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

5946. Subj: Moroccan Use of US Equipment in the Sahara.

1. Summary: Royal Counselor Reda Guedira, in a September 25 substantive meeting complementing my perforce brief ceremonial farewell call on the King, carefully set forth Hassan’s position on the use of US-origin military equipment in the Sahara: (1) there was a definite misunderstanding between the King and Saunders on July 21; the King’s reference to removal of F–5’s from the Sahara was in terms of their eventual junking and did not imply their transfer elsewhere;2 [Page 567] (2) Morocco does not consider the presence of F–5’s in the Sahara violates the 1960 accord and contends that US recognition of Morocco’s administrative control over the area implies recognition of Morocco’s right to defend the security of the people; (3) If the US maintains its position—which no other of Morocco’s multiple suppliers holds—then the US risks forcing an end to the military relationship between the US and Morocco; (4) the King looks forward3 to discussing this subject in depth with President Carter during his November State visit. End summary.

2. Guedira opened by referring to his August 4 meeting with me in Casablanca (Rabat 4776)4 and his subsequent discussions with King. It was clear he said, that there had been a definite misunderstanding at the July 21 meeting between the King and Assistant Secretary Saunders on Moroccan use of F–5’s in the part of the Sahara which Morocco claims. Noting his own presence in the meeting, Guedira said he and the King distinctly recalled that what the King had said was that the F–5’s are getting old, that at some point they will be junked (mis a la feraille), and that at that time they would no longer be used in the Sahara. However, this did not imply a transfer from the Sahara5 while they were still needed there. The King, Guedira said, did not and could not have given any assurances that might have precluded his duty to defend Morocco as the situation required, and, in any event, would have constituted a derogation from his sovereignty. The King likes and respects Saunders and wants to make certain this misunderstanding is cleared up.6 (Guedira correctly recalled that the King had become rather excited during this part of the conversation.)

[3.] Guedira went on to say that in Morocco’s view there was no breach of the 1960 agreement. The King had asked Guedira to emphasize this to me. The US agreed that Morocco had administrative control over the Sahara as a result of the Madrid Accords and the UN resolution for which the US had voted. Morocco did not agree with or accept the distinction between administrative control and sovereignty, but leaving that question aside, there was no dispute on the former. If Morocco had administrative control it must have the means to maintain the security of the territory and to protect its people. This means using as necessary not only F–5’s but any equipment acquired from any country.

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[4.] I interjected that the United States, as Guedira was aware, had laws which it was obliged to follow. In the case of any country which did not use equipment in accord with governing agreements, Congress must be notified of a violation. Guedira repeated that Morocco did not consider itself in violation of the 1960 agreement quite aside from the question of sovereignty. He, Guedira, did not understand why Secretary Vance was obliged to report a violation, since there had been none.

[5.] Guedira went on to say that to protect itself Morocco was dependent on imported arms from France, the US, Belgium, Russia and others. The only country which imposed a restriction on the use of those arms in the Sahara was the US. Even Russia imposed no such restrictions despite its pro-Algerian attitude. Speaking with a note of regret, Guedira said very carefully, “if you wish to maintain this position—which we consider incorrect—then the US will have to take upon itself the responsibility for bringing the military relationship between the US and Morocco to an end.” The King did not want to see this happen, said Guedira, but felt he had no choice and had therefore asked Guedira to make the Moroccan position clear.

[6.] Obviously, Guedira said, this is a subject which the King looks forward to discussing in depth with the President on his visit to the United States.

[7.] Comment: Allowing for some hyperbole and desire to shock us into a more favorable attitude, we believe that the GOM’s position—unrealistic though it may be in terms of its own long-term interest—reflects the immediacy and seriousness of the situation in which it finds itself. The King, government and most Moroccans have come to consider the Sahara conflict as a matter of national survival, with casualties having increased and Polisario pressure redirected exclusively on Morocco following the Mauritania coup. Guedira has confirmed our belief that Morocco would not remove F–5’s from the Sahara. Further, it is now clear that Morocco in its present mind-set of near-desperation believes it cannot provide a statement of its intention to eventually withdraw the F–5’s (ref State 239613),7 and that its determination to use anything necessary to defend the Sahara extends to all equipment at its disposal.8 The King has drawn a line which has made it difficult to see the precise modalities for maintaining a satisfactory working relationship and protecting US long-term interests which flow from Morocco’s location, pro-West orientation and moderate stance on international questions. I believe that we should, nevertheless, continue to seek a solid basis for our relations, and that our interests are best [Page 569] served by postponing a direct confrontation which would rigidify the GOM position and reduce our room for maneuver. We clearly should put off notification of Congress of a technical violation of the 1960 agreement pending the outcome of the King’s November visit. By that time, the GOM will have had time to reflect on the fact that its arms relationship with the US remains key to its security. Moreover, it is possible that Morocco-Algeria contacts may have permitted some easing of Morocco’s back-to-the-wall attitude. In sum, the climate for discussions with the GOM on limiting the use of US equipment in the Sahara may improve and allow consideration of new ways to handle the problems in our arms relationship.

[8.] More specifically, the conversation with Guedira marks in our view the death knell of the formula that would have permitted the use of US-origin equipment by Morocco in Mauritania upon the joint request of those two countries. The most satisfactory way to avoid a confrontation against our long-range interests would appear to be for us to tell Congress (after the State visit) that Morocco had technically violated the 1960 agreement in using US equipment in Mauritania but had withdrawn this equipment. We would further inform Congress that we have entered into discussions with the GOM on our differing interpretations of the applicability of the 1960 agreement to the Sahara.9

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 69, Morocco: 7/78–8/80. Secret; Priority; Nodis. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See Document 230. An unknown hand underlined “their eventual junking and did not imply their transfer elsewhere.”
  3. An unknown hand underlined the phrase beginning with “the US risks forcing” and the words “looks forward,” and wrote “sure” in the right-hand margin.
  4. Telegram 4776 from Rabat, August 8, is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780324–0009.
  5. An unknown hand underlined “this did not imply a transfer from the Sahara.”
  6. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  7. See Document 232.
  8. An unknown hand highlighted this and the previous sentence.
  9. An unknown hand highlighted the last two sentences of this paragraph and placed two checkmarks in the right-hand margin.