219. Letter From Representative Donald M. Fraser to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President:

I understand that King Hassan of Morocco will be visiting the United States during the first week of December.2 I am taking this opportunity to discuss with you the United States’ relations with Morocco and U.S. foreign policy on the situation in Western Sahara.

The Subcommittee on International Organizations held a hearing on the right of self-determination in Western Sahara in October of this year. As you know, this issue has been discussed in the United Nations for well over a decade, from the time Sahara was a Spanish colony. The question has been discussed primarily in light of the United Nations Charter and the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples. The United States endorsed the 1974 General Assembly resolution which put before the International Court of Justice the question of Morocco’s and Mauritania’s historical and legal claims to Western Sahara. In 1975 the International Court of Justice rendered an advisory opinion stating, inter alia, that while there were historical and legal ties among the three areas in question, this did not negate the right of self-determination for the people of Western Sahara.3

Following its visit to Western Sahara in May and June of 1975, the United Nations Visiting Mission reported that there was a strong consensus among the Saharans favoring independence and opposing integration with its neighbors.4 Since Spain’s agreement to partition the Sahara between Morocco and Mauritania in November 1975, fighting between Moroccan and Mauritanian troops and the liberation movement, POLISARIO, has intensified in Western Sahara.

The United States has supported the principle of self-determination in a number of United Nations resolutions, including some specifically addressing the Sahara issue. At the subcommittee hearing, the State [Page 532] Department official stated that the United States Government’s policy on the territorial conflict in the Sahara is one of neutrality.5 Yet it is unrealistic to claim a policy of neutrality on the state of war existing between the POLISARIO of Western Sahara and the troops of Morocco and Mauritania, given (1) the United States’ substantial military assistance to Morocco and (2) United States international obligations to the principle of self-determination. Our silence is consequently synonymous to acquiescence to the status quo in this region.

Clearly, the basis of U.S. policy (or lack of it) toward the Sahara question is not to impair our very close and long-term relations with Morocco. But this raises a fundamental question: Does the United States refrain from expressing its ideas of supporting its international obligations in cases involving a country with whom we have good relations?

As you no doubt know, several provisions in the Foreign Assistance and Military Sales Act and the Arms Export Control Act limit use of military assistance to internal and collective defense, and prohibit such assistance for acts of aggression. Given Morocco’s military activities in Western Sahara, there is some serious question of whether the United States, in providing military assistance to Morocco, is in violation of United States law.

Given the important role of the United States in this region, I urge you to discuss with King Hassan the issues of self-determination for Western Sahara and the impact of U.S. military assistance in this conflict. Apparently in the past, quiet diplomatic channels were rarely, if ever, used to address this problem to the Moroccan Government.

I am well aware of the increasingly delicate nature of the problems in this region. But I am equally aware of the dangerous consequences of the United States weakening its credibility by not being committed to its international principles. This administration has already established an unfortunate precedent on the question of self-determination by accepting as a fait accompli Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor and by voting in the Fourth Committee a few weeks ago against the United Nations resolution that supports the right of self-determination in East Timor.

I have little doubt that United States relations with Morocco are important. Yet, given the human rights policy commitments by your administration, the United States should establish with its friends and foes alike that certain fundamental rights, including the right to self-determination, play an integral part in formulating American foreign policy.

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Your attention to these matters is greatly appreciated.

Sincerely yours,

Donald M. Fraser6
Subcommittee on International Organizations
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 87, Spanish Sahara: 5–12/77. No classification marking. Copies were sent to Vance, Young, Christopher, and Brzezinski.
  2. The King postponed the visit; see Document 151.
  3. UN General Assembly Resolution 3292, adopted on December 13, 1974, requested the ICJ advisory opinion. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1974, pp. 805–806. Regarding the October 16, 1975, advisory opinion, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1975, pp. 871–873.
  4. For details on the report of the Visiting Mission, see Yearbook of the United Nations, 1975, pp. 177–178.
  5. See footnote 3, Document 215.
  6. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.