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20. Information Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs (Newsom) to Acting Secretary of State Rush1

US Passport Policy re Libya

We have up to now maintained our policy of not acceding to Libyan demands that our passports contain official translations of their basic information into Arabic. We have been concerned by the travel document precedent which acceptance of the Libyan demand could set. We have also been unwilling to appear to yield to Libyan pressures.

In recent weeks, US businessmen and their families have been generally admitted into the country without major problems, although their passports have not been in Arabic. However, the Libyan Government will not allow any US Government employees to enter Libya because of the passport language requirement. If any of our personnel leave the country presumably they will not be readmitted. Other diplomatic personnel—British, Swiss, German and Venezuelan—have experienced the same problem on attempting to enter or re-enter Libya. Thus, for all practical purposes we cannot transfer our Embassy personnel unless we are prepared to accept a further erosion of the already-reduced mission staff.

Despite the problems posed for our mission and the potential problem for our business community and dependents, we have decided to continue to oppose Libyan demands on passport issue, even though reports indicate that European governments (most recently the British and Italian, following the French) are prepared to insert Arabic into their passports in certain instances. In holding out against the Libyans we risk greater problems for our American citizens, private and official, but we think the issue is an important one and that we [Page 41]should not change our stance at this time. If and when it is clear that the Libyans will accept simple rubber stamps in Arabic in passports and not demand that Arabic appear as one of the printed languages we must, of course, reexamine our position in the light of all factors. Another reason for not changing our position now is that we also believe Libya will admit to its territory foreigners, including Americans, it is willing to receive or whom it needs, e.g., petroleum engineers. On the other hand, it will exclude—or expel—those it does not want regardless of their passports.

We expect this problem with Libya will remain at least until September 1 when Libya is scheduled to merge with Egypt. Even though that merger may be limited in scope, it may permit issuance of a single visa for both the Libyan and Egyptian regions. If it does, our problem will have been solved and we will not have handed Libya a victory it obviously is seeking. However, we must expect to receive pressure between now and then from the American business community concerned for its operations in Libya. We are therefore continuing to follow the situation closely and have indicated that we are prepared to listen to any specific cases of hardship for our citizens resulting from our refusal to yield on the language problem.

  1. Summary: Newsom informed Rush about problems encountered by the Embassy and business community as a result of Libyan demands to print pertinent information in U.S. passports in both English and Arabic. Newsom advised against acceding to these demands and suggested the proposed merger with Egypt in September might resolve the issue.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 23–10 Libya. Confidential. Drafted by Warren Clark, Jr., in AF/N; and concurred in by Blake and Deputy Administrator of the Bureau of Security and Consular Affairs Elizabeth J. Harper. In telegram 976 from Tripoli, July 26, the Embassy provided an assessment of the problems associated with the anticipated September 1 unification of the Governments of Egypt and Libya. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 739, Country Files, Africa, Libya II)