233. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1

7248. For the Secretary. Subject: Malta. Ref: State 141021.2

1. Following on my talk with the Foreign Secretary August 2,3 I called on Minister of Defense Lord Carrington this afternoon to discuss Malta situation. I noted that Embassy over the weekend had put to UK Government two proposals for US participation in NATO package of aid or compensation for Malta to be negotiated by UK. I said that while recognizing that Mintoff may be unpredictable, mercurial, and determined to drive best possible bargain with UK, we felt that situation held such potential danger, particularly if opening might be afforded to USSR, that there was high degree of urgency in need to reach agreement with Malta. I observed that we did not sense same degree of urgency in British attitude and stressed belief of US Govt at highest levels that all possible should be done to make quick progress.

2. Lord Carrington said he would like to give me his assessment of Maltese position. Noting that Mintoff had come to power only because Catholic Church had lifted ban of excommunication on anyone who voted for him, Carrington said his remaining in office really depended on Church maintaining its present attitude. Carrington thought this was strongest factor militating against Mintoff turning to Soviets, for that would again bring down censure of Church.

3. Politically, Carrington continued, Mintoff held bare majority. While he had largely ignored his colleagues in his actions to date, there were signs that some of them were beginning to exert some pressure on [Page 752] Mintoff. This had lain behind Mintoff’s turn-around in accepting Carrington’s visit, and it could be a possible source of restraint in future. In any event, Mintoff had to consider his political situation and must produce something to enhance his standing.

4. Carrington thought Mintoff was really in fairly weak position vis-à-vis UK. If he ousted British forces, he would immediately lose approximately 20 million pounds which accrued from UK defense expenditures in Malta. Considering other economic returns from presence in Malta of many other British subjects and tourism from UK, total economic loss from British sources was estimated to be on side of 40 million pounds annually should there be total separation.

5. Second major economic and political factor was that departure of British forces would immediately cause 7,500 additional unemployed out of total work force of around 100,000, with unemployment rate already fairly high.

6. Against this background, Carrington said that his main impression from his talks with Mintoff was that latter was endeavoring to create elaborate scenario designed to drive wedge between UK and its allies so as to maximize possibility of securing increased aid from Western nations. At one point in private talk between just the two of them, Mintoff had tried to apply shock treatment by suggesting that Malta might turn away from Britain entirely in favor of another European country. Carrington rejoined that presumably this might mean Germany. Mintoff had dismissed that possibility and slyly asked how would Britain react if Malta turned to France. When Carrington immediately replied that Britain would be delighted if Malta could get 30 million a year from France, Mintoff seemed quite taken aback.

7. As for immediate financial outlook, Carrington observed that apparently US and some other governments had information suggesting that situation was critical. I noted that US Embassy in Valletta had reported Maltese view that government would not be able to meet payroll after August 15. Carrington expressed skepticism, commenting that Maltese Government has 70 million pounds in reserves in London.4 (He cautioned that this was highly confidential). Also, it was noted that Mintoff had apparently made no attempts at borrowing. I stressed that information available to US Government indicated serious immediate financial problem and asked whether UK officials would investigate this aspect of situation more thoroughly. [Page 753] Carrington’s people undertook to do so. Implication left by Carrington was that UK suspects US has been taken in by Mintoff on financial side of his scenario.

8. Carrington made it clear that although UK Government has its reservations about Mintoff’s motives, sincerity and reliability, it proposed to carry through with attempt to make up a reasonable offer to him. This would, hopefully result from NAC discussions, following which UK negotiations with Malta could resume. Carrington expressed his strong conviction, however, that the process of dealing with Malta should be deliberate and unhurried. Also, he thought initial offer probably should not go the whole way since it was inherent part of Mintoff’s psychology to expect that first bid would be low. I observed that it would be difficult to proceed in this fashion with several governments involved, some of which might leak to Mintoff. Carrington acknowledged that situation had inherent charactistic of sieve.

9. I commented that it was obvious that there was marked difference between US and UK Governments’ respective assessments of overall situation and expressed hope that we could stay in close touch. Carrington agreed.

10. Since Carrington is Minister most directly involved in negotiations, I must take his appreciation of situation as most authoritative on UK side. Report of Mintoff’s trip to Libya,5 which came over ticker shortly before our talk, did not faze Carrington. His attitude was that if Mintoff was able to get aid from Libya, it would not basically alter his national dependence on Western Europe. In view Carrington’s general assessment, which seemed persuasive to me, I think there is little question of UK Government entertaining any idea of immediate cash infusion and little choice but to proceed with NATO package and for UK to negotiate with Malta thereafter.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 728, Country Files—Europe, United Kingdom, Vol. VI. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Not found.
  3. Reported in telegram 7134 from London, August 2. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL MALTA–UK)
  4. In telegram 142339 to London, August 5, the Department of State requested further information on the status of these funds. In telegram 7311 from London, August 6, the Embassy replied that U.K. officials believed the sum on reserve amounted to $80 million and that Malta could use it as collateral to obtain commercial bank loans. (Both ibid., Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 728, Country Files—Europe, United Kingdom, Vol. VI)
  5. August 4–5. Between his election in June and the end of the year, Mintoff made four visits to Libya.