisis over Wheelus base broke last February. We’ve asked them to set aside the question [Page 97]of abrogation (this would set a bad precedent for base agreements around the world) and to concentrate on gradual Libyanization of the base. We’ve promised we’d talk date of withdrawal early next year, after we’ve had time to figure out where to relocate Wheelus operations.
But Libyans have been insisting we give them something more to say to their parliament indicating we’re responsive to their desire to end the base agreement. Now the Prime Minister (under some prodding from the King) has backed off a bit. He thinks he can satisfy his parliament for the moment if we simply agree to “withdrawal” in principle. Libyans will read this as US agreement to get out well before 1971, but we think it’s the minimum concession we can make to avoid risk that we’ll be told to get out now. It buys us time to bargain hard next year on the actual date for withdrawal.
In turn for our accepting this compromise, we hope to get Libyans to keep their press and parliament from heating up the base issue again. While this deal may not stick, it’s worth the try. If we give a little we may be able to hold on to Wheelus for 3–4 years. The Air Force and some in DOD favored a stiffer line, but this was asking for trouble.
- Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Libya, Vol. II, 7/64–12/68. Secret.↩