235. Letter From Representative Cardiss Collins to President Carter 1

Dear Mr. President:

I understand that King Hassan II of Morocco is due to arrive in Washington on November 14 for the purpose of meeting with the President, officials at the State Department2 and Members of Congress.3 While the King’s visit will provide an opportunity to reaffirm our traditional ties with Morocco, a loyal ally of the United States, both in Africa and the Middle East, it is my hope that the Administration will take this occasion to reiterate its present policy towards Northwest Africa in general and the Western Sahara in particular.

As you know, Morocco and until recently, Mauritania, have been engaged in a military conflict with guerillas of the Patriotic Front for [Page 574] the Liberation of Saguia el Hamra and Rio de Oro. Due to Algeria’s support of the Polisario and a tradition of border conflict between Morocco and Algeria, the Western Sahara issue has threatened on several occasions to escalate into a more general conflict between Morocco and Algeria, with serious consequences for U.S. interests in both of these countries as well as in Africa and the Middle East generally. While the potential for such escalation continues to exist, recent diplomatic efforts have succeeded in reducing the scope of the actual fighting to the northern two-thirds of the contested territory.

Against this background, the Administration’s stated policy has been to acknowledge Moroccan and Mauritanian administrative control but not their sovereignty over that portion of the Sahara to which their governments claim jurisdiction. At the same time, our country has wisely supported efforts to resolve the substance of the dispute through the regional mechanism of the Organization of African Unity.

This position of neutrality implies that our government continues to stand by its interpretation of the 1960 bilateral defense agreement with Morocco which limits the use of American weapons to the defense of the Kingdom of Morocco itself, not including the Western Sahara. It is my hope that the State Department will view any requests for arms or military aid from Morocco in that light. In particular, I am concerned about reports to the effect that Northrup Corporation is currently under contract to design a $200 million underground surveillance system for Morocco’s use in the Western Sahara.

I also suggest that the King be encouraged to seek a peaceful resolution of the continuing conflict, through the exercise of genuine self-determination on the part of the Saharoui people.

Yours truly,

Cardiss Collins
Member of Congress
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Trips/Visits File, Box 112, 11/14–15/78 Visit of King Hassan II of Morocco: 11/78. No classification marking. Collins (D-Illinois) was a member of the House International Relations Committee.
  2. See Documents 161, 162, 163, and 236.
  3. Hassan met with Members of Congress on November 15 at the Capitol. Telegram 292512 to Rabat, November 18, reported on the meeting. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780474–1136)