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228. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Malta1

116169. Joint State/Defense message. USDOCOSOUTH, CINCEUR, CINCLANT for POLAD. Subject: US Policy Toward Malta. Ref: Valletta 585.2

1. We agree with your assessment of Mintoff’s character and style of operation. We had those considerations in mind in defining our basic policy approach set out in State 1088843 and 11208.4 Our general policy at this time will be one of restraint. We want to take no initiatives. Our response to GOM initiatives will be unhurried, and based on a close assessment of US interests and those of our allies, which in some cases (UK and Italy) are more extensively and directly involved than our own are. You will have noted that the UK, Italy, and FRG have all adopted a wait-and-see policy similar to our own.

2. Concerning ship visits, we think that Mintoff may have an exaggerated idea of the value of Malta’s facilities to the US. They are useful to us, but by no means essential; it is not vital to us to maintain our ship visits to Malta. You will recall Navy only reluctantly undertook ship visits at Department urging in the sixties as part of effort to bolster GOM. The best way to disabuse Mintoff of the notion that the facilities give him important leverage on us is to show no alarm at what he has done, and no haste to learn what “revisions of general arrangements” he has in mind. FYI. We do have a great concern, however, with possible developments involving Soviet interests in the area. We consider it a military necessity that Malta not be permitted to become a base for [Page 743]Soviet naval and air operations. Any concession by Mintoff suggesting this possibility should be watched and reported. Similarly, his recent objection to NATO meetings may be his initial move in forcing the withdrawal of the NATO headquarters. The temporary cancellation of Sixth Fleet visits inhibits US flexibility in the area and appears contrary to both US and Maltese interests. End FYI.

3. Therefore, you should take no rpt no initiative to see Mintoff or to discuss the ship visits issue with others in GOM. Mintoff probably expects you to be anxious to know more about his plans. When you show no anxiety, he or others may raise the subject with you again. If that happens, you should say that you have informed Washington of the Maltese position on ship visits, and that Washington is waiting for GOM to tell us in due course what it has in mind with its reference to revisions of general arrangements. If the Maltese ask about our reaction to Mintoff’s request for equipment, you should say, without expressing any regrets, that you have reported to Washington and have had no reply.

4. Similarly, you should make no rpt no mention of the Oceanographic Institute project and the Timios Stavros case.5 Failure provide affirmative response to request for Sixth Fleet visit raises question of entry such vessels for repair in drydocks. For present therefore, we are holding in abeyance provision of list of repair opportunities. If you are queried about the latter, you should say that you understand that a work package had been in preparation, but that you have no information about its present status.

5. In summary, we intend to wait Mintoff out. We can afford to do so because the actions he has taken do not seriously affect US interests, and because to appear to propitiate him would only make him even harder to deal with. Moreover, our assessment is that primary target now is UK and revision of defense-financial agreement. Developments on that issue will be barometer as to how Mintoff proposes treat others. We wish do nothing that enables Mintoff play us off against UK. Your posture for the period ahead should be to take no initiatives, express no concern about the future state of US-Maltese relations, and continue your full and timely reporting and analysis of developments.6

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 622, Country Files—Middle East, Malta, Vol. I. Confidential. Drafted by R.T. Burns (EUR/BMI); cleared by Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and in PM/ISO, EUR/RPM, S/S-O, and OSD/ISA; and approved by Hillenbrand.
  2. Dated June 24, it reported that Mintoff had denied a request for Sixth Fleet visits during the next 3 months. (Ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, DEF 7 MALTA–US)
  3. Dated June 18, it provided the Embassy with “initial policy guidance” for its dealings with the Mintoff government. (Ibid., POL 1 MALTA–US) Dom Mintoff’s Labour Party won the June 14 elections by one seat. Copies of analyses of the elections prepared for the President by Kissinger, June 21, and by Pritzlaff, July 6, are ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 622, Country Files—Middle East, Malta, Vol. I. During the course of an August 10 briefing in which Zumwalt commented on the “uncertainty” created by the outcome of the Maltese elections, the President stated that he did not understand “how any major country like the United States could allow a stinking election in Malta to be lost . . . one vote, one member of Parliament, who apparently lost by about 10 votes. We must have a brilliant Ambassador there.” (Ibid., White House Tapes, Conversation 68–7)
  4. Not found.
  5. The United States had offered to begin a program of cooperation with the Maltese Government in the area of marine sciences prior to the elections. Regarding the Timios Stavros case, see footnote 3, Document 225.
  6. In an attached July 1 note to Haig, Sonnenfeldt commented that these instructions ran counter to NSC planning for an active intervention with Malta over the future of NATO bases.