167. Telegram From the Embassy in Morocco to the Department of State1

652. Subj: (S) Italian Helicopters for Morocco.

1. (S) Entire text.

2. Department please pass following message to White House for Dr. Brzezinski.

3. King Hassan has asked that I convey to President Carter through Dr. Brzezinski his deep concern with our position on supply of arms to Morocco which is blocking delivery of Italian-made Chinook helicopters to Morocco. King rejects categorically and once and for all idea that he or his government give us positive assurances such equipment would be used elsewhere than in the Sahara. He said such assurances would be dishonest, and if given sincerely would give us protectorate over Morocco and American Ambassador would be like High Commissioner, telling Morocco where it could and could not put equipment that it was paying for with its own money. Morocco was a small country but it had a flag, a tradition and pride.

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4. The King continued that U.S. was in need of allies today but one began to wonder what good it was to be an ally of the Americans (a reference to the Shah). We were prepared to fly Moroccans to Shaba and let them use American weapons to support American interests there, but we were not prepared to let them have unarmed helicopters to defend their homeland. He found our position incomprehensible. He indicated that he was tired of hearing that we had congressional problems and said if we felt we had to go to Congress about the sale of helicopters to Morocco, he would have to go to Parliament about our request for GEODSS installation.

5. King noted that we were free country and if we decided we could not let Morocco have these helicopters, then so be it. Our relations would inevitably suffer and Morocco would have to look elsewhere (a reference to Soviets). He would regret this, but Morocco simply could not accept limitations on its sovereignty. He was not prepared to be a beggar going to the U.S. once a week for help. He had other possibilities.

6. King said President Carter had told him that any time he had a private message, it should go through Dr. Brzezinski. He had considered writing a long letter but had decided it was quicker to have me send a telegram. He would like to have a definitive answer by the end of this week as to whether we could release the helicopters unconditionally.

7. Above is summary of remarks King made during session which, with interruptions, lasted for an hour and a half. It took place in anteroom of Royal Palace at Marrakesh. Also present were Italian Ambassador Mezzalama, Foreign Minister Boucetta, Royal Counselor Reda Guedira, Secretary General of Defense, Colonel Achabar, and Commander of the Air Force, Colonel Kabbaj. King started off by explaining issue was essentially bilateral one between Morocco and Augusta Bell, but he felt I should be there too in view of role of my government. He then proceeded to tell Italian Ambassador in brief that he wanted Italians either to start delivering the helicopters or to return the $12 million Morocco had paid on account. Failing this, he was going to go to the “international chamber” in London and sue. This would, of course, have serious impact on commercial relations between the two countries and it would shake local confidence in Italian ability to deliver. Italian Ambassador explained that his company had undertaken contract only after checking with Department of State and receiving favorable advisory opinion which indicated that transfer of helicopters to Morocco would be approved. Suddenly they had discovered that American Government had changed its position and was blocking the sale.2 They were like a man hit on the head by a roof tile.

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8. For my part, I said that my government was very interested in maintaining our supply relationship with Morocco and we were looking for a pragmatic way to do so. I knew Moroccans were skeptical about our claim of congressional problem, but from the remarks of the Secretary and Under Secretary Newsom I was confident that senior levels in the Department felt there was indeed such a problem and that Morocco risked finding itself in same position as Indonesia or Turkey. I did not think the parallels were that exact, but Congress often did not understand such things.

9. I said we were not demanding withdrawal of equipment already in Sahara, nor had we interrupted the flow of conventional weapons, as King had noted earlier in our discussion. We were prepared to help Moroccans defend themselves against the Algerians, but we had problems about the use of our equipment in the Sahara. Since we understood that the helicopters were going to be based at Rabat-sale and used primarily for logistical support, why not give us some oral assurances to that effect which we would keep to ourselves?

10. King replied that location of military equipment within Morocco was none of our business. This was purely Moroccan concern and he could not accept idea that location of such equipment must be cleared with us. If that was a requirement, we should forget the whole thing and the Moroccans would make other arrangements.

11. Before and during King’s absence to attend Cabinet meeting, I had rather lively debate with Boucetta and Guedira, both of whom strongly echoed everything the King said in spades. Guedira was in fact rather offensive. Before King left room, he had said that if we did not permit the transfer of helicopters, it would lead eventually to a break in relations. King did not second this and Boucetta tried to calm Guedira down, but it clear that all of them are quite excited about this issue. Former Ambassador Neumann, who is here on visit and has been making yeoman effort with Moulay Hafid al-Alaoui and Colonel Dlimi on subject, reports similar emotional reaction from Dlimi, who very upset. He plans to stay in Marrakesh a little while longer and hopes to have chance to see King himself and try to explain realities of American politics and desirability of pragmatic solution. Although he and I were rather optimistic about chances of selling our assurances approach before I saw King this morning, I believe we can now forget it. Choice now before us is to approve helicopter sale without conditions or to disapprove it. There is no viable middle ground as far as GOM concerned.

12. Comment. As I had made clear before, I think our policy on this question is both misguided and inconsistent.3 We should have no [Page 409] illusion about seriousness of what King is saying. If we do not find way on our own to approve this sale, there will be a serious deterioration in our relations here. How serious I am unable to say. It will stop short of the break in relations which Reda Guedira is talking about, but I am not sure how far.

13. It seems to me that there are valid reasons for our agreeing to the transfer. I summarize some of them as follows:

A. Continued blocking of delivery is going to cost a friend and ally a good deal of money and standing in Morocco.

B. SecDef 4502 DTG 020636Z Sept 77 informed MUSLO that “we anticipate no problem in issuing Boeing required export license.” This was when Moroccans were planning to buy equipment in question from Boeing.4 We subsequently (Nov. 21, 1977) suggested to Moroccans that they go to Augusta Bell, and interposed no objection to sale.5 Both Moroccans and Italians therefore had every reason to believe we approved, and I suspect we did give Italians favorable preliminary opinion.

C. The aircraft in question are relatively inoffensive and at least according to Italian Ambassador, will not be brought into action for another year and a half. It will take that long to train the crews and assemble necessary equipment. By that time, who knows what the situation locally is going to be.

D. While I will not belabor the strategic importance of Morocco, we can ill afford to alienate the Moroccans to the extent we will if we do not let the transaction proceed. We may find the Moroccan argument specious, but this is a vital issue to them and they are very worked up about it.

14. I suggest that the only effective way of dealing with the crisis which is now looming in our relations is a message from the President to Hassan. I would hope it would say that we have reconsidered our [Page 410] position in the light of the King’s remarks to me and are prepared to authorize the sale of the Chinooks.6

15. Note: King has obviously decided take a stand on Chinook issue. Even if we settle this favorably, question of other items wanted by Moroccans will still be posed. We can be certain Moroccans will not be prepared give any positive assurances regarding them. They may be less aggrieved by refusals, however, since they have already had considerable discouragement on those items we are likely to turn down.

16. Department please repeat Rome.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840125–1267. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 166.
  3. See Document 238.
  4. In telegram 2431 from Rome, January 31, the Embassy expressed concern that this issue would damage relations with Italy: “The USG was apparently ready to authorize Boeing to sell Morocco helicopters, but now refuses Agusta the same authorization.” Italian Prime Minister Andreotti also expressed his concern “that the Agusta sale of Chinooks be resolved and has ‛noted’ our decision to sell Boeing civil aircraft to Libya after denying Aeritalia authorization to sell its G–222 military transports.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840133–1687)
  5. Not found.
  6. A January 30 National Security Council memorandum summarized Hassan’s concerns for the President: “Hassan commented that the location of military equipment within Morocco was purely a Moroccan concern and he could not accept the idea that it must be cleared with us and if that was a requirement, we should forget the whole thing and he would make other arrangements. Hassan would like to have a definitive answer by the end of this week as to whether we could release the helicopters unconditionally.” Carter wrote in the left-hand margin: “I think we should approve the sale.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 55, Morocco: 1–8/79) Telegram 26500 to Rabat, February 1, instructed the Embassy to inform Hassan that the delivery of the helicopters had been approved in response to the “King’s personal interest and the high value the U.S. places on its bilateral relations with Morocco.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840133–1689) A February 10 article in the Washington Post announced the approval of the sale: “The decision is a one-time exception to the administration’s policy of refusing to provide arms to Morocco as long as the Moroccans fail to pledge formally that they will not use the weapons in the guerrilla war in the Western Sahara, the officials said.” (Jim Hoagland, “U.S. Allows Single Arms Sale to Morocco,” Washington Post, February 10, 1979, p. A17)