112. Telegram 1227 From the Embassy in Morocco to the Department of State1

1227. Department pass to the Secretary from Atherton. Subject: Atherton meeting with King Hassan.

1. Begin summary: Ambassador Neumann and I met March 1 at Royal Palace in Fez for two and a half hours with King Hassan. Meeting began with working dinner at 10 p.m., at which half dozen of Hassan’s close advisors were present, and continued after coffee with Hassan alone on Moroccan side, at which time I made detailed presentation to him on Middle East and Sahara, following approved talking points.

2. On Middle East, Hassan expressed satisfaction that we believe there must be progress in 1976 and understanding of our position on PLO, but said it is important that our policy show results soon. Hassan was laudatory of King Hussein and urged us to encourage him in his rapprochement with Syria.

3. On Sahara, Hassan reflected determination to pursue his current policies and clearly takes satisfaction in success so far achieved. He is also clearly worried, however, about longer run, saying that events have escalated to a dangerous degree. His mistake, he said, was that he had everything worked out logically but made one basic mistake; he forgot that Morocco was in Africa where things do not go according to logic. Hassan said he will not accept prolonged guerrilla war of attrition and, if pressed, will attack Polisario bases on Algerian territory which is where Democratic Republic of the Sahara exists. It seems clear, however, that his immediate objective is to consolidate diplomatic support and prevent coalescence of support around Algeria, especially in Third World. He is encouraged by Soviet assurances that they want to avoid confrontation in North Africa and urged that USG approach So [Page 308] viets in effort to get them to persuade their friends in Asia, Africa and Latin America to cool down their support of Algeria.

4. Hassan expressed appreciation for US support and showed understanding of why we want to avoid direct involvement in Sahara dispute. At same time he urged USG not to miss opportunity to help indirectly to bring about resolution of Sahara crisis which would enable US to establish strong strategic position based on Morocco at time when future of US position in Spain and Portugal is, in his view, problematical. In response to question as to whether he had any further ideas about “elegant political solution” which he had said in October he would seek, Hassan said he would continue to search for peaceful solution that would enable Boumediene to save face as long as it did not bring into question Moroccanization of Sahara. He would not close the door to any dialogue, would not appear as an aggressor, and would do nothing to embarrass the US.

5. Overall impression of Hassan at this stage is that he feels himself in position of strength politically and militarily and is generally pleased with how he has manipulated matters. As he looks further down the road, however, he does not see how to bring situation to a solution with Boumediene, whom he profoundly distrusts and admits he does not fully understand. As result, he seems less confident about his ability to maintain his gains domestically and internationally in the long term. End summary.

6. During working dinner with advisors present, Hassan summarized his assessment of Sahara situation along following lines. New Sahara Republic will be recognized by a few countries, even though it has no territory, and then countries such as North Vietnam and North Korea will help it militarily. He has evidence, he said, that U.S. M–16 rifles procurred from Vietnamese are being shipped to Algeria by North Korea. Heavy weapons will begin to appear in the Sahara and, rather than permitting his military to be killed through war of attrition, he will move against Sahraoui bases of supply in Algeria which would lead to war.

7. Asked if he thought such an evolution of events was inevitable, Hassan replied in the negative. He believes Algerians made an irreversible tactical mistake by shifting question at OAU from one of recognition of a liberation movement to one of recognition of a new state, and that Boumediene now recognizes this and is nervous. In international arena, he urged that USG can play an important role, “not in Africa but at the Summit.” Kosygin had told Prime Minister Osman that Soviets do not want confrontation in North Africa and believe that the issue should be settled politically. USG could help by persuading Moscow to convince its friends in the Third World to cool down their support for [Page 309] Algeria. (Hassan indicated at this point that he would soon restore relations with East Germany.)

8. In an interesting if unsubstantiated diversion, Hassan developed interesting thesis that Polisario was not created by Algeria but by leftist Spanish officers seeking a base from which to move against Franco’s regime in Spain. He accused Algerians of exerting pressure on Spain, inter alia by offering to be host to Spanish opposition groups now living abroad. With respect to Spain, Hassan expressed unhappiness with present Spanish position on legality of Moroccan/Mauritanian takeover and said that Spanish should remember that tripartite agreement also includes annexes giving economic advantages to Spain; if Spain does not abide by tripartite agreement, Morocco will not abide by these annexes.

9. After dinner, Hassan dismissed his advisors and asked me to convey to him my instructions from the Secretary. I said that the Secretary had sent me on this trip because situations are developing in the Middle East and North Africa which will be important to both Morocco and the US. The Secretary had asked me to review all matters of common interest with His Majesty in accordance with our practice of periodic consultations. Hassan indicated he would prefer to review Middle East situation first, and I therefore made detailed presentation of our present assessment and efforts along standard lines. At the end I expressed our appreciation for Hassan’s understanding attitude toward our Middle East peace efforts, said that the Secretary had always appreciated His Majesty’s views and advise and offered to convey his comments back to Washington. In brief response, Hassan expressed satisfaction that we agreed that there should be progress in 1976. Re our strategy toward PLO, he said this would pay dividends in the long run but contains dangers in the short run. He urged that we show results soon. Finally, he said he thought we should encourage King Hussein to continue playing his peace role and should “push him towards President Asad.” He expressed admiration for Hussein and believed that Hussein’s influence could be useful. He also foresaw growing differences between Syrians and Palestinians.

10. I concluded this portion of the discussion by emphasizing it was important for success of our efforts that voices of moderation continue to prevail in Arab world; militant steps or actions taken out of frustration, such as move to expel Israel from UN, could reverse favorable trend of recent years. I also stressed need for PLO to follow Egyptian and Syrian lead in accepting that final peace settlement must include recognition of existence of Israel. Hassan’s response was that PLO would act more responsibly if they had more responsibility.

11. Turning to the Sahara question, I said that the results of various efforts to mediate the dispute have been disappointing. We fear that if [Page 310] Algeria and Morocco fail to reconcile their differences, this will create regional instability which in turn could be exploited by the Soviets, Cubans or other outside elements to serve their own interests.

12. I said I had not come in the role of mediator or to press any particular solution or approach. The United States does not believe it would be helpful for the US to become involved in the substance of any negotiations among the concerned and interested parties. We believe this problem should be settled on a regional basis or within the context of the UN, and we shall continue to lend our support to such efforts.

13. I said I had come, after a stop in Tunisia, from Algeria, where I joined with Under Secretary Robinson in talks with President Boumediene on a range of economic and political issues. The Algerians, in Algiers and Washington, have conveyed to us (as they have to many other countries and to UN Secretary General Waldheim) their well-known position. In my talk with Boumediene, I explained the rationale for the policy we have followed. I pointed out the risk to Algerian interests of pursuing a militant course or of any steps to internationalize the dispute. I also made clear that we want friendly relations with Algeria, but not at the expense of our old friendship with His Majesty.

14. We were heartened, I said, by Hassan’s and President Boumediene’s declarations that neither of their countries will deliberately initiate hostilities over the Sahara question. However, so long as the military buildup continues on both sides and so long as guerrilla warfare persists, there is a real danger that an unplanned incident could touch off generalized hostilities. Such a conflict would cause great suffering for the peoples of the area and would divert precious resources from the respective country’s development needs.

15. A prolonged confrontation, encompassing guerrilla activities and countermeasures, subversion tactics and the injection of outside elements could have equally injurious human and economic consequences and could undermine the existing balance of power in North Africa.

16. We know from Mr. Karim Lamrani’s recent conversation with Secretary Kissinger, I continued, that Hassan is fully aware of the strategic implications of this situation. Of particular concern is the possibility that Algeria, frustrated in its policy, may internationalize the problem by turning to the Soviet Union, Cuba or North Vietnam for moral and material assistance.

17. We would also view with gravity any signs that Boumediene was thinking of abandoning his tacit support for a negotiated Mid East settlement and of moving into the radical Arab camp as a response to what he probably considers to be a political defeat in the Sahara. The growing rapprochement between Algeria and Libya is one disturbing indication of this.

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18. I continued that, if this problem is not settled by negotiation in a manner which is at least partially responsive to the sensitivities of all concerned and interested parties, we fear events will move in the direction I had just described.

19. The principle of self-determination has wide popular appeal and Algeria will surely exploit this factor to the utmost. US public attention is beginning to focus on this aspect of the Sahara problem judging from recent inquiries received by the Congress and State Department.

20. As Secretary Kissinger had indicated to Mr. Lamrani, we want to be helpful to Morocco, and we are sympathetic to Hassan’s problem in the Sahara. We are making every effort to provide Morocco with the arms it feels it needs and to facilitate the transfer of arms from other countries. It is important if tension increases that Morocco be portrayed in our Congress as the victim of aggression rather than failing to carry out the spirit and intent of the UNGA Resolution on the Sahara for which we voted.

21. For these reasons. I said I would appreciate anything His Majesty could tell me about his thoughts on how to proceed diplomatically to reduce the present tensions. I noted that His Majesty said when I saw him in October that efforts would be made to find an “elegant solution” on the political side which would make the outcome acceptable to Spain. Is there anything specific he has in mind beyond the steps already taken?

22. Hassan said we could be assured that Morocco will never be an embarrassing friend for the US but asks that we help indirectly. He believes that the NATO countries will support him. Noting that at present Tunisia provides the only ports in Southern Mediterranean where USG can resupply nuclear submarines, whereas Soviets have entire Algerian and Libyan seacoasts, he said that never before had Moroccan public opinion been as responsive as it is today to the idea of taking sides. As a result he can now accept US nuclear powered ships at Moroccan ports, which would have been impossible 8 months ago. Hassan said he did not know which way Spain and Portugal would go but he knew where Morocco was going. Saying that he was weighing his words carefully, Hassan said that if Moroccans knew that USG could solve the Sahara problem, they would send delegations to Washington asking for an alliance. This was an opportunity USG should not miss. He was only asking US to act consistent with our support for pro-Moroccan resolution in UNGA in December. Hassan emphasized that he would “spurn no offer to make peace” “I will not close the door on any dialogue—I will help Boumediene to save face because this is what the situation is all about—I will do anything except place into question again the Moroccan character of the Sahara—I will even accept that Boumediene be [Page 312] the one whose good offices we use to talk to the Polisario—I will speak to the Polisario under his good offices to help him save face.”

23. Toward end of conversation Hassan said again that he would cause US no embarrassment. “I will commit no aggression, but when I have had enough I will do everything to assure that I am attacked.” In conclusion, I told Hassan this had been a useful exchange of views. I would convey this comments to the Secretary and leave with him the question I had asked earlier: Does he have anything further in mind so far as an “elegant solution” is concerned. Hassan said “I have no choice except to find an elegant solution, that is my job, that is what the state pays me to do.” As he was seeing me out, Hassan expressed warm thanks for our efforts to ensure speedy transfer of military equipment from Jordan and Iran.

  1. Summary: Atherton reported on his March 1 meeting with King Hassan, in which they discussed the Sahara dispute.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840105–0879. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.