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

322156. Subject: Military Supply—Search for Assurances. Ref: State 306394 (Notal).2

1. (S) Entire text.

2. Summary: Moroccan Ambassador Bengelloun was unable to give NEA Assistant Secretary Saunders much rationale for King Hassan’s rejection of proposed formula for assurances on use of U.S. arms. Saunders answered the King’s specific question on use of U.S. supplied equipment in a country such as Zaire and gave Bengelloun the text of assurance which would be acceptable in case of CH–47 helicopters built in Italy under U.S. license.3 End summary.

[Page 404]

3. Moroccan Ambassador Bengelloun called on Assistant Secretary Saunders December 21 at our request to discuss further, following Bengelloun’s visit to Morocco, issue of Moroccan assurances on use of U.S. military equipment. Draper from NEA and Bishop and Smith from AFN attended, as well as interpreter.

4. Saunders opened discussion by asking Bengelloun for [omission in original] noted that Congress would reconvene soon and that we would have to cope with the issue at some point in the context of congressional inquiries. There was also the more pressing problem of the CH–47 helicopters.

5. Bengelloun explained that his discussion of assurances with the King at Fez on December 7 had been quite brief. The King discussed the issue with him while walking around the garden just after seeing Sadat’s special envoy. Bengelloun showed the King the formula we had prepared (reftel). The King asked, “How can I intervene in Zaire if I make such a commitment.” Bengelloun inquired what he should do once he had an answer to that question. The King replied in essence, “Just ask the question and get back to me with the answer”.

6. Bengelloun said that he personally believed that the King was seriously concerned about the issue. He was thinking about it but might not yet be ready to share his thoughts and conclusions, Bengelloun suggested. His Majesty could not renounce the defense of the Sahara and might be considering language which would permit him to assure the defense of that area by using other than U.S. equipment.

7. Saunders replied with regard to the King’s question that if Morocco had a need to use U.S. equipment elsewhere, it could discuss it with us. That was done this year in the case of Zaire, when we gave our approval. There was no prohibition under our bilateral accord as long as we agreed beforehand to use of the equipment elsewhere.

8. Saunders then suggested that even without resolving the larger problem, it might be possible to work out an ad hoc solution so that the six Italian built, U.S. licensed helicopters could be delivered to Morocco. Bishop noted that this was an urgent matter because two were ready for delivery and the rest would be ready soon. Saunders then handed Bengelloun a draft assurance, noting that the idea for this type assurance originated when the King told him in July4 that TOW-Cobra helicopters would be based in northern Morocco for use against Algeria. Saunders said he recognized that the CH–47s were transport helicopters, making them a different case. Bishop added that we had discussed use of the CH–47s with the Moroccan Air Force, which had not been prepared to say that they would not be used in the Sahara. [Page 405] Saunders said he was prepared to continue talks on the broader question of assurances but added that the formula proposed for the CH–47s, if accepted, might suggest something which would prove useful elsewhere as well.

9. Following is draft assurance on CH–47 helicopters given Bengelloun, which was prepared after Washington representative of Agusta-Bell informed Department December 20 that GOM prepared to agree to an assurance to obtain delivery of helicopters:

Begin quote: The helicopters will be stationed and used in northern or central Morocco and will be used elsewhere only in the case of a major attack by the regular forces of a foreign state, or as agreed between the Moroccan and U.S. Governments. Unquote.

10. Bengelloun said he thought the King would appreciate the U.S. effort in developing the language for the CH–47s. However, in telephone call to Bishop later in day Bengelloun said he doubted King would agree to assurance text provided by Saunders and that he wanted to discuss it further on December 22 before sending text to Rabat. While agreeing to further discussion, Bishop stressed his understanding that GOM anxious to take delivery of CH–47s.

11. Bengelloun then discussed what he called the heart of the problem—the question of how Morocco was to defend a territory over which the U.S. recognized its administrative control. The Polisario was equipped with Soviet weapons supplied through Algeria or Libya, while the Moroccan Army was “mostly equipped with American arms”. What was Morocco to do?

12. Saunders replied that while the defense of the territory was one aspect of the problem, the other was the UN resolutions and the need for an act of self-determination.5 The U.S. was hoping, he said, that the OAU Committee of Wise Men could help resolve the latter aspect of the problem.

13. Bengelloun replied that Morocco was waiting for a visit to Rabat, Algiers, and Nouakchott by the Presidents of Nigeria and Mali, who had been designated as a two-man subcommittee to study the problem and report to the larger OAU Committee of Wise Men. However, the Polisario continued its attacks. Morocco was only defending the key centers and would never be the aggressor by carrying the attack to “the other side”. Happily, there as yet had been no large scale attacks using armored vehicles and tanks, which he said would require Morocco to use its U.S. tanks for defense. But from time to time Morocco [Page 406] had to use its air force for reconnaissance. Bengelloun said he hoped the Wise Men would be able to explain to Algeria that Morocco would not relinquish sovereignty but that it would be possible to work for economic cooperation in the area.

15. Bengelloun added that Morocco recognized that it still had problems in the UN. The King had been very grateful for the U.S. support for the pro-Moroccan resolution in this year’s UNGA.6

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 69, Morocco: 7/78–8/80. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information to Algiers, Nouakchott, Paris, Madrid, and Rome. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room. Drafted in NEA/AFN; cleared by Bishop; approved by Draper. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780530–0206)
  2. See Document 165.
  3. In telegram 321816 to Rome and Rabat, December 22, the Department explained why the sale was not approved: “In case of CH–47 helicopters, we would not be willing to approve U.S. sale without assurances which would convince us that Morocco does not plan to use them to consolidate Moroccan control of the Western Sahara. Moroccan intentions regarding the CH–47’s have been unclear. Italian Ambassador’s statement quoted Rabat 7697, implies that while CH–47’s will not be used in combat operations, they will be used to support Moroccan military establishment in the Western Sahara.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780529–0956) Telegram 7697 from Rabat, December 8, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780506–0988.
  4. See Document 230.
  5. Reference is to UN General Assembly Resolutions 31A and 31B, adoped on December 13, 1978. The United States abstained on Resolution 31A and voted in favor of Resolution 31B. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1978, pp. 874–876.
  6. UNGA Resolution 31B left consideration of the Western Sahara in the hands of the Organization of African Unity and its Wise Mens Committee.