239. Message From British Prime Minister Heath to President Nixon 1

Your people have been in close and continuing touch with ours over the crisis which has developed in our relations with Malta. But in view of the common interest which we have in this problem, I thought I should let you know personally how I see things.

We have done our utmost, with your full cooperation, for which we are sincerely grateful, to play this along in the hope that we could achieve a reasonable agreement with Mintoff. Hard as we have tried, the position we have now reached looks critical. Mintoff has forced our hand. In his latest message to me received today he has repeated even [Page 766]more emphatically than in his last message to Peter Carrington that we must pay up another pounds sterling 4.25 million by the [garble—end?] of this year, or else remove all our forces and their dependants by New Year’s Day. This is regardless of the understanding we reached at Chequers last September that the payment of pounds sterling 4.75 million made jointly by ourselves and other members of NATO was for six months to the end of March 1972.

If he maintains this extreme view there is no option for us but to start the processes of an orderly withdrawal in the hope that, when the full gravity of the situation becomes apparent, more sober second thoughts will prevail in Malta.

Your people asked that we should seek to avoid publicity for the situation that had arisen to give time for further consultation between us as well as in the North Atlantic Council. We held up publicity accordingly for 24 hours in the hope that Mintoff might have second thoughts. But in the circumstances we were unable to do so any longer. As the result of Mintoff’s recent public pronouncements in Malta, and particularly his Christmas Day broadcast, widespread speculation had started in the press. With the deadline so close upon us it would have been impossible for my government to withhold the real facts any longer.

We will of course continue to keep in the closest touch with you. Notwithstanding the present crisis it remains our aim as and when circumstances may permit to negotiate a new arrangement with the Malta Government beneficial to both sides. We shall continue to make this clear.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 622, Country Files—Middle East, Malta, Vol. I. No classification marking.