217. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Algeria1

269859. Subject: Secretary’s Meeting With Algerian Foreign Minister Bouteflika—Western Sahara.

1. Summary: In hour and half conversation with Bouteflika focused principally on Sahara conflict, Secretary urged Algerians to exercise restraint, telling FonMin he had urged restraint on Moroccan FonMin previous day. Bouteflika attacked French, whom he accused of exaggerated reaction and of inciting Moroccans to start war with Algeria. Secretary relayed French message that Algerian help in release of hostages would begin improvement in Franco-Algerian relations desired by Paris.2 Bouteflika was non-committal. He conveyed Boumediene’s response to Secretary’s message on hostages, which also was non-committal. Bouteflika repeated earlier Algerian warning of grave consequences of any violation of frontiers by Morocco. After he expressed [Page 522] pessimism regarding OAU and UN mediation efforts and ruled out bilateral negotiations with Moroccans, Secretary said he would reflect on earlier decision that U.S. should refrain from direct role while these organizations tried promote peaceful settlement. End summary.

2. Foreign Minister Bouteflika, accompanied by Ambassador Maoui and Counselor Abdelkader Bensmail from Algerian Mission to UN, called on Secretary November 8 at Bouteflika’s request. Principal topic was Western Sahara; other topics being reported septel.3

3. Reminding Secretary of their previous meeting in Paris,4 FonMin said it would not be necessary to repeat background to Sahara conflict. Secretary replied U.S. concerned by escalation of tension in Northwest Africa. This had been discussed previous day with Moroccan FonMin, and Secretary told Bouteflika he had urged Moroccan Government to exercise restraint and seek a solution by diplomatic means rather than military.5 Stating he also would urge Algeria to act with restraint in a dangerous situation, Secretary invited Bouteflika to give his views on how dispute could be resolved.

4. Replying, Bouteflika said Saharans regard Moroccans and Mauritanians as occupiers of their national territory and are contesting this occupation not only in the Sahara but in Morocco and Mauritania. Algeria believes the material and diplomatic support it furnishes Saharans is consistent with its United Nations obligations. Algeria has no territorial or economic ambitions and expects to return to a policy of friendship with its neighbors once the conflict has been resolved on the basis of free consultation. In meanwhile struggle becomes harder due to logic of oppression which generates even greater resistence. Algeria believes Saharans’ situation must concern the U.S., for human rights which U.S. espouses are indivisible and applicable everywhere.

5. Continuing, Bouteflika said it is not Algeria’s business if Saharans fight the Moroccans and Mauritania in the Western Sahara or in Morocco and Mauritania, or if in observance of the rules of war the Moroccans and Mauritanians pursue the Saharans into Western Sahara. [Page 523] However, any pursuit into Algeria affects Algerian sovereignty.6 In his speech Hassan spoke of violation of Moroccan borders—Algeria recognizes only the pre-Madrid Accord borders.7 Bouteflika stated that, although Algeria gave Polisario moral and material support, there was no truth to stories that armed attacks against Morocco or Mauritania originated in Algerian territory. He cited “great distances” involved to support this line. (Note: It was unclear, but presumably he was not ruling out such attacks in Sahara against Moroccan and Mauritanian forces since GOA does not recognize claims of both countries to Sahara.)

6. Turning to mediation efforts, Bouteflika said in three years’ efforts Arabs and Africans had not been able to reconcile the parties, nor had the UN Secretary General. Spain, he said, now has declared that it transferred administration, not sovereignty to Morocco and Mauritania and that sovereignty can be transferred only by popular choice.

7. Bouteflika said Hassan had made statement stronger than Green March anniversary speech in November 7 interview with Paris-based Arab language newspaper, adding that Algerian Government’s position is that any violation of Algeria’s borders will receive an appropriate reply and that Algerian papers are stating that any such violation would be considered a declaration of war.8

8. Shifting discussion to French, Bouteflika said their performance has been remarkable. In an aside he said Boumediene had asked him to tell Secretary how deeply he had been touched by sensitivity, delicacy, and lofty objective set forth in Secretary’s message to Algerian President.9 Picking up theme, Bouteflika said history of Franco-Algerian war weighed on present relations. AFP had reported that French nuclear forces alerted as part of French reaction to capture of hostages, and Algeria found it strange that such a response could stem from [Page 524] an incident of this nature. There had been threats by several cabinet members, and the French media was engaged in an anti-Algerian campaign without parallel since the war. He characterized French policy as quote state terrorism unquote and said problem cannot be resolved by blackmail or intimidation. Meanwhile Algerian offer made in May, to facilitate contacts between Polisario and French Government still stands.

9. Continuing, FonMin said quote all this noise unquote may have been intended to disguise the reinforcement of the French military in Dakar, the expansion of the French military presence in Mauritania, and the dispatch of supplies and military technicians to Morocco. French actions (which Algeria has learned included a rebuffed request from the French General Staff to the Spanish Government for use of Las Palmas) have prompted two theories: (1) France wants a second Algerian war—which is difficult to believe; or (2) that France is encouraging Morocco to wage a second war with Algeria—which Algeria has reason to believe to be true. However, although disappointed by France’s attitude, Algeria does not despair and continues to hope France will adopt a position suited to her regional interests rather than an election campaign.

10. Bouteflika said in view of events which had occurred since he told Secretary in Paris of Algerian hopes that Carter administration would help safeguard fundamental principles, and bearing in mind that both Hassan and Boumediene are scheduled to visit the U.S. within the next nine months, he wondered if Secretary’s reflection on problem had led to belief that U.S. could work with Algeria to help avoid any quote stupid confrontation unquote.10 Concluding, he said Algeria’s borders had been defined by the blood of martyrs in wars with France and Morocco and any violation of them would have catastrophic consequences.

11. Secretary then informed Bouteflika that in earlier conversation that morning French Ambassador-designate de Lablouye had said France wants an improvement in its relations with Algeria and would regard clearing up question of prisoners as a good step in this direction. Vance said de Lablouye had asked him to pass this to Bouteflika. FonMin did not respond other than to state he knows de Lablouye.11

12. Continuing, Secretary said that in his discussions with Boucetta, Moroccan had said his government has no aggressive designs and would prefer to see the Sahara dispute resolved by peaceful means. Secretary commented that he thought it should be possible to find [Page 525] some basis on which exploration of means to find a peaceful solution could be made, and he mentioned ongoing Fourth Committee discussion.12

13. In responding, Bouteflika outlined history of abortive discussions under OAU aegis, stating there no longer is an African capital where such discussions can be held. He said that when OAU talks appear imminent Moroccans press for UN talks and when these appear likely Moroccans call for OAU meeting. He said OAU ad hoc committees either resolve problems quickly or the problem persists indefinitely; they cannot provide magical solutions. Asked if there is any chance to resolve the dispute on a bilateral basis, Bouteflika responded “absolutely not”.13 Algeria would not exchange access to phosphates for its honor and would have all the corridor to the sea it needs once good relations are restored with Morocco or Mauritania. No solution is possible without a homeland for the Saharan people,14 he insisted.

14. Secretary concluded Saharan portion of discussion with statement that although he had said earlier that conflict should be resolved with help of Arabs or Africans, he would like to reflect on this, especially as Hassan and Boumediene would be coming to U.S.15 He said he would be in touch with Bouteflika again after reflecting further on problem.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 1, Algeria: 2–12/77. Secret; Priority. Sent for information to Rabat, Nouakchott, Paris, Madrid, USUN, and Moscow. Drafted by Bishop; cleared by Twaddell; approved by Veliotes.
  2. In telegram 268307 to Paris, November 9, the Department summarized Vance’s meeting with French Ambassador-designate de Laboulaye. Regarding the French hostages, de Laboulaye said: “If the hostages are released, France would restore normal relations with Algeria.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840076–0802)
  3. In telegram 269543 to Algiers, November 10, the Department summarized Vance’s November 8 discussion with Bouteflika on the Middle East. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770415–1224) In telegram 270642 to Algiers, November 11, the Department summarized Vance’s discussion with Bouteflika on OPEC. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770418–0040) In telegram 270649 to Algiers, November 11, the Department summarized the conclusion of Vance’s meeting with Bouteflika in which they discussed the new SALT agreement and a comprehensive nuclear test ban. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770418–0052) Vance also reported to Carter on his meeting with Bouteflika; see Document 62.
  4. See Document 60.
  5. See Document 216. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  6. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  7. In telegram 6101 from Rabat, November 7, the Embassy transmitted the translated text of Hassan’s November 6 speech delivered on the occasion of the second anniversary of the Green March. In his speech, Hassan declared that “there are no quarrels between the Moroccan and the Algerian peoples,” but stressed: “I have sacred duties as King of the country and as the Supreme Commander of the Royal Armed Forces. I would thus find myself constrained—and I repeat, constrained—to use the right of pursuit, even if this leads to crossing borders and interferes with the sovereignty of neighbors. However, I say that the responsibility—all the responsibility—for this will lie with the Algerian leaders.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770410–1043)
  8. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  9. An unknown hand placed a checkmark next to this sentence. In telegram 260951 to Algiers, USUN, and Paris, November 2, the Department transmitted the text of Vance’s message to Boumediene regarding Algerian efforts to secure the release of French nationals held by the Polisario. The message reads, in part: “I am confident that with characteristic wisdom and statesmanship, Algerian and French leaders will achieve a positive solution to this issue.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770402–0572)
  10. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  11. An unknown hand highlighted this paragraph.
  12. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence. For a summary of the discussion of the Western Sahara in the UNGA Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization Committee), which began on October 31, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1977, pp. 881–882.
  13. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  14. An unknown hand underlined the phrase “a homeland for the Saharan people.”
  15. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.