86. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Closure of Kenitra Complex and Establishment of Other U.S. Military Facilities in Morocco

The Problem

DOD wishes to make substantial changes in its operations in Morocco. Existing naval communications sites there no longer are required, and Navy seeks our approval to announce in January 1977 that those facilities will be closed by September 1978. Concurrently, Air Force seeks a December decision on the installation of a vital Ground-based Electro-Optical Deep Space Surveillance System Station [Page 230] (GEODSS) in Morocco. DOD’s timing on both items is keyed to budgetary factors.

In keeping with Embassy Rabat’s concern that the Kenitra phaseout be planned and implemented as rationally as possible with minimum adverse impact on the local economy, and that appropriate follow-on military activities be proposed to King Hassan as part of a coordinated package, DOD has submitted to us a detailed phase-out program and has described its additional desiderata for installations and access to Morocco (Attachment 2). In ascending order of visibility and importance, DOD’s desiderata are: Increased access to Moroccan port and air facilities, establishment of a GEODSS station, a Military Airlift Command staging site for emergency humanitarian missions in Africa, the use of Moroccan beaches for amphibious landing practice, a Strategic Air Command forward operating facility, and an aerial tactics training center and bombing range.

Some elements in the DOD package, including the most time-sensitive, could be presented to King Hassan at once; others which require extensive study and interagency consultation could be presented later if it were decided to do so, but such far-reaching policy decisions clearly should be deferred for the next Administration and would require advance congressional consultation. The Air Force weapons training center and SAC forward operating facility, for example, would place several hundred uniformed personnel in Morocco, would require a base agreement and might involve a substantial U.S. military assistance program as a quid pro quo. Ambassador Anderson has expressed strong reservations, with which I concur, about the advisability of these two programs and about amphibious landing exercises, but I believe that we could move forward with the other proposals.

Accordingly, I am seeking your approval to propose to Defense that we divide its package into two categories, allowing us to decide on time-sensitive and less controversial elements now while we go back to DOD with our reservations on the other elements.

Further, I am asking your approval for an approach to King Hassan on the first category of the Defense package, provided Defense accepts our proposal to divide its desiderata in this way.


Based on a handshake agreement between President Kennedy and King Hassan II of Morocco, the United States has maintained at Kenitra, Sidi Yahia, and Bouknadel in Morocco a major communications station for the Sixth Fleet. Satellite technology has now rendered this communications system unnecessary and both DOD and the Department agree that the complex should be phased out. The Moroccans have not yet been informed of our intentions, but Navy budgetary con [Page 231] siderations necessitate public announcement of the shutdown not later than January 1977. Embassy Rabat recommends that the closure be handled in such a way as to avoid giving the GOM the mistaken impression of lessened American interest in their country and to minimize the economic impact of the shutdown while taking account of all future U.S. requirements in Morocco. When it approved the Navy plan, DOD attached, as annexes, proposals for the establishment of new military facilities in Morocco intended to demonstrate continuing U.S. interest but which, if implemented, would result in a more visible American military presence.

It seems prudent to consider GEODSS separately as it is a small, virtually non-military operation which should ideally be located in an isolated region manned by no more than 50 Americans all or most of whom can be civilians. The Moroccan installation is vital to our plan for a five-site worldwide system which would give us for the first time a total monitoring capacity for satellites out as far as 22,500 nautical miles. It would also spin off some geophysical data for the host country.

Carrying out the projects proposed by DOD would serve a number of military purposes. According to DOD: our Marines on duty in the Mediterranean have insufficient use of beaches to maintain their amphibious landing proficiency; our already inadequate aerial training facilities in Europe will be wholly unable to meet the training requirements for the F–15 and other new generation aircraft; a SAC site would increase our B–52 and KC–135 capacity in the Middle East and Southeastern Europe. Additionally, the obvious supportive aspects of such an augmented U.S. military presence may be attractive to Moroccan King Hassan II, who feels the need for external support in face of possible conflict with Algeria and may believe that the implied support is worth the cost to his non-aligned image in the Third World. Actually, hosting the MAC humanitarian airlift site may redound to Morocco’s credit, especially if relief efforts could be mounted as joint U.S.-Moroccan operations. Some of the expected international criticism could perhaps be mitigated by co-locating, where possible, U.S. facilities on existing Moroccan bases or by appearing to subordinate the U.S. activity to a Moroccan role as we now do at Kenitra.

The establishment in Morocco of facilities of this importance would solidify our relationship with the Moroccan military, likely to be the most significant element in post-Hassan Morocco.

On the other hand, implacement of these proposed facilities, particularly the air base and the SAC site, in Morocco would probably subject both governments to a storm of international criticism which would reduce Moroccan credibility, and usefulness to us, in the Third World. Such criticism at this time could also be harmful to Morocco’s [Page 232] hopes for Third World support for its claims of sovereignty in Western Sahara. For these reasons, a major expansion of our military role in Morocco will not come free of cost and if Hassan agreed to one or more of the DOD proposals, his price in terms of monetary assistance, arms sales and support for Morocco’s Sahara policy might be greater than we are willing to pay. Moreover, it was King Hassan who claimed credit for the removal of foreign bases from Morocco in 1963 and even though he has offered the U.S. similar privileges at various times, the domestic impact of a policy reversal on the issue of foreign bases might weaken his internal position.

We need also to consider the probably adverse reaction of Congress to proposals to establish a new U.S. base presence overseas. The Congressional role will be particularly acute if, as seems likely, the Air Force insists on a formal base and status of forces agreement for the SAC and tactical training sites.

There is, in addition, the possibility that expanded and obviously combat-related U.S. military training facilities in Morocco might provoke Algeria or Libya to provide similar facilities to the Soviets. Embassy Algiers reports that the Algerian leaders are deeply concerned by our role as a major arms supplier to Morocco and have warned repeatedly that this would adversely affect our long-term economic and political interests in Algeria.

In considering the potentially most controversial elements of the package, (the SAC facility and airbase/bombing range) we might explore with DOD the possibility of seeking use of Moroccan territory (preferably an existing GOM base such as Ben Guerir) for bombing/gunnery practice by USAF personnel on periodic temporary duty in Morocco. If we offered the Moroccans air force training through joint exercises, and were prepared to field a small permanent support team of USAF maintenance and operational personnel whose services would be available to the GOM, Hassan might be receptive. Embassy Rabat suggests this as a workable alternative to a full-fledged airbase with a large American presence and accompanying support facilities (schools, PX’s, commissaries, etc.) and, if it meets DOD’s functional needs, it might be included in a later proposal to Hassan. We must assume, however, that whatever its form, such a facility could not be used by us for operations related to the Middle East, especially a new Arab-Israel conflict.

Although the proposed amphibious landing exercises could be of brief duration and set up as joint exercises in isolated areas, Embassy Rabat believes very strongly that we should not seek GOM permission for actual landings which are potentially too controversial within and outside of Morocco. Rather, the Embassy recommends that we propose joint simulated landing exercises offshore. King Hassan, in a conversa [Page 233] tion with Admiral Turner last December, displayed an interest in this possibility, and, if we decide to pursue the matter of amphibious exercises, we might present it in the context of the first category if we confine ourselves initially to simulated landings, preferably in isolated areas remote from the Algerian or Saharan coasts. Otherwise, we should probably take no action on this element of the DOD package now.

Proposed Strategy

The DOD proposal for realignment and expansion of facilities in Morocco includes both projects that must be—and can be—carried out promptly, and projects of more questionable feasibility that must be considered by the next Administration if they are to be further entertained at all. It seems advisable to make decisions on those measures that must be set in train before January 20 and leave the more controversial items for the next Administration.

Since Morocco now imposes no limitations on ship visits, the injection of the DOD proposal for NPW visits into the negotiating process could jeopardize a privilege we already enjoy. We propose to express continuing interest in these visits outside the negotiating package.

Category I

—Consultations with the GOM leading to the shutdown of the communications facilities.

—Retention of the U.S.-run communications school for Moroccan armed forces as a quid pro quo for U.S. access to MAC and GEODSS sites and possibly other facilities, should we later decide to request them.

—Request for GOM approval of the GEODSS facility, probably (for technical reasons) well inland from the present cluster in the Kenitra area.

—Request GOM approval of a modest MAC staging area at Kenitra or other suitable Moroccan base.

—Request the use of Moroccan offshore waters for joint simulated amphibious training exercises (provided DOD concurs in substitution of simulated for actual landings; otherwise hold this element for later consideration).

Category II

—Further consideration within the Government for amphibious landing exercises (if DOD rejects simulated landings), an Air Force weapons training center (possibly modified in accordance with Embassy Rabat suggestions) and a SAC forward operating facility, leading to a Circular 175 Memorandum.

—If it is decided to move ahead with any of these projects, then it would be necessary to consult with Congress before undertaking negotiations with Morocco.

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1. That you approve the two-category approach by which we would propose to the Moroccans the siting in Morocco of a GEODSS station and a MAC staging area for humanitarian flights in Africa, and propose the use of Moroccan offshore waters for simulated amphibious training exercises at the same time that we notify the GOM of our intended closedown of Kenitra and that you authorize Under Secretary Habib to sign the letter at Attachment 1 which informs DOD of this decision.

ALTERNATIVELY, that you approve a modified approach in which we would not initially propose all of the items suggested in the above recommendation but would select one or more of the following elements, with Under Secretary Habib’s letter to DOD to be adjusted accordingly:

—Installation of GEODSS Station:

MAC staging area for humanitarian flights in Africa:

—Use of Moroccan offshore waters for simulated amphibious training exercises:

ALTERNATIVELY, that you authorize us to inform the Moroccan Government of Navy’s plans to close down the Kenitra complex without linking it to DOD’s interest in new facilities:

2. Once we have agreement within the Government that you authorize us to draft a letter from you to King Hassan informing him of the Navy’s plans for Kenitra and conveying our proposals, if any, for future military requirements in Morocco.

ALTERNATIVELY, that you authorize us to instruct Ambassador Anderson to convey this information to King Hassan.

  1. Summary: Atherton made a series of recommendations dealing with the closure of the Kenitra complex, and the establishment of other U.S. military facilities in Morocco.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC OPS Staff, Box 19, Morocco (9). Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Escudero, Weislogel and Churchill; and concurred in by Goodby and Austin. Sent through Habib. The letter from Under Secretary Habib to Deputy Secretary Clements, and the letter from DOD Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs McAuliffe to Under Secretary Habib were not attached. “No action taken” was written next to each recommendation. A notation on the first page reads: “Handle as Original Per Secto 32018 Sec. took no action. Wishes to discuss ASAP.”