234. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Mauritania1

257218. Subject: Mauritania UNGA Bilaterals.

1. Foreign Minister Laghdaf, accompanied by Ambassador Moulaye el Hassen and Director of Political Affairs Kharchi, met with Secretary Vance for one hour October 5. Assistant Secretary Moose was also present.

2. Following opening amenities, Laghdaf said he wanted to use this opportunity to explain to the Secretary the new political and economic orientation of Mauritania following the recent change in government. Basically, the Government of Mauritania wishes to strengthen its ties with the U.S. Laghdaf said the previous government in Mauritania was not oriented toward the West and had not created the best conditions to foster bilateral relations.2 He elaborated, saying a one-party system had not provided appropriate freedoms and nationalization and other economic policies had not been conducive to promoting good economic relations. The new government, he said, had announced the establishment of democratic institutions, including a multi-party system, and declared that the economy of Mauritania would be liberalized. These actions had been taken because it is in keeping with national character and because it is the best way to develop the country. He felt it was important for Secretary Vance to know this because he was aware of the importance that the U.S. attaches to the promotion of human rights everywhere in the world. He hoped that U.S. investors would respond to the new conditions.

3. Laghdaf then turned to the Western Sahara problem.3 He said he recognized that the U.S. was not directly involved but was sure the U.S. would like to see peace in the Sahara as well as elsewhere in the world. Laghdaf said the new government in Mauritania was determined to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict which pitted brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor and was seeking U.S. [Page 571] help in reducing tensions and attaining peace.4 The GIRM, he said, was prepared to work for peace and would like the U.S. to let the full weight of its influence be felt in establishing a dynamic for peace. He looked to the U.S., France and Saudi Arabia to make their friendly influence felt on both Morocco and Algeria.

4. The Secretary then asked the Foreign Minister about the current status of the conflict and what form a compromise settlement might take. In response Laghdaf described the recent background and lamented the fact that although Mauritania has contacted both the Polisario and Morocco, there has not been much change in their positions, which remain far apart.5 He noted that even though the Polisario has a ceasefire with Mauritania, attacks continue against Mauritania in the border areas. Laghdaf estimated the Polisario fighting force at about 5,000. He explained that despite the ceasefire, Mauritania had to keep its forces mobilized and that because of the tensions, phosphate and other natural resources in the region were not able to be exploited.

5. Laghdaf conceded with a smile that the second part of the Secretary’s question was much harder. There are a number of factors which make for intransigence on the part of the parties to the conflict, he explained. He prefaced his comments with the observation that the Sahara, from a cultural and social point of view, is Mauritania.6 He continued that Morocco had made clear that it would not tolerate a “mini-state” influenced by Algeria on its southern border. Laghdaf felt that King Hassan might not be so intransigent if the political entity on his southern border were of the same political orientation as Morocco, that is one that is not “ideologically hostile” to Morocco. Algeria, he said, does not want to see Morocco expand southward and supports self-determination of the Saharan people. Laghdaf guessed that if the Polisario were to accept unification with Mauritania, Morocco would not necessarily oppose such a move but that it would be unrealistic to think that Morocco would abandon entirely its claim to the Sahara. As for the Polisario, Laghdaf described it as divided into two camps. One group relatively young and inexperienced, sought total independence. The other group probably would not be opposed to some sort of link with Mauritania. Laghdaf thought it was even possible that Morocco [Page 572] might cede a small portion of its claim by means of border rectification if some sort of federation between Mauritania and Sahara were effected.7

6. The Secretary asked if the second group would accept the proposition of linkage between Mauritania and the Sahara or would it simply cede part of the northern region of the Sahara and insist on autonomous control of the rest. Laghdaf replied that the moderates could accept some sort of federation in areas such as defense and foreign affairs but would want internal autonomy. Mauritania’s first choice would be total integration but could accept a federation arrangement tending toward eventual absorption. When the Secretary asked what the desires of the people living in the Western Sahara were, Laghdaf said they want to stay where they are but the Polisario claim the people support them and want a state of their own. Laghdaf said that in this respect, Mauritania, within the framework of a general settlement, would not reject or oppose a free expression of determination by the Saharan people.8

7. Secretary Vance then asked where the negotiations stood at present. Laghdaf stressed again that Mauritania had taken the initiative to seek a peaceful solution. Algeria, he said, had accepted the proposition of Mauritanian expansion to the north if the Polisario agreed. However, Algeria was unalterably opposed to any southward expansion by Morocco. Laghdaf, restating an earlier point, confided that Morocco had expressed in confidence that it could make some territorial concession within a federation agreement between Mauritania and Polisario. He stressed the extreme confidentiality of this information, saying that only President Saleck and King Hassan know this “bottom line” of their negotiating position.9

8. Assistant Secretary Moose asked the Foreign Minister if, in the absence of an agreement between Morocco, Algeria, the Polisario and Mauritania, it is likely that the Polisario will consolidate its position in the Mauritanian portion of the Sahara and, if so, could Mauritania and Morocco accept such de facto occupation or would Morocco act to eliminate the Polisario presence. Laghdaf quickly replied that Mauritania has not and will not accept the Polisario installing themselves there and denied that the Polisario has succeeded in doing so. Mauritania, he said, would agree to Polisario control of the Mauritanian portion [Page 573] of the Sahara only within the context of an overall peace settlement.10 He described the present situation as “provisional” and indicated that if efforts to reach a peace agreement should fail, fighting would likely recommence. It would weaken Morocco, he explained, if Mauritania accepted the status quo as a permanent condition.

9. The Foreign Minister closed the conversation by thanking the Secretary once again for taking time from his busy schedule to see him and regretted placing yet another problem on his already full plate.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 62, Mauritania: 10/78. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room. Sent for information to Rabat, Algiers, Paris, Madrid, Dakar, and Jidda. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room. Drafted in AF/W; cleared in AF/W and S/S; approved by Moose. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780415–1246)
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