151. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Summary of the President’s Meeting with Prime Minister Ahmed Osman of Morocco


  • President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Ambassador Robert Anderson, U.S. Ambassador to Morocco
  • Mr. William B. Quandt, NSC Staff
  • Mr. Alec Toumayan, Interpreter
  • Prime Minister Ahmed Osman of Morocco
  • Ambassador Ali Bengelloun of Morocco

President: I am proud to have you here in Washington.

Prime Minister: This is the first time I have been here since 1970.

President: How is King Hassan?

Prime Minister: Fine.

President: I am proud of our relations and it has been a pleasure to exchange communications with His Majesty. There is a deep friendship that binds us, and we have been particularly pleased by the constructive role that Morocco has played on behalf of peace in the Middle East. His Majesty has shown courage, knowledge, and has earned the trust of other leaders. This is a great credit to King Hassan.

Prime Minister: I want to thank you for taking time to see me on such short notice. I am embarrassed because this is a difficult mission [Page 364] since I am carrying bad news and I would like to excuse myself in advance. His Majesty has sent me to say that he would like to postpone his official visit to the United States.2 He hesitated before requesting this, because he attached great importance to the visit and he had been preparing himself carefully. It is difficult to give you the reasons for his decision, but there were two basic concerns: First, his preoccupation with the situation in the region. There has been no spectacular new element, but recently he did see the President of Mauritania, Ould Daddah. As you know, Morocco is tied to Mauritania by a defense pact, and we have just decided to send an important number of troops to Mauritania. They are now being sent and His Majesty felt that he should stay in Morocco to supervise personally this move. Secondly, His Majesty is preoccupied by the situation in the Middle East and by the cleavage that is emerging between the peace camp and the rejection front. The President knows of the contacts that Morocco has taken to facilitate communications between the interested parties and I can give you more details on this later.

This is the object of my mission, and if you have some time I would be happy to discuss some of the problems in our bilateral relations, in the situation in North Africa and the Middle East.

President: Please relay to His Majesty my complete understanding of his decision. The need for change in plans is something that I can understand. I had also planned a trip, but domestic problems caused me to delay it. Also please relay my regret, and my determination that in the near future we will have the chance to meet personally and discuss matters of mutual concern. One of the reasons I consider his decision to be easily understandable is that there are no urgent differences between us that require immediate consultations. He has reconfirmed his friendship for our country by sending you. The fact that the King asked you to come to convey his message is a sign of his concern and I appreciate it. We have time for a brief summary of the situation in Northwest Africa and other matters, and we will have some time to consult more extensively with Secretary Vance. It would be a pleasure to hear your views on developments in your own region and in the Middle East.

[Page 365]

Prime Minister: The President’s words will be welcome to His Majesty. His Majesty is very embarrassed and he does want the visit to take place. I won’t take long, but I do want to say a few words about the situation in North Africa. We are having difficulties with Algeria. We consider that the problem is not one of territory or the conflict over the Sahara. Algeria says that it has no territorial claims. We consider that we are involved in a plan that goes beyond Algeria and involves foreign intervention in Africa. There is an axis from Moscow through Algeria and Havana, and Angola was part of this operation. We have seen the example of what happened in Shaba. Algeria is a pawn in this and is part of a vast machination. We think that in the last few months the African countries have come to see this conspiracy. Algeria’s neighbors, Mali, Niger, and Chad, have come to understand the dangers and they have the same analysis as we do. We want the United States to be aware of this.

Our action in Shaba encouraged these other countries. It showed that an African country, though it is far away and is white, would come to the aid of another African country. Africans want to protect their independence, and they want at least moral aid from outside. Concerning the Sahara conflict, there has been little change. It is guerrilla warfare of the hit and run variety. But the situation in Mauritania has become dangerous. The Polisario is only a name and in fact it is Algeria that is behind this conflict. We are seeing increasingly sophisticated arms, and Algeria is now attacking Mauritania. Very recently Ould Daddah visited Morocco, and, as part of our common defense agreement, he asked Morocco to occupy several Mauritanian positions. It has been decided that Morocco will respond. We hope that this will deter the Algerians.

We have been receiving all mediators, but this has never led anywhere. We have not lost hope. We hope that Algeria will again become reasonable.

Algeria is now pursuing an ideological war. There is an ideological cleavage between the so-called progressive, and it is worth considering whether this word is appropriate, but the Algerians want to accentuate the left versus right difference. There is a risk of escalation in the Middle East over this issue and it could spread to the Sahara. This is the situation in North Africa. We hope for American help, and we want moral support first of all. We also want diplomatic support. This will help us enormously. We see ourselves as all being in the same boat and all confronting the same dangers.

President: I recognize the threat that comes from the Soviet Union, Cuba and Algeria to peace in Africa. We have tried to express our concern over the Cuban presence in Africa, which has been supported by the Soviet Union. Anything that Morocco can do to build public [Page 366] concern in Africa against the Cuban position would be of great help. We also have a deep concern over Algeria’s attitude which is an obstacle to harmony in the Middle East and North Africa. I want to continue the closest consultations with King Hassan. I would like to be kept informed of Morocco’s needs. We have a clear expression of the Moroccan role in the Shaba-Zaire conflict. It was an inspiration to us all. It reaffirmed for African leaders the belief that borders should not be changed by force. If you permit, I would like to write a personal note to King Hassan about his decision to cancel his visit.

Secretary Vance: How do you expect Algeria to proceed? Do you expect more military activity?

Prime Minister: We saw, before the King’s declaration concerning the right of pursuit,3 that the Algerians would attack and then retreat to Tindouf. We have increasingly been seeing the use of sophisticated arms. We don’t expect a full war. If Algeria is objective, they have no reason for a war. Algerian opinion is not engaged over the Sahara issue. Maybe if Tindouf were involved, but not the Sahara. Algerian soldiers are not motivated. And no one would win such a war. Its outcome would be uncertain. Therefore, objectively, Algeria should be deterred. We hope they will be deterred. We have everything to lose in such a war. Morocco wants to develop its economy and we think that the recent democratization in Morocco will allow the full flowering of our economic growth. This deters us from wanting war.

Secretary Vance: What are the realistic chances of productive results coming out of mediation efforts and that of the OAU Conference?

Prime Minister: All of these efforts have failed. There is no desire for peace and detente in Algeria. The Algerians wanted the Saudis to mediate, and Crown Prince Fahd came and we welcomed his efforts, even though we had doubts about their success. In the end, the Foreign Minister of Algeria sent a letter to the UN Secretary General which was nothing more than a diatribe and was an insult to the Saudi effort.4 Now the issue goes to the OAU. But no one wants to concern himself with this problem. Morocco is already in the Sahara and is administering the territory. No one wants to change that. Most African countries support us. We are trying now to go to the Summit at the OAU, and once and for all the issue will be examined. The OAU cannot solve the problem. This can only be done by the interested parties. In the past, this meant Spain, Morocco and Mauritania, and they have already settled the problem. Now the OAU will be held in Cairo, and we will [Page 367] go and the majority will be with us.5 If the problem is settled, we are ready to resolve all problems with Algeria, including borders and economic cooperation, as was agreed in 1972.6

[Omitted here is discussion of the Middle East.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Vance NODIS MemCons, 1977. Top Secret. The meeting was held in the White House Cabinet Room.
  2. In telegram 6008 from Rabat, November 2, the Embassy informed the Department that Hassan was scheduled to visit the United States December 7–10. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770405–0966) In a December 2 memorandum to Carter, Vance wrote: “Bengelloun has said the Prime Minister’s mission will be related to King Hassan’s state visit, and he hinted in a conversation with Ambassador Anderson that Osman may request postponement of the visit. Conceivably, Osman could be coming to test our reaction to the King’s outstanding request for arms to use in the Western Sahara or to elicit our cooperation in some initiative related to the Middle East peace process.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 55, Morocco: 1/77–12/78)
  3. See footnote 7, Document 217.
  4. Reference is presumably to Bouteflika’s November 10 letter to the President of the Security Council, the text of which was transmitted in telegram 4550 from USUN, November 11. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770418–0116)
  5. The OAU meeting in Cairo was cancelled; see footnote 3, Document 220.
  6. Reference is to the June 15, 1972, convention relating to the tracing of state borders between the People’s Democratic Republic of Algeria and the Kingdom of Morocco.