222. Action Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Sober) to Secretary of State Vance 1


  • Moroccan Use in the Western Sahara and Mauritania of U.S.-Supplied Military Equipment


We need to decide how to respond to the Moroccan Government’s request to obtain from U.S. sources military equipment and training that would be used in the western Sahara and Mauritania against the Algerian-supported guerrillas of the Polisario Front.


On September 13 then Moroccan Foreign Minister Laraki gave you his Government’s request for additional U.S. military assistance (Attachment 3). The Moroccan Ambassador subsequently suggested his Government wanted the weapons for defensive purposes along the Moroccan-Algerian border.2 But through various sources, including the current Foreign Minister, it has become clear that the intended use is for the western Sahara and Mauritania.

The Moroccan request poses legal problems. These are described at Attachment 2. Briefly, the question is whether our supply of training or equipment for Moroccan use against the Polisario in the western Sahara and Mauritania is possible under the provisions of the Arms Export Control Act and the terms of our classified bilateral military assistance agreement with Morocco. The combined current effect of these two documents is to restrict the use of American-furnished equipment solely to the defense of the Kingdom of Morocco. We have accepted Moroccan de facto administration of the Sahara territory under the tripartite (Spain-Morocco-Mauritania) accord of 1975. But we do not recognize Moroccan claims to sovereignty over Sahara territory, which was acquired without an expression of self-determination called for by UNGA resolutions and the ICJ.

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If our arms will, in fact, be used to consolidate the annexation of western Sahara without regard to self-determination, the proposed sale will not be consistent with the Arms Export Control Act because such consolidation will constitute neither “legitimate self-defense” nor “internal security”, the relevant purposes authorized by the Arms Export Control Act.

To overcome the less serious territorial aspect of the legal problems we could amend our bilateral agreement via an exchange of notes to permit use of American-supplied arms in areas subject to Moroccan administrative control and in northwest African nations with which Morocco has collective defense arrangements. (Morocco has such an agreement with Mauritania.)

Congress must be informed if our agreement is to be amended to permit the Moroccans to obtain military equipment and training for use outside the Moroccan borders we recognize. Congress also will have to be notified of some specific sales. The Moroccans would have their Congressional supporters—for they are fighting an externally-based guerrilla group supplied with Soviet arms by the Algerians and the Libyans. Moroccan attitudes on the Middle East also are appreciated by Israel’s friends on the Hill, who would be quite helpful given Hassan’s public backing of Sadat’s peace initiative. It is doubtful Congress actually would block the proposed sales.

The Moroccan Government recently was criticized sharply by Amnesty International for its alleged violations of the human rights of its citizens.3 AI claimed that without due process there have been extensive arrests, detentions and even executions of persons politically opposed to the present regime. After initially hotly denying the validity of AI’s charges,4 the Government amnestied 58 political prisoners.

Our desire to respond positively is based on our close relationship with King Hassan, who has been sympathetic to American interests throughout his reign and has given us strong support on Middle Eastern and African problems important to the U.S. Within the Third World, [Page 546] he has been almost uniquely cooperative in military and intelligence matters, e.g., permitting us to maintain bases in Morocco and to schedule regular visits by nuclear-powered warships. He partitioned the Sahara with Mauritania to repossess territory most Moroccans believe was stripped from Morocco during the colonial era. The move won him universal domestic acclaim, but failure to hold on to the area could cost him his throne. He knows his request poses problems for us. But he expects us to overcome these obstacles. Should we prove totally unresponsive, his disappointment will cast a shadow over bilateral relations for some time to come.

Your decision on this issue will also affect the use of U.S. military equipment already furnished the Moroccans under our military assistance programs. An affirmative response to the current request would imply consent for the Moroccans to employ previously-furnished equipment more extensively in the western Sahara and Mauritania as the war continues. (There is some evidence this already is beginning to occur).


1. Authorize NEA and PM to incorporate in the current FMS program for Morocco the OV–10 aircraft and other weapons included in the Moroccans’ arms list.


—Would satisfy the desire of the Moroccan Government for U.S. military assistance.

—Would best preserve our important bilateral assets in Morocco and assure its continued positive cooperation on a variety of important regional issues.


—Given the clearly-stated intention of the Moroccans to use the equipment on their list outside the Moroccan borders we recognize, would expose the Administration to charges of collusion in the violation of the terms of our bilateral arms agreement with Morocco.

—Given what we know of Moroccan intentions regarding use of this equipment, and absent some indication Hassan intended to offer the Saharans self-determination, would risk violating the Arms Export Control Act in providing military equipment for purposes not authorized by that legislation.

—Entails risk Congress would reject the proposed sales when the Letters of Offer and Approval were sent to it.

2. Tell the GOM that we will consult with Congress regarding our intention to amend our bilateral military assistance agreement to permit [Page 547] use of U.S. furnished equipment in the western Sahara and Mauritania, and provide many of the arms desired by the Moroccans; provided that the GOM will state its commitment to organize, once peace has been restored in the contested area, further consultations with the Saharans originating in the territory, under the aegis of the United Nations, to permit the Saharans to exercise their right to self-determination.


—Aside from recognition of Moroccan/Mauritanian sovereignty in the contested area, (which would be inconsistent with UN and OAU positions), is the most positive response consistent with the requirements of U.S. law.

—Would be consistent with the text of the 1975 UNGA resolution for which we (and Morocco) voted.5


—Could disappoint the King, who will resist agreeing to any exercise in self-determination which could call into question the annexation of the Sahara.

—If interpreted by the Moroccans as a disguised U.S. refusal, would adversely affect bilateral relations, U.S. interest in Morocco, and our relations with other African and Middle East moderates.

—May be criticized as a subterfuge to permit Hassan to continue to consolidate control while avoiding indefinitely an act of self-determination.

—May prejudice our acceptability as an intermediary, should we subsequently wish to exercise that option.

3. Suspend action on the Moroccan arms request while a diplomatic solution to the Sahara conflict is pursued by mediation. Tell the Moroccans their request remains “under review”, since we believe it would not be prudent to raise with Congress the issue of the arms request until the possibility of a negotiated settlement has been further tested.


—In the long term the dispute must be solved diplomatically. A purely military resolution appears unlikely.

—Should the Algerians reject mediation efforts, chances would be better for obtaining Congressional approval for a subsequent liberalization of end use restrictions on U.S. equipment supplied Morocco.

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—There is, at best, only a modest hope that the U.S. could facilitate a diplomatic solution or that any peaceful resolution will be possible soon.

—The Moroccans quickly would perceive that we were stalling, and strain would develop rapidly in our bilateral relations, with a consequent adverse effect on U.S. interests in Morocco, and on our relations with other African and Middle East moderates.


NEA believes the preservation of the privileged U.S. position in Morocco requires the most positive response which is consistent with U.S. law and our international commitments. NEA therefore favors Option 2, which, if acceptable to the Moroccans, would respond to their military assistance needs from the U.S. without compromising our support for self-determination, our advocacy of a negotiated settlement, our refusal to recognize Moroccan/Mauritanian sovereignty in the disputed area, or our neutrality on the issues in dispute. AF, PM, H, and IO also support Option 2. L opposes Option 1 as the least defensible legally. L favors Option 2, in the light of all considerations, even though it raises some legal problems.

ACDA believes a positive response to the Moroccans could prompt escalation of the Sahara conflict and favors Option 3. S/P also prefers this Option. HA favors Option 3, with the proviso that the Moroccans also would be told there would be no further action on their request until they have made a more forthcoming response to recent Amnesty International charges of human rights abuses. NEA opposes Option 3 as tantamount to outright rejection of the GOM request, inasmuch as a negotiated solution is most unlikely in the foreseeable future because of the irreconcilable basic objectives of Algeria and Morocco.


That you authorize transmission of the telegram at Attachment 1 informing the Moroccan Foreign Minister that the USG is prepared to provide some of the weapons requested by the GOM, subject to consultations with the Congress and the required amendment of our bilateral defense agreement—provided the Foreign Minister provides you with assurances that once peace has been restored in the disputed area the Moroccan Government will organize, under the aegis of the United Nations, further consultations with the Saharans originating in [Page 549] the territory to permit them to exercise their right to self-determination.7 This Option is favored by NEA, AF, L, IO, H, and PM.

ALTERNATIVELY, that the Department suspend action on the Moroccan arms request pending a further effort to achieve a diplomatic solution to the Sahara conflict. This Option is favored by ACDA, S/P, and HA.

ALTERNATIVELY, that you instruct NEA and PM to initiate the procedures necessary to furnish Morocco with OV–10s and additional arms on the Laraki list within the context of our existing bilateral military assistance agreement.

Attachment 3

Paper Prepared in the Department of State 8


The Moroccans have requested:

—24 OV–10 counter-insurgency aircraft, 6 to be supplied in early 1978 from DOD inventories, 18 to be supplied from new production. Cost: about $50 million.

—24 TOW-equipped Cobra helicopters. These are available only from production—lead-time 24–30 months. Cost: about $70 million. The GOM might settle for a ground-based TOW, a less expensive alternate.

—160 V150 Cadillac-Gage armored cars. Available commercially; lead-time 15 months; export license required.

—Assignment of 10 US military officers to teach anti-guerilla combat tactics in French. If we are to provide such training, DOD prefers that it be in the US.

In addition, the Moroccans have expressed an interest in up to 6 CH–47 transport helicopters, either through FMS or commercial channels. Cost: about $50 million.

REDEYE and STINGER have also been requested. We have informed the GOM that Department would not agree to sale of these man-portable air defense weapons.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 69, Morocco: 7/77–2/78. Secret. Sent through Benson. Drafted by Bishop; cleared in EUR/WE, H, L/NEA, IO/UNP, L/PM, ACDA, AF, EB, HA, S/P, INR/RNA, and PM. Attachment 2, an undated paper entitled “Memorandum of Law,” is attached but not printed.
  2. See Document 152.
  3. In telegram 18303 from London, November 7, 1977, the Embassy wrote: “AI pamphlet lists six issues of particular concern: a) prolonged incommunicado detention before trial; b) torture and death in detention; c) infringement of legal procedure during trial; d) use of state security laws to suppress political and social opposition; e) use of death penalty for certain political and criminal offenses; and f) extremely bad conditions in detention centers.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770412–0160)
  4. In telegram 6402 from Rabat, November 25, 1977, the Embassy reported on the November 21 Ministry of Justice statement regarding the Amnesty International report: “The statement attacks Amnesty International report, calling its allegations the work of ‛troublemakers’ and ‛so-called (foreign) observers,’ whom it accuses of being motivated by ‛pure and simple dishonesty.’ Proof of allegations in AI report termed ‛lightweight,’ and ‛inspired from the exterior with a view to creating a climate of suspicion against Morocco.’” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770437–0305)
  5. UN General Assembly Resolution 3458B adopted on December 10, 1975. See footnote 4, Document 150.
  6. There is no indication of approval or disapproval of any of the recommendations.
  7. The draft telegram at Attachment 1 is attached but not printed. For the final instructions to Rabat, see Document 153.
  8. Secret.