45. Minutes of the Washington Special Actions Group Meeting1 2


  • Libya and Lebanon


  • Henry A. Kissinger, Chairman NSC Staff—Harold H. Saunders
  • Col. Robert M. Behr
  • State—U. Alexis Johnson Keith Guthrie
  • David Newsom (Libya only)
  • Rodger Davies
  • Defense—G. Warren Nutter
  • CIAThomas H. Karamessines
  • JCS—Vice Admiral Nels C. Johnson


1. Libya

The following revisions are to be made in the Libya contingency paper:
Mention is to be made of the capabilities of the U.S. to influence the Libyan Air Force and our plans to use this leverage in talks with Libya about the future of Wheelus Field.
A detailed scenario for [text not declassified] influencing the Libyan revolutionary government is to be added.
A summary of the plan for a military supported evacuation of U.S. citizens from Libya is to be appended.
Show of force (Option 3a) is to be deleted as a possible military action.
With the above revisions, the Libya contingency plan constitutes a fair statement of U.S. options in the present and perhaps the immediately foreseeable circumstances.
A short briefing on Libya will be included on the agenda of the NSC meeting on the Middle East scheduled for early December. The briefing should review the conclusions of the contingency study and cover the present situation in Libya, including a brief summary of our strategy in the upcoming negotiations on Wheelus Field.

[Here follows material unrelated to Libya.]

[Page 3]


Mr. Kissinger opened the discussion by explaining the origin of the Libya paper. The President had expressed concern over the direction Libya might be taking and wanted to consider what the U.S. could do to reverse the trend or to indicate to the Revolutionary Government that we are not going to be entirely quiescent. The President had become interested as a result of his talks with moderate Arab leaders and with the Shah, who had suggested transferring the Libyan oil quota to Iran.

Under Secretary Johnson noted that the U.S. imports so little Libyan oil that loss of the U.S. market would be of small concern to Libya. Mr. Newsom added that existing regulations made it very difficult to reallocate oil quotas.

Mr. Newsom explained the assumptions underlying the Libya paper. The major U.S. interest in Libya was considered to be oil, both because of its effect on our balance of payments and because of European dependence on Libyan oil supplies. The key issue was how to protect our oil interests in the context of Libyan demands for withdrawal from Wheelus Air Base and our desire to reverse the trend toward radicalism in Libya if at all possible. The general conclusion was that U.S. options were extremely limited.

Mr. Newsom said the immediate problem is the Libyan demand that we leave Wheelus. We are to begin talks with the Libyans on December 15. While we do not completely rule out a possible change in the Libyan political climate, we do not believe that the U.S. can take action to foster a political change without running a serious risk of strengthening the weak revolutionary regime. Under these circumstances our objective is to maintain satisfactory relations with the Revolutionary Government but to hold open our other options.

Mr. Kissinger summarized the basic approach of the paper as assuming that Libya is not yet irreconcilably hostile to the U.S. but that many actions which the U.S. might take would turn the Revolutionary Government against us.

Mr. Kissinger asked what would happen if the Revolutionary Government does become irreconcilably hostile. Mr. Newsom replied that the Libyans might nationalize U.S. oil properties. However, even were that to happen, the U.S. would have little leverage. A Hickenlooper situation would not arise. Mr. Kissinger [Page 4] asked if any of the measures analyzed in the Libya paper might be utilized in the event oil nationalization takes place. Newsom suggested that three such actions might be taken: (1) Withdrawal of U.S. oil technicians, (2) transfer of the oil quota, and (3) freezing of Libyan assets in the U.S. In addition, one other possibility not mentioned in the paper would be to curtail facilities for transporting Libyan oil to European markets. However, there were few U.S. owned or registered vessels in this trade. Under Secretary Johnson suggested that U.S. companies might, however, cooperate with a boycott of Libyan oil although if a boycott were undertaken we would be faced with the problem of finding alternative oil supplies for Europe.

Under Secretary Johnson noted the importance of examining the consequences of loss of Libyan oil to Europe. Mr. Newsom added that the German situation was critical because 45 percent of Libyan oil went to West Germany. One oil expert had described Libya as the only irreplaceable source of petroleum. This was because of the difficulty of arranging alternate sources of supply. In addition, European refineries were geared to Libyan oil and would require adjustments in order to utilize petroleum from other sources.

Mr. Newsom suggested the possibility of consulting the West Germans to determine if they have considered alternative supplies. In response to a question from Mr. Kissinger, Under Secretary Johnson said the matter could probably be raised with the Germans without danger of a leak but he wondered if it were necessary to talk to the Germans at this time.

Mr. Kissinger said that he considered the paper a fair statement of the options available in the present and perhaps the immediately foreseeable circumstances. However, it might be worth considering what the U.S. should do if the Revolutionary regime turns hostile. It would be useful to have a definition of “hostile” and to be able to present to the President the steps which we might take under such circumstances.

Mr. Newsom pointed out that in the event the Libyans turned hostile, another possible danger, in addition to oil nationalization, would be a campaign of violence against the American community in Libya. Many of the Americans are located in the oil field areas. The popular mood in Libya, under the influence of Nasserist propaganda, is growing less friendly. If the American community were threatened, the U.S. might have to undertake a military supported evacuation.

[Page 5]

Mr. Kissinger asked if there was a plan for such an evacuation, and Mr. Newsom replied that we have a plan which was tested once, in 1967, when we evacuated American dependents.

Mr. Kissinger said that the analysis of possible military actions should be amplified to include the possibility of military evacuation. He asked about the strategy to be followed in the event of evacuation. Mr. Newsom explained that it was planned to have U.S. forces enter through Wheelus.

Mr. Kissinger then raised the question of the military actions discussed in the present Libya paper. He asked if anyone believed that the U.S. could take any of these actions. He questioned the credibility of a show of force, noting that this technique was effective when used by the British in the 19th Century because it was known that further action would be taken in the event the show of force did not get results.

Mr. Newsom thought there was little likelihood of being able to take military action in Libya. Insofar as British cooperation was concerned, it was clear that the British had little interest in getting involved. Mr. Kissinger then instructed that Military Option A (Show of Force) be dropped from the plan.

Mr. Kissinger asked about the option for introducing additional forces into Wheelus. Mr. Newsom stated that this was not feasible, and Mr. Nutter agreed.

Mr. Kissinger asked if we should consider sending ground forces to Libya in the event the Libyan regime turned hostile. Mr. Karamessines and Admiral Johnson replied that this depended upon the purpose. Mr. Kissinger explained that in the case of evacuation there was general agreement that in extreme circumstances we would have to employ military force. However, in situations other than evacuation, the use of military forces appeared dubious. Mr. Nutter noted that employment of forces in Libya could not be separated from the general problem of utilizing U.S. troops in the Middle East.

Referring to a recent intelligence report concerning a Libyan approach to the French for 300 planes, Mr. Karamessines asked about the possibility of talking to the French and enlisting their [Page 6] cooperation in restricting delivery of the airplanes in the event of an impending or actual nationalization. [text not declassified] Admiral Johnson noted that the Libyans had also approached West Germany.

Under Secretary Johnson asked what our response might be if the Libyans came to us for military assistance. Would we be willing to pay something in the way of military aid in order to maintain a position at Wheelus? We might well be faced with this question when talks about the base begin on December 15.

Mr. Newsom commented that there were some hints that the Libyans may wish to retain a relationship with the U.S. based upon supply of military equipment and training but that they would not want to continue the base relationship. The question was whether it was worth maintaining the kind of presence that would be possible by providing military assistance and training. Mr. Kissinger asked about our present assistance programs and Mr. Newsom explained that the U.S. provided training and second echelon maintenance to the Libyan Air Force. In addition, the Lockheed Company has a contract for assisting the Libyan Air Force. The U.S. is selling Libya some F–5’s, which are to be delivered in 1970.

Mr. Kissinger suggested that as long as the Libyan question was coming before the NSC it might be well to wrap up the Wheelus question at that time. The principal issue was whether we wanted to go to the bitter end in seeking to retain the present base agreement. We would need to determine how much we would be willing to pay to retain the base or some sort of military presence in Libya.

Mr. Kissinger asked if we should insist on the letter of our agreement. Newsom explained that in accordance with the agreement each party could, beginning on December 24, 1970, terminate the agreement with one year’s notice. The Libyan mood is clear. They will not permit resumption of training activities at the base and want the U.S. to withdraw. It appears that the best we can get is one more year for the U.S. presence at Wheelus but with training activities suspended. Under Secretary Johnson added that under these circumstances we would be getting about one year less than provided in the agreement.

[Page 7]

Mr. Kissinger asked whether we should insist on our rights under the agreement. He also asked if the Libyans had the right to suspend training at the base. Mr. Newsom said that there was no right to suspend training but that we have acquiesced in the Libyan request, since the consequences of opposing it seemed even more undesirable.

Mr. Nutter characterized U.S. policy to date as avoiding a confrontation with the Libyans in order not to risk losing U.S. oil properties. He asked what would happen when we had yielded to the Libyans on the base and other military matters and they then proceeded to nationalize the oil properties. He suggested that we might perhaps adopt a somewhat tougher negotiating stance although he did not want to suggest that we hold to the base agreement to the bitter end. It would seem, however, that if we were too nice to the Libyans, we might only entrench the revolutionary regime more firmly.

Admiral Johnson noted that unarmed aircraft are still operating in and out of Wheelus.

Mr. Newsom said that we had assumed for a long time that when the King left the scene, pressures on us to withdraw from Wheelus would arise. In fact, moves for U.S. withdrawal had come up twice in the past, and we had managed to retain the base only by burying the issue after months of negotiations. It seemed hard to conceive that a future Libyan Government would permit resumption of training or would allow the agreement to run its course. Another problem was the fact that the U.S. aircraft stationed at Wheelus were Phantoms, which are embarrassing to the Government of Libya because this type of aircraft is associated with U.S. assistance to Israel.

Mr. Newsom continued that if the political orientation of the Libyan Government should shift, we might be able to continue limited training at Wheelus. Our present strategy, looking to the talks scheduled to begin December 15, is to lay the alternatives before the Libyans, state our willingness to withdraw and point out the complexities that would arise with regard to maintaining the Libyan Air Force after a U.S. departure. Mr. Nutter again observed that the Libyan problem could not be separated from our overall problem in the Middle East.

[Page 8]

Mr. Kissinger said that the Libyan problem would be discussed at a NSC meeting covering the whole Middle East situation. A few minutes would be allowed at the start of the meeting for a briefing to familiarize the principals with our present position with regard to Libya. Mr. Newsom noted that he would be out of the country at the time of the NSC meeting, and Mr. Kissinger and Under Secretary Johnson agreed that Johnson would arrange for a suitable person to brief the NSC on Libya. Mr. Kissinger directed that the briefing include a discussion of the problems we face with regard to Wheelus. It should outline the present situation and describe what we propose to do in response to Libyan pressures for withdrawal.

[text not declassified]

[Page 9]

Mr. Kissinger stated that the conclusion from the Libyan paper appeared to be that we can do nothing. He suggested that such a finding might create a certain restiveness if presented to the President.

Admiral Johnson said that he agreed and that because of his concern that we ought not to be completely negative, he had asked his staff to prepare a paper on possible actions that might be taken. He distributed copies of the paper to members of the group [text not declassified]

Under Secretary Johnson said that we were planning to use our leverage with the Air Force in the forthcoming negotiations about Wheelus. Admiral Johnson replied that the most immediate U.S. problem was the status of Wheelus. Mr. Newsom commented that there had been no attempt to focus on the Wheelus problem in the contingency paper because it was generally agreed that the base was secondary to our oil interests.

Admiral Johnson reiterated that he believed there were some small actions that we might take. [text not declassified]

Admiral Johnson thought that everything was not as black and white as the contingency paper suggested. Mr. Newsom said that officials at Wheelus were trying to keep in touch with Libyan Air Force officers and to get them to explain to the Army the possible problems that might arise if the U.S. withdrew from Wheelus. He cautioned, however, against overreliance on our leverage with the Libyan military and characterized the revolutionary government as having two tendencies—pro Libyan and pro Arab. There followed a brief discussion about the relative obscurity of the leaders of the revolutionary government and the circumstances that permitted them to take power when they did.

[Page 10]

Mr. Kissinger then asked Admiral Johnson if his proposal was in effect to expand the discussion of Option 4.d., [text not declassified] Admiral Johnson agreed and said that he thought the paper should also note other small actions, such as those being used in the Wheelus negotiations, which we can take to protect our interests in Libya. In response to Mr. Kissinger’s question, the members of the group said they had no objection to making these changes in the paper. Mr. Kissinger said that the President would probably wish to know about some of these actions and that he was averse to giving the President a paper in which every possible action was described as not feasible.

Mr. Nutter observed that the Administration seemed resigned to the fact that we would lose Wheelus sooner or later. Thus, the main question was to determine under what conditions and with what kind of a posture the U.S. would withdraw. If the U.S. were too tough, a bad situation might develop in Libya. On the other hand, if we were too compliant, the consequences might also be bad. He wondered if appeasement would be effective in saving the oil properties and observed that the Libyans needed to have some motive for wanting to have a U.S. presence in their country.

Mr. Newsom observed that we had retained the base heretofore in large measure because the King thought that it might offer a form of protection to him and to his family. Because of the general situation in the Middle East, the U.S. is not liked in Libya. Our real choice is between attempting to reverse the anti-U.S. conditioning of the Libyan populace or seeking with all deliberate speed to negotiate our differences in such a manner as to leave our options open—but to avoid a confrontation.

Mr. Kissinger cautioned against proposing to the President anything which the members of the WSAG did not believe was feasible. He considered that the WSAG had made a good assessment of the Libyan problem and that the paper did notjequire change except for the marginal matters discussed earlier, [text not declassified]

Mr. Newsom noted that a working group was preparing instructions to Ambassador Palmer for the forthcoming Wheelus talks. Mr. Kissinger said that the instructions should be cleared with the President.

[Page 11]

Concluding the discussion on Libya, Mr. Kissinger reiterated that an oral briefing on the Libya paper, including a short reference to the Wheelus negotiations, should be included on the agenda for the upcoming NSC meeting on the Middle East.

[Omitted here is material unrelated to Libya.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–114, WSAG Meeting, Libya and Lebanon, 11/24/69. Top Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Situation Room of the White House
  2. Over the course of this meeting, the group weighed different options presented in a contingency paper for negotiating with the new Libyan Government, focusing specifically on the issues of U.S. oil interests, the base at Wheelus, and possible covert intervention.