38. Telegram 442 From the Embassy in Libya to the Department of State1

442. Subject: Libyan Govt Decision to Lift Numerical Ceiling on Embassy Personnel.

1. Deputy Undersecretary for Technical Affairs Ahmad al-Atrash called Chargé to Foreign Ministry April 14 to inform him that Libyan Govt has decided to remove the numerical ceiling on personnel of this Embassy imposed in 1972. He referred to increased number of Libyan students in U.S. (giving their number now as 1500) and economic relations as business which could require increased Embassy staff. Al-Atrash was not sure whether we had Consulate in Benghazi. When we told him it had been closed in 1972 he suggested we might want to open it again. (This seemed to be spur of the moment improvisation by Al-Atrash.)

2. In reply to Chargé’s question, he said that this was RCC decision. It would not be made public, and we would not be informed in writing. Chargé asked whether British and Soviet missions, whose staffs were limited at same time ours, were included. Al-Atrash said that they probably would be, but stressed that for moment decision only applied to U.S. Chargé agreed this was a positive step, and he hoped it would be part of a trend. Al-Atrash said he hoped for his part that “ball would be kept rolling”.

3. This gesture is intended to draw a reciprocal action from us. As Dept aware, Libyans would like to increase staff of their Washington Embassy, as they are doing at many of their other missions, but their intent is probably also to show good faith. We have the feeling that senior civilian officials in Foreign Ministry and elsewhere are anxious for better relations with us, and this gesture may be result of their urgings. Libyan initiative is not directly related to troublesome area between us of military supply. It tends to emphasize more suitable area of bilateral relations—growing student program, increased trade, financial links and export of American technology. We believe it would be appropriate for us to take reciprocal action. Our response will have greater effect if it follows closely on Libyan gesture.

4. However, if we do respond in kind, by lifting ceiling on Libyan Embassy personnel in Washington, as Foreign Ministry probably [Page 110] hopes, next Libyan move may be to raise exchange of Ambassadors. In present state of relations, allowing the prospect of an exchange of Ambassadors to arise could only be embarrassing to us. We can see no sign that regime’s line on Mideast is susceptible of [to] modification, and believe present level of mission is appropriate.

5. With these considerations in mind, Embassy suggests that Dept authorize Chargé to reply to Al-Atrash orally along following lines: We welcome Libyan gesture. In response we are lifting ceiling on Libyan Embassy in Washington. At same time we have no present plans to increase our staff in Tripoli, or to change nature of our representation. We are able to conduct present business with our staff of seven officers, but we are happy to know that it could be increased if need should arise.

6. Dept may also wish to consider a visit by a ranking NEA officer to further test the water.

  1. Summary: The Embassy informed the Department of the Libyan Government’s decision to lift the numerical ceiling on personnel at the U.S. Embassy.

    Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 177, Geopolitical Files, Libya 1973–76. Secret; Priority; Exdis.