225. Telegram From the Department of State to Certain Diplomatic Posts1

185479. Subj: Current Situation and Outlook in Malta.

1. In view of current attention to Malta within USG and NATO, Department believes it will be useful for addressees to have following consolidated statement, which draws heavily on Embassy Valletta reporting, of present situation and outlook in Malta. Septel provides statement of US interests, current policy guidelines, and proposed course of action on Malta.2

2. Begin Summary. As British influence, assistance, and interest in Malta diminish, the Maltese are disappointed that they are not obtaining greater assistance from other NATO countries, including the US, or from the organization itself. The Maltese feel buffeted by East/West rivalry in the Mediterranean and are worried by Arab pressure. We are concerned that the pro-NATO Maltese Government, which is under heavy opposition pressure, is becoming more cautious about use of Malta by NATO and its members. If, as may happen, the opposition wins the next election, it might in time sever Malta’s military ties with the West and admit some form of Soviet presence detrimental to our interests. End Summary.

3. Malta’s long history under foreign domination left the people with an attitude of dependency that is heightened by a sense of economic insecurity. The Maltese feel buffeted to some degree by great-power rivalry in the Mediterranean. Some Maltese think that their country should be a neutral link between Europe and North Africa and, to a lesser extent, between East and West.

4. Strong British interest and influence have been shrinking and there has been friction in British/Maltese relations. A current cause of friction is the dispute over the loan/grant ratio of British assistance to [Page 738] Malta during the second half of the 1964/74 financial assistance agreement. Diminishing British aid, drastic reduction of the British garrison, and the permanent Soviet presence in the Mediterranean have caused the Maltese to look for economic and technical assistance (and perhaps some political guidance) from other NATO countries and the organization itself.

5. US relations with Malta are reasonably good but are not close. The Maltese are disappointed by what they regard as our failure to provide “adequate aid” in recognition of their country’s strategic value. Previously committed PL–480/Title II food assistance and Sixth Fleet expenditures are injecting annually over $3 million into the Maltese economy. Prime Minister Borg Olivier and his Nationalist Party government are disturbed, however, that we cannot approve investment guarantees or further economic assistance for Malta because of occasional Maltese-registered ship visits to North Vietnam and Cuba.3 The Sixth Fleet visits are unpopular with opposition leader Dom Mintoff and his Malta Labor Party.

6. Malta does not have particularly warm relations with other NATO countries. Borg Olivier’s attitude toward the Italians, for example, is that they have done little to help Malta.

7. Borg Olivier has advocated a close Maltese tie with NATO itself, but he appears to be losing enthusiasm for the present tenuous NATO/Malta consultative arrangement. He is disappointed by and criticized over his failure to extract some material benefit from NATO. He is worried by opposition charges that the NATO/Malta relationship, as well as the presence of a NATO naval headquarters in Malta (COMNAVSOUTH), create the risk of unwitting Maltese involvement in any East/West confrontation.

8. Government and opposition alike are worried that Malta’s military ties with NATO countries could hurt her relations with Arab states, particularly Libya, where the Maltese are anxious to expand commercial activities and preserve the welfare of their expatriate community. The Maltese are concerned over recent unfounded Arab charges that Malta, with US and NATO help, is providing military facilities to Israel. The de Carlo case further disturbed them.4

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9. Within Malta, the economy is showing some improvement, but the electorate is becoming increasingly unhappy with the government’s general ineptitude and failure to tackle pressing social problems. The Maltese bureaucracy is inert and dissatisfied. Mintoff is effectively hammering at the government’s reputation, repairing relations with the Church, and building confidence with the younger voters.

10. Outlook. As things now look, Borg Olivier stands a chance of losing the general election that must occur by March 1971. He is an astute politician, however, and may have some cards up his sleeve which would help him improve his position.

11. We are nevertheless concerned that, if present trends continue, pressure by Mintoff, disenchantment with the UK and NATO, and concern over Mediterranean developments will likely cause the present government to become more cautious and sensitive about military use of Malta by NATO countries. If reelected, it might have a very slim majority and be even more sensitive to opposition views than at present. In these circumstances it might well recede further from its pro-Western foreign policies, curry favor with Malta’s Arab neighbors, and possibly permit a resident Soviet diplomatic mission and Soviet fleet calls.

12. If Mintoff came to power, he might make no immediate change in Malta’s orientation. Mintoff, however, is both opportunistic and erratic. He advocates a “neutralism” that would include requests to the Soviets for aid that he could not extort from NATO countries. Depending on the degree of Soviet response and the condition of the Maltese economy, Mintoff might then take one or more of the following steps: admit a Soviet diplomatic mission, permit Soviet fleet visits, sever the NATO/Malta relationship, refuse to renew the 1964–74 defense agreement, and ban Sixth Fleet visits; in time, it is not inconceivable that he might allow some form of permanent Soviet military support activity in Malta.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 1 MALTA–US. Secret. Drafted by W.J. Walker (EUR/BMI) on October 30; cleared in EUR/BMI, EUR/RPM, EUR/AIS, DOD/ISA/EUR, AID/AFR/NA, and the Joint Staff; and approved by Springsteen. Sent to Valletta, London, Rome, USNATO, and CINCEUR. Repeated to Moscow, all other NATO capitals, USNMR SHAPE, USDOCOSOUTH, CINCUSNAVEUR, COMSIXTHFLT, CINCUSAFE, and CG 16th Air Force.
  2. Telegram 185478 to the same posts, November 1. It stated that “the chief foreign policy interest in Malta is continued denial of Soviet bloc access to Malta” and listed as the second objective preserving NATO forces’ access to Malta facilities. (Ibid.)
  3. The S.S. Timios Stavros, a merchant ship owned by Cypriot interests and flagged in Malta was involved in trade with North Vietnam and Cuba. Rogers discussed the Timios Stavros case and economic assistance questions with Olivier during an October 9 meeting in New York. Memoranda of their conversation are ibid., RG 59, Executive Secretariat, Conference Files, 1949–72, CF 398.
  4. On September 23, Daniel de Carlo, a U.S. educator employed at Wheelus Air Force Base in Libya, attempted to smuggle a Jewish Libyan out of the country aboard an aircraft bound for Malta. (“U.S. Accepts Controls By Libya at Airbase,” Washington Post, September 26, 1969, p. A1)