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

6025. Subj: Foreign Minister Boucetta Comments on Sahara.

1. During conversations before and after my October 27 meeting with King Hassan,2 Foreign Minister Boucetta expressed concern over military situation in Sahara and Mauritania. He indicated a pronounced escalation was under way and that Moroccan forces were under increasing pressure. He stressed that “one should never lose one’s head, but one could not just sit back with arms folded,” especially in view of the [Page 517] emotions of the growing number of families of Moroccans killed and wounded. I noted that Moroccan success on diplomatic front had no doubt caused frustration for the other side, leading to increased military activity. At same time, Moroccan resort to increased force, such as any direct confrontation with Algeria, could detract from or even reverse its diplomatic efforts in OAU and Arab League. Boucetta concurred, but believed that something had to be done. He confessed, however, to be at a loss as to specific moves.

2. Turning to UN situation, Boucetta said Algerians were trying to induce as many countries as possible to talk about Sahara in Fourth Committee with a view toward having question put on UNGA agenda. Morocco would be working toward same outcome at UNGA as last year, namely deferring to OAU as the organization already seized with the matter. Boucetta recognized need to have a new Moroccan Ambassador to UN assigned as soon as possible, and hoped for Royal decision in very near future.

3. Boucetta wondered what Algerian game really was. I noted this was regular question from American visitors, and that answer no doubt involved wide-ranging competition between a revoluntionary socialist system and a progressive monarchy, with Sahara having added to Algerian frustration. Boucetta thought that Sahara was expensive for Algeria, although probably more so for Morocco. He was persuaded that Sahara war was not popular in Algeria, and that it would be in Moroccan interest to increase the cost of the war effort for Algeria so that the Algerian people would become increasingly disenchanted. Boucetta said that war was obviously not the way, but he did not know how to go about it. At this point, he mentioned increasing diplomatic pressure in Arab, African and other capitals to weaken even further Algerian pretentions of Third World leadership. He also alluded to increasing U.S. economic ties with Algeria which undoubtedly bolstered an economy that was not working very well and certainly indirectly helped Algeria to pursue its policy with the Polisario. While he did not, as had been done informally with me in the past by the Prime Minister, the former Foreign Minister and other key Moroccans, ask rhetorically why the U.S. did not use its economic relations to force a change in Algerian policy, he had that look in his eye. Frankly, I think he is bright enough to know that this would be a non-starter, especially when the GOM is putting the finishing touches on a long-term phosphate agreement with the Soviets.

4. During earlier conversation Oct. 22, which touched on recent House International Relations Committee hearings on Sahara, Boucetta said that after a briefing from Professor Mohammed Bennouna, who testified before the Committee, he found the statement by Deputy [Page 518] Secretary of State Veliotes a good one,3 but was perplexed over the points made about the use of U.S. arms in the Sahara. For example, to say that we did not really know much about U.S. arms in the Sahara because our people do not visit the disputed areas gives ammunition to the other side which can claim the U.S. questions Morocco’s right to be in the territory and is therefore no longer neutral on the substance of the issue. It was clear that Boucetta’s problem here is that he equates sovereignty with administrative control. When I pointed out Veliotes had stated that we acknowledged latter, but have refrained from taking a position on the former, he appeared to understand more clearly that part of the statement on the use of U.S. arms. I then reviewed for him the considerations relating to Moroccan use of U.S. equipment, pointing out that our agreements contained certain restrictions, for example on where such equipment might be used and on transfers to third parties. Boucetta said he was aware of these points, but considered that as a general principle, Morocco might obviously have to use equipment from whatever source to defend Moroccan territory and that of Mauritania against externally supported aggression, while having no intention to commit any aggression against Algeria. If the aggression against Morocco and Mauritania ceased, he concluded, the costly use of GOM military hardware would also cease.

5. Comment: Boucetta’s concern over escalation in Sahara closely echoes that of King Hassan (Rabat 5951 Notal).4 He obviously understands that direct military moves against Algeria could cause more problems than would be solved. On other hand, he shares growing sense of frustration among Moroccan leadership, which has not yet been able to find an effective response against Algerian-Polisario military pressures.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 69, Morocco: 7/77–2/78. Confidential; Priority; Exdis. Sent for information to Algiers, Cairo, Dakar, Jidda, Madrid, Nouakchott, Paris, Tripoli, Tunis, and USUN. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See Document 214.
  3. In telegram 245767 to Rabat, Algiers, and Nouakchott, October 13, the Department transmitted the text of Veliotes’s October 12 statement, which set out the U.S. position of refraining from “acknowledging Moroccan and Mauritanian claims to sovereignty over the disputed territory, while acknowledging their administrative control of the territory.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770373–0920)
  4. See footnote 2 above.