165. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Morocco1

306394. Subject: Military Supply to Morocco: Search for Assurances. Ref: State 293669.2

1. Summary: As follow-up to discussions during King Hassan’s visit, Assistant Secretary Saunders met with Moroccan Ambassador Bengelloun November 27 to discuss language GOM could employ to assure USG on use of U.S. military equipment. Bengelloun said that GOM understood USG did not want equipment used in the Sahara, but GOM could not use wording which implied that Sahara was in any way different from rest of Morocco. It also did not want to limit its self-defense options. Following meeting, Department gave Bengelloun text for Bengelloun to carry to Rabat later in week to seek GOM concurrence. End summary.

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2. Ambassador Bengelloun opened conversation by saying the King’s visit had been very important for US-Moroccan relations. Moroccans considered it had been a success, particularly because the King and President Carter had been able to establish a personal relationship. Saunders responded that we, too, had been very pleased with the visit. He noted that the communique had contained more substance than was often the case and had usefully described the breadth of our relations.3 The Secretary, he said, thought that it was a very positive thing for the King to have come when he did. All in all, the visit provided the US and Morocco with something to build on in their bilateral relations.

3. Saunders then said that he hoped it would be possible to move ahead, on the basis of the visit, to resolve our differences over use of US military equipment. He then reviewed briefly the discussions which had occurred during the King’s visit (reftel). The Secretary had mentioned a possible approach which might help resolve the problem, i.e. for Morocco to give US positive assurances on where and how the equipment would be used rather than a negative assurance that the equipment would not be used in the Western Sahara. The idea for such assurances had come from Saunders’ discussion with the King in July, when the King had volunteered that he would deploy Cobra helicopters in the north for use against Algerian armor.4 Saunders then gave Bengelloun in writing, in both French and English the following formulation: Quote: We would like an assurance which allows us to draw the conclusion that weapons purchased in the United States will not be used in the Sahara. This could be done by stating that the weapons will be stationed and used elsewhere. For example, we might be given the assurance that weapons would be stationed in northern Morocco for use in case of a conventional Algerian attack. Unquote. He cautioned Ambassador Bengelloun that all three sentences should be read together. Together they met Moroccan requirements by avoiding any specific mention of the Western Sahara but would give us the assurance which we needed in dealing with Congress.

4. In reply Ambassador Bengelloun said that he personally had discussed with the King USG concerns, i.e. that arms not be used in the Sahara. He noted that the King had asked the Secretary if an assurance that the arms would be used in Moroccan territory to repel external aggression would suffice. The main Moroccan concern was that it did not want to give any impression, particularly in writing, that it drew a distinction between the Sahara and the rest of Morocco. [Page 401] On the other hand, the King had said he did not want to cause difficulties for his American friends. Bengelloun said that Morocco was ready to find a formula which would enable it and USG to resolve this difficulty.

5. Saunders interjected that the problem with the formula proposed by the King at Blair House was that it did not rule out use in the Sahara.

6. Bengelloun responded that the problem with the formula which had just been given was that it did not deal with the possibility of an attack by Algeria in the south. Morocco had a frontier with Algeria there, but under the proposed formula it would not be able to use US-supplied arms to repel an attack from that direction. Perhaps language could be developed stating that Morocco would use the arms only against an external attack, regardless of where it came from. Such a formulation would be consistent with the 1960 bilateral military assistance agreement. Also, it would have the advantage of not naming Algeria specifically.

7. Saunders said that he was very conscious that what Algeria did in backing the Polisario constituted a threat to Moroccan forces. Did Bengelloun’s formulation exclude use of US-supplied arms against the Algerian proxy, the Polisario? If so, something might be possible.

8. Bengelloun stated that he understood that the USG did not want Morocco to use US arms against the Polisario. But the Polisario was only the creation of Algeria, and it sometimes even attacked inside what the USG recognized as Moroccan territory. What about the use of US arms in that case?

9. Saunders replied that this would be a clear cut case of self-defense.

10. Bengelloun then summarized: Morocco wished to avoid, first, any statement that there was a difference between the Sahara and the rest of Morocco, and, second, any limit on its options of legitimate self-defense. He wanted to find a formula which would avoid these two problems and which he could present to the King.

11. AFN Director Bishop suggested that we could assure Morocco that we would have no objection to redeployment of US-supplied arms to repel an attack against territory we considered Moroccan. Saunders added that perhaps the Moroccan assurance could state that the arms would be deployed to repel conventional Algerian attack. There was a difference between the Polisario, which was no real threat to Morocco, and Algerian regular troops.

12. Bengelloun said that the Polisario could exist only with Algerian support. It was using sophisticated weapons that it could only obtain [Page 402] and operate with Algerian help. The battle was not between Morocco and the Polisario but between Morocco and Algeria.

13. Bishop explained that the US was trying to help Morocco respond to an attack by Algerian tanks and aircraft. If Morocco was involved in the Sahara, it would still need to keep some arms in reserve for use against Algerian attack. We wanted our arms to be in that category. An Algerian attack would be most likely in the north, but if there was an Algerian attack in the south we would have no objection if the arms were moved to the south.

14. Bengelloun then asked what would happen if there were Cuban advisers to the Polisario. Those would be foreign troops. Bishop replied that he was talking of a main force engagement, not of one mounted in Land Rovers.

15. American side then proposed formula along the lines of that which appears below. Saunders said that if we got acceptable assurances, he would personally discuss them with individual Senators and Congressmen. He hoped this would help ease congressional concerns. There were Congressmen who favored self-determination but also those who were basically friendly to Morocco but had problems with use of US arms in the Sahara. Saunders noted that it was important to have a formula which Morocco could live with—nothing would be worse than a formula which would cause Morocco problems in the long run, because it would be important to have scrupulous adherence to the language of the assurances. On the other hand, it was important to get the issue out of the way because sales were being held up pending its resolution. He cited as examples the Moroccan request to purchase helicopters manufactured in Italy under US license (CH–47), as well as other helicopters (TOW-Cobra and/or Hughes 500). Saunders promised to give Ambassador Bengelloun language before the Ambassador’s departure for a brief visit to Rabat later in the week. He noted that Ambassador Parker would be available if Bengelloun wished to propose any modifications in the language while he was in Rabat.

16. Saunders also said that it would be helpful if Ambassador Bengelloun could bring back from Rabat some indication of how the Committee of Wise Men was going. The Committee was important for Morocco in the OAU context, for both of us in the UN, and for the administration in its dealings with Congress, where there were people who wanted to see evidence of self-determination.

17. On November 29 Bengelloun was given following formulation as possible text for Moroccan assurance: Quote: Weapons will be used in accordance with the U.S.-Moroccan military assistance agreement of 1960 solely to defend the territorial integrity of the Kingdom of [Page 403] Morocco in the event of a major attack on the armed forces of Morocco by the armed forces of a foreign state.5 Unquote.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780499–1124. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information to Algiers, Nouakchott, Paris, and Madrid. Drafted by Smith; cleared in PM, L, H, AF/W, and NEA/AFN; approved by Saunders.
  2. See Document 162.
  3. For the text of the joint press statement issued on November 17, see Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book II, pp. 2055–2056.
  4. See Document 230.
  5. In telegram 318490 to Rabat, December 19, the Department informed the Embassy that Hassan rejected the formulation “on grounds it would prohibit deployment of subject equipment to Zaire, should Moroccans be called on to send forces there in future. King exhorted Bengelloun and USG to use ‛imagination’ and find another formula.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780523–0754)