135. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

318. Subj: French arms deal with Libya.2

1. In wake unfortunate AP story alleging U.S. “concern” over French-Libyan arms deal, both Dept and this Embassy have made concerted and generally successful effort put canard of “concern” to rest.

2. I admit, nonetheless, to a degree of personal “concern” over this situation. In denying official anxiety over the French-Libyan negotiations, we have been careful to make clear that we neither encourage nor discourage the proposed arms transaction but have merely been seeking to keep fully informed. Despite these efforts at precise definition, however, I fear that our lack of “concern” is being generally interpreted in the press as a green light for French sales—thus putting US, in the public eye and mind, in the position of approving French delivery of Mirage aircraft to Libya.

3. In this regard, it seems from here that Mirages have become the emotional symbol of debates over French embargo policy, probably even more so in United States than here in France. Thus a contract for sale of Mirages to an Arab nation which has recently joined ranks of Israel’s most outspoken foes, even if planes are for significantly delayed delivery, risks producing psychological bombshell in France and in Jewish community worldwide.

4. With the Pompidou visit to the U.S. due shortly, it is hard to imagine less opportune time for French sale of Mirages to any Mideast country while identical airplanes remain embargoed in France. Public declarations of LARG3 simply add fuel to this fire. No matter how reasonable or logical French deal with Libya may seem in context of Western-Soviet rivalry for strategic portion of Mediterranean, public relations effect likely be disastrous.

5. In light of these considerations, I took opportunity afforded when FonMin Schumann sought me out prior Jan 8 dinner to express satisfaction at our recent exchanges on this subj to express on personal basis my concerns outlined above. I suggested to FonMin that GOF action to postpone conclusion of Mirage deal with Libya until after [Page 491] Pompidou visit to U.S. might prove very helpful to success of that visit. I stressed that I was in no way expressing judgment as to whether France should ultimately complete transaction with Libyans or not, but that my personal suggestion was limited to thought that deferring negotiations for couple of months would be in our mutual interest regardless of their outcome. Mirage issue, I explained to Schumann, was matter of psychology rather than logic. Were France to sell tanks and artillery to Libya even on large scale, public impact would not be as great. At end of my remarks, Schumann said he understood completely point I had made and added specifically Quote I agree with you Unquote.

6. DCM made same points Jan 9 to Gaucher, foreign policy adviser to Pompidou, who also commented that Ambassador’s remarks to Schumann para 5 above had already been reported to President. Gaucher said he could not predict how negotiations would come out [1½ lines not declassified] but indicated he fully understood and shared our concerns.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 676, Country Files—Europe, France, Vol. IV. Secret; Priority; Exdis.
  2. The arms sale to Libya, which had been the subject of rumors in the French press since late December, was formally announced by Defense Minister Debré in a January 21 statement to the National Assembly.
  3. Libyan Arab Republican Government.