40. Telegram 158075 From the Department of State to the Embassies in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco1 2


  • Reaction to Libyan Coup
Libyan coup has understandably created concern in pro-Western moderate Arab states and questions have once more been raised regarding credibility of US “commitments” to friends. While appreciating that discussion this issue can be delicate matter and runs risk either of generating requests for additional commitments or of discouraging friendly regime, Department nevertheless feels it is highly important our missions have matter in clear perspective. To extent it is useful, points this telegram may be used in discussions with host government.
USG has in various ways over past twenty years expressed its concern and interest in territorial integrity, stability [Page 2] and independence countries whose policies generally oriented in our direction. In certain countries, further, US has had installations of importance to it whose presence has implied a US interest.
States can to certain extent share responsibility in matters of external threat to one of them, but internal security depends in last analysis on government in power. In some cases US has made specific commitment to consult in event of external aggression but nowhere in Arab world have we made specific commitment to commit forces, to support specific regimes or to intervene in internal disorders. Making of such commitments by the US raises Constitutional questions, number of which are currently under study by Congress.
We are concerned, naturally, for survival of friendly regimes and would have an interest therefore in how they deal with internal problems which may threaten their stability and progress. To some extent we can be of help to government that is helping itself to ward off such threats in timely [Page 3] and constructive fashion, but in last analysis stability and security of regime depends overwhelmingly on its own actions. US strongly believes viability greatest where regimes maintain enlightened, vigilant attention to basic national social and economic needs. US has endeavored, while not ignoring direct security requirements, to emphasize these other needs in relations with its friends. Where regimes, either through growing distance from people, inattention, or toleration of corruption, make themselves vulnerable to sudden change, there is little US can do to save them from their own weakness.
In specific case of Libya, Deptel 149764 (being repeated to addressee posts) outlines limitations of US commitments. Conversations with key Libyan figures including King and Crown Prince over last few years have emphasized both that US most unlikely to intervene in internal disorders and that US would have grave doubts regarding viability regime imposed or reimposed by outside military intervention.
Intervention to support or preserve specific regime unable to help itself is serious and unpopular matter in modern context and may raise international legal questions. Even French, who have specific commitments with regard to certain African states, carry out their responsibilities with greatest discretion. US experience further has suggested that even when foreign government might be sympathetic to intervention, internal political factors within its own borders might seriously limit support it is able to give in this regard.
One further factor needs emphasizing. In dynamics of modern politics, slogans and categories can be misleading. Full evaluation of nature each country’s problems necessary before reaching conclusions on implications of political change. Too rapid an assumption regarding nature or support of political change can seriously affect ability of interested neighbors (like Tunisia in case of Libya) to influence and determine full results and effects of such change.


  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 LIBYA. Secret. Drafted on September 12 by Root and Newsom; cleared by L, S/S and AF; and approved by Richardson. Repeated to London, Paris, Tehran, and Tunis. In telegram 5131 from Tunis, September 2, the Embassy reported the comments of Foreign Minister Bourguiba Jr., who, recalling the Mossadeq case, said he hoped we and UK could in effect ‘bring the King back.’ I pointed out some of problems involved in action such as this.” (Ibid.)
  2. In this 4 page telegram, the Department provided guidance to Embassies in pro-western, moderate Arab states which had voiced concern over the lack of American reaction to the Libyan coup.