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

43. Dept pass USCINCEUR Vaihingen Germany for POLAD. From the Ambassador. Subj: U.S. Policy in Morocco.

1. Summary. Continued impasse on arms issue is likely to affect our relations with Morocco and our military relationship in particular. We should take another look at our policy on arms and particularly implications of our position as it relates to self-determination in the Sahara. Creation of independent Saharan state is unlikely to further our interests in this area and we should stop talking about self-determination if we don’t want it to happen. End summary.

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2. The periodic ebb and flow in our relations with Morocco is linked closely to the very subjective attitude of the Chief of State, who is inclined to react according to whether he sees our actions as inimical to or in support of his own positions and views. As we indicated before his departure, he went to Washington troubled in mind because he was uncertain where the USG stood. Indicative of his attitude was his remark to President Carter that all he wanted was for our Ambassadors everywhere to proclaim that Morocco was our friend.2 In other words, he wants our moral support and he wants the Algerians to know he has it. He also wants our material support, but felt that it would spoil the tone of the visit for him to raise such issues. It was nevertheless clear that he hoped the visit would lead to resolution of the current impasse over future arms deliveries. He hoped to convince us that our interests lie with unequivocal support for Morocco in the Sahara. That he did not do so must have been a disappointment and an irritation, but at least he left with the hope that we would be able to work out an arms formula everyone could accept.

3. In the afterglow of the visit, various doors opened and the Government of Morocco displayed its friendliest smiles to us. There has been no outward change in the past month, but there will be as the realization sinks in that we are making no progress on the arms question and that while the final communique struck a very positive note,3 the amount of flesh we are going to be able to put on the bones is rather meager; cooperation in the energy field is not going to mean a lot of USG money; the Secretary of Commerce will come for a day-and-a-half;4 we cannot begin to meet their PL–480 demand; and we may have some money for increased student exchanges, but it is for next year (1980), not this. While we are approaching these activities with a positive spirit and believe something effective will eventually emerge, the box score is not very exciting because we are dealing with some pretty modest figures.

4. The progress we hope to make in the above fields is worthwhile, but it will not counterbalance the growing military supply problem, which is a vital question to Morocco. If we understand the implications of the cable traffic correctly, we are unwilling to supply further equipment the Moroccans need for use in the Sahara unless they permit an exercise in self-determination there. This would seem to be consistent with the PRC recommendation that we should urge Hassan to be more forthcoming about carrying out UN resolution on consultation with [Page 578] the local populations as part of the process of self-determination.5 While we may say we will settle for positive assurances the arms will be used elsewhere, we evidently mean that those assurances must clearly rule out use in the Sahara, unless Moroccan sovereignty is first ratified by a plebiscite or other act of free will by the Sahraouis. We are also imposing the same conditions on the acquisition of helicopters manufactured by the Italians.6 All of this may become irrelevant because of the $60 million in FMS arrearages the Moroccans have now informed us they cannot pay, but they just may get that money from the Saudis. Meanwhile, to add to local unhappiness we have told the Moroccans that just in case they should ask us (which they haven’t yet) to take their troops home from Shaba, we won’t do it.

5. Although we assume there has been no change in our position vis-a-vis Morocco, the impression created in Moroccan minds by our statement to Benjelloun on the above matters is likely to be that we have toughened our stance.7 The King, in that case, will be mystified that after the warmth of the exchanges during his visit the sledding has gotten so tough so quickly, and may deduce that the young men in the Department repeatedly conjured up by Ambassador Bengelloun have triumphed over the sound instincts of his good friends the Secretary and the President, and that they are busily undermining the structure so carefully put together during the visit. With Bengelloun reportedly under criticism from his local detractors for the low level of U.S. press coverage of the King’s visit, he will likely redouble his efforts to push his conspiracy thesis.

6. I have several observations. The first is that a policy of support for self-determination in the Sahara is in accord with our principles and makes a good deal of sense in terms of our relations with the African states. It does not make much sense, however, with the Arab states, most of whom have already approved the Moroccan acquisition of the territory in question as being an expression of Arab unity and fulfillment of a historical claim, and who recall that Boumediene appeared to bless such action at the 1974 Arab Summit in Rabat.8 They realize that were it not for Algeria, the Polisario would never have gotten off the ground and the Moroccan action would have gone unopposed. They attribute crass, geopolitical motives to Boumediene and are not particularly interested in the Polisario.

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7. Assuming, however, that for non-Arab reasons we want to see self-determination in the Sahara, it is logical for us to withhold arms and to attempt to exert pressure on Hassan in the direction of a plebiscite or other action designed to give the Saharans a voice in their future. (One would like to find similar means to support self-determination across the board, say for the Armenians and the Biafrans, but the principle is easier to apply some places than it is others. That need not detract from its validity, but it makes for cynical reactions when we do not apply it universally.)

8. The second observation is that we should be in no doubt that in the unlikely event of a free vote in the Sahara, the Saharans would opt for independence. They do not want to be part of Morocco. They want to have their own ministate and become Cabinet ministers, relying on the international community and their phosphates to keep them in Mercedeses. There are worse things that could happen, and in human rights terms, narrowly defined, there is much to say for such a state. It would be a focus of weakness, however, and it would not make great sense if we are interested in area stability. In utilitarian terms of the greatest good for the greatest number it will be hard to defend. Perhaps we do not care all that much, but I rather think we do.

9. The emergence of an independent Saharan state in the area controlled by Morocco cannot be brought about without upsetting the internal political order in this state. Hassan cannot give up the Sahara. He will be finished if he does, and we will go the way of Abdel Aziz, whose empire was partitioned by the French and Spanish.

10. In brief, if we really mean what we say about self-determination, and we are intent on pressuring the Moroccans in that direction, we should be aware of the shoals ahead. In the unlikely event such pressures succeeded, we could face a foreign policy disaster with the creation of a mini-state on the Saharan coast. If they do not succeed, we will still incur the resentment of the Moroccans, which could seriously harm our interests in this area.

11. If, on the other hand, we don’t really mean it, we should stop talking about it. As seen from here, the only realistic solution is some sort of negotiated settlement between the Algerians, Mauritanians and the Moroccans, from which the Saharans might emerge with a piece of Mauritania, but which would not affect the Moroccan hold over their portion of the Sahara. Perhaps one could say that a nod would then have been given in the direction of self-determination, but it would be an essentially cynical settlement between the three powers and the Polisario. There would be no meaningful act of self-determination in the area controlled by Morocco. If, however, this is what we want to see happen, we should consider how we are going to help bring it about, and whether we are prepared to take a more active role in [Page 580] promoting it. In any event, a change in rhetoric could seem to be in order, i.e., we should start talking about accommodation rather than self-determination.

12. My third observation is that if we maintain our current position on self-determination, it will affect our military relationship with Morocco. There is undoubtedly a good deal of linkage in Hassan’s mind between what we want from him and what we have done for him lately. He is grateful for our recent votes in the United Nations,9 for the warmth of his welcome in Washington and for our expressed intent to be helpful in various fields, but he weighs them against the military questions and the fact that we are unwilling to sell him arms he needs for the Sahara, which is an obsession locally today. When he is in such a frame of mind, he is unlikely to be helpful to us on such matters as GEODSS. He will drag his feet, people will not answer telephones, and we will experience a good deal of frustration. He could always surprise us, of course, and decide it is in his interest to entangle us further in a web of relationships he can eventually use to draw us along, but he may also choose just to keep us dangling and to extract a quid pro quo before we are able even to start the project.

13. I realize that the adversary process on which our government is based normally leads to fuzzy lowest common denominator solutions, and that either-or propositions are inherently noxious to Washington. I would respectfully suggest, however, that we have two broad choices today; we can continue to withhold arms in the absence of assurances that Hassan will find it very difficult to give and even more difficult to honor, and we can continue to speak about, and by implication press for, self-determination. This policy is viable, but it has consequences for our much valued military relationship. We could also withhold arms but stop talking about self-determination. Alternatively, we can reexamine the legal decision which has put us in our current bind and accept the argument that Morocco, like Israel in Sinai, has certain rights and obligations as an occupying power and that these include defense of the territory in question. Use of FMS-supplied equipment in the Sahara would therefore not be in violation of the 1960 agreement. This would have certain consequences in our relations with Algeria which I am at this point unable to assess, but it would not be inconsistent with efforts to promote a negotiated settlement between the Moroccans and Algerians, the latter presumably being less ready to talk if they think the Moroccans are losing.

[14.] It seems to me that our first step in taking a decision should be to consider thoroughly what we want to see occurring in this part [Page 581] of North Africa and how we can envisage developments here impacting on the security of the region and our interests. I realize that we went through an intensive policy review last spring,10 but it seems particularly timely, now that Boumediene has gone, to look at the wider picture again. The Department may feel that it has a coherent policy for North Africa, but there is an apparent contradiction between what we are doing and what we expect to happen on the ground.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790004–1366. Secret; Exdis. Sent for information to Algiers, Dakar, Madrid, Nouakchott, and Paris.
  2. See Document 161.
  3. For the text of the November 17 joint press statement, see Public Papers: Carter, 1978, Book II, pp. 2055–2056.
  4. See Document 170
  5. See Documents 33 and 34.
  6. See Document 167.
  7. See Document 166.
  8. See footnote 2, Document 223.
  9. See footnote 5, Document 166.
  10. See Documents 3032.