31. Paper Prepared by the Policy Review Committee1


Our reluctance to allow the Moroccan Government to use our military equipment in the Sahara and Mauritania in the course of its conflict with the Algerian-backed Polisario guerrillas has resulted in growing estrangement in our historically close relations with Morocco. Meanwhile the Algerian-American rapprochement has lost its momentum due to the resurgence of serious political differences and indications the U.S. will not approve further liquefied natural gas (LNG) contracts. In Algeria, the Soviet efforts to secure additional naval facilities on NATO’s southern flank could have some success if there is a sharp deterioration in Algerian-American relations. Morocco and Algeria are engaged in an expensive arms race, and there is the possibility of a direct military confrontation.

As U.S. policy toward the Sahara conflict is central to our present relations with Morocco and Algeria, this paper identifies the core elements of American policy on that dispute and describes two alternative strategies, which are not necessarily mutually exclusive. These are aligning ourselves more closely with Morocco and more active U.S. promotion of a peaceful settlement. The paper does not assume that our current policy is inadequate, but it does emphasize the strain which has resulted in relations with Morocco as we pursued our present [Page 59] strategy. It also describes the current impasse with the Moroccans provoked by their use of American arms in the western Sahara and Mauritania and steps underway within the framework of our current policy to overcome this impasse. The paper concludes that regardless of our policy choices it would be desirable to have a high-level U.S. emissary speak with leaders in Rabat and Algiers in the near future.

Morocco Questions U.S. Objectives and Friendship

King Hassan appears to be questioning the value of his close relationship with the U.S. During the previous Administration, Secretary Kissinger expressed to Hassan his “personal view” that Moroccan dominance in northwest Africa would be preferable to that of Algeria;2 and at the United Nations in 1975 the U.S. voted in favor of the pro-Moroccan resolution on the Sahara while abstaining on its pro-Algerian rival. In December 1977 President Carter expressed to the Moroccan Prime Minister his sympathy with Moroccan concern about Soviet intrusions in Africa.3 This sentiment has been echoed by other Administration officials, including one Cabinet member, in meetings with the King. Hassan is aware that the President assured Giscard d’Estaing that the U.S. understood the reasons for French military intervention against the Polisario guerrillas in Mauritania. The President has stated publicly U.S. appreciation for Moroccan military assistance to Zaire during the Shaba incursion.

Against this background, the Moroccans professed to be astonished by the Administration’s statements to Congressional committees that the Administration recognized Moroccan administrative control but not sovereignty over the western Sahara,4 although they are well aware this has been our policy since early 1976 (and the policy of Morocco’s other friends in the West). They are bitterly disappointed by the U.S. refusal to sell them arms to be used in the Sahara, and they contrast our position with that of the Soviets who impose no similar restrictions on weapons they furnish the Algerians. They may refuse to withdraw the F–5 aircraft presently in the Sahara and Mauritania in violation of our assistance agreement or refuse to give formal assurances that U.S. weapons will not be used in these areas, thereby perhaps provoking a U.S. arms embargo (affecting both our $45 million FMS credit program and the more than $100 million in planned Moroccan commercial arms purchases) and a major crisis in bilateral relations.

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The Moroccans are also quite concerned by the Administration’s perceived failure to counter effectively Soviet/Cuban intrusions in Africa. While there is self-serving exaggeration in his characterization of the Polisario’s challenge to Moroccan/Mauritanian control of the Sahara as Soviet inspired or manipulated, the King is genuinely alarmed by the propensity of the Soviets generously to support militarily left wing forces in African disputes.

Belatedly, the King decided he should take his case directly to the President. Having aborted on three days notice a state visit scheduled to begin December 7 (the fifth such “postponement” in seven years), he unsuccessfully sought a meeting with President Carter at a time when the President’s schedule was exceptionally busy.

Impending Discord with Algeria

Perhaps to improve its access to the U.S. energy market, and to American technology and finance for the development of Algeria’s hydrocarbon industry, the Boumediene Government made a number of gestures, e.g., assignment of an Ambassador, intended to normalize relations with the new Carter Administration. Repeated efforts were undertaken to exploit the new Administration’s interest in human rights to win sympathy for the Polisario’s self-determination demands. As relations with France worsened in late 1977 following French military intervention against the Polisario, the Algerians, anxious not to be estranged simultaneously from both Paris and Washington, muted their growing disagreements with the United States on the Middle East.

The Algerians also downplayed their frustration at the Department of Energy’s continuing delay in reaching decisions overdue since December 31, 1977 on two pending major LNG import contracts. Although the Algerians probably perceive a political motive, the delay is due to national energy policy considerations. Major factors in DOE’s review of the two cases are their consistency with the LNG import policy being developed by an Interagency Task Force and the draft energy bill, with respect to security of supply, pricing, environment, and other factors. Public oral arguments have been heard in one case, and probably will be heard in the second. No date has been set for final decisions in these cases.

Algerian pleasure at U.S. refusal to sell Morocco weapons for use in the Sahara and Mauritania will be overshadowed by resentment, should Algeria’s support for Palestinian and other guerrilla groups expose the Boumediene Government to the economic sanctions of recent or anticipated American legislation on international terrorism. This is a very real possibility given Algeria’s relations with such organizations and strong Congressional support for legislation which would penalize governments associated with terrorist groups. Earlier this year [Page 61] the State Department suspended action for two months on Export-Import Bank operations regarding Algeria while examining Algeria’s links to guerrilla groups within the context of current legislation on Exim and terrorism.

Algeria maintains extensive contacts with a number of leftist dissident groups and with Palestinians of all persuasion, including Palestinian terrorist groups. Algiers provides some direct support—regular and diplomatic passports, monetary aid, and reportedly some military training—to Spanish and Canary Islands dissidents, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and members of Fatah as well as the Polisario. Some known international terrorists, including Carlos, have used Algeria as a transit or stopover point; Carlos is reported to use Algerian passports in some of his travels. Although Algeria has in the past granted airline hijackers safehaven and transit out of the country, it announced earlier this year that it would no longer accept a hijacked airliner unless Algerians were involved or unless asked to do so by a recognized international authority.

Finally, U.S. indefinite postponement for administrative reasons of the state visit that Boumediene had been invited to make in mid-1978 can be expected to irritate him.

Mauritania: Caught in the Middle

U.S. interests are fundamentally humanitarian, and are distinctly secondary to those in Algeria and Morocco. As the weakest link, Mauritania is bearing the brunt of the war and is dependent on conservative Arab money, Moroccan troops, and French aircraft for its survival. The Mauritanians would like to find a negotiated way out of the conflict that preserves their territory and political integrity, but are too reliant on Morocco to pursue an independent peace settlement policy.

U.S. Interests in the Maghreb

Security and Strategic

American regional security interests include maintenance of sea lines of communication in the Mediterranean, support for the Sixth Fleet, protection of NATO’s southern flank, and denial to the Soviets of bases and naval repair facilities in an area where they are now logistically disadvantaged.

Morocco’s control of the southern shore of the Straits of Gibraltar and its Atlantic Ocean littoral therefore have important strategic significance for the U.S., especially as Morocco has a long history of cooperation with the U.S. in military matters. There were SAC airfields in the country’s early years, and more recently naval communications installations which just now are being phased out at U.S. initiative. The Moroccans continue to welcome U.S. naval visits, including those [Page 62] by nuclear powered warships, and have agreed to permit the Navy to continue to use Moroccan registered radio frequencies very important for Sixth Fleet operations. The King has agreed in principle to construction of a deep space optical tracking facility to be operated by the U.S. Air Force which will permit observations of Soviet satellites orbiting beyond the range of present U.S. sensors. He is interested in expanding his military relationship with the U.S.; and at a time of less troubled relations he would be sympathetic to U.S. requests for additional basing privileges should the U.S. decide these were desirable.

The Moroccans demonstrated in Shaba their willingness to react militarily to threats against moderate regimes in Africa. Less successful was a Moroccan effort to overthrow the avowedly Marxist-Leninist regime in Benin. The Moroccans currently are providing covert military assistance to the guerrillas contesting the Marxist MPLA’s control of Angola. Were they not preoccupied by the Sahara struggle, the Moroccans might be aiding the embattled Chadian Government defend itself against Libyan-backed insurgents.


There is a curious dichotomy in our national interests along the southern Mediterranean littoral. Not surprisingly, our political interests are high in moderate Morocco. But we have greater economic interests in “socialist” Algeria. U.S. petroleum imports from Algeria comprise 8 percent of our total imports of crude oil, and Algeria is becoming America’s principal source of LNG, which is an important energy source in some U.S. regional markets. American firms have won contracts valued at $6 billion, chiefly for construction of oil and LNG facilities. They hope to be awarded many more contracts as Algeria spends an additional estimated $17.4 billion developing its hydrocarbon sector through 1985. Outstanding loans to Algeria from Exim and private U.S. institutions approach $2 billion. U.S. exports to Algeria in 1977 amounted to $525 million.

The Moroccan economy is just beginning to become really accessible to American firms. U.S. exports were only $200 million in 1977. However, Westinghouse recently won a $215 million contract and is a strong contender for leadership in development plans both for Morocco’s promising uranium resources and for nuclear power. With as much as 60 percent of the world’s phosphate reserves, Morocco will have an important role in pricing this commodity, which is important for agricultural production. Extensive shale oil deposits will be exploited if economically viable technology can be developed.


U.S. political interests of both regional and global dimensions generally have been furthered by Morocco’s pro-Western orientation. [Page 63] Though careful to protect its Third World and Arab credentials, Morocco usually has promoted cooperative relations between the Third World and the Western democracies. Morocco has been very supportive of U.S. policy objectives in the Middle East. Hassan was one of the first and the most vocal supporter of Sadat’s peace initiative and has tried to extend the influence of the moderates within the Palestinian camp. Morocco’s activities in Africa have been beneficial to American and Western interests. Near Tangier, the Rabat Government permits the U.S. to operate an important VOA station broadcasting to Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Despite Algiers’ initiatives to improve relations with Washington, the Boumediene Government’s positions on most regional and global issues are in sharp conflict with those of the U.S. Algeria had been helpful to earlier U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East by protecting Syria’s flank against more radical Arabs. But Boumediene’s outspoken opposition to Sadat’s peace initiative is a reminder of the strength of Algeria’s commitment to the Palestinians. An additional factor is the Algerian support to certain Palestinians and others engaging in international terrorism.

Soviet Interests in the Maghreb

Security and Strategic

With only limited use of major port facilities, and lagging in the development of a full range of mobile support capabilities, the Soviets have been seeking port and repair facilities throughout the western Mediterranean. Their objectives have been to ease the overcrowded Soviet Northern Fleet bases and to allow their diesel submarines to linger longer in the Mediterranean. They also have sought permission to base military aircraft in western Algeria, presumably to improve their surveillance of NATO naval forces in the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic.

Both Algeria and Morocco allow the Soviets to make port calls. These are frequent in Algeria and occasional in Morocco. Vessels of the USSR’s Mediterranean Squadron undertake routine repair and maintenance in and off the Algerian port of Annaba, and Algerian permission was recently requested for similar privileges elsewhere in Algeria. To date, the Soviets have been unsuccessful in their efforts to persuade the Algerians to grant them base rights in western Algeria.

Approximately 1,000 Soviet military advisors and technicians are stationed in Algeria, which has signed agreements for the purchase of a wide variety of sophisticated Soviet weaponry worth $1.3 billion. Although the Soviets do not provide direct military support to the Polisario guerrillas, they have not tried to block Algerian deliveries of Soviet arms to the Polisario.

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To preclude an exclusive Moroccan arms relationship with the West, the USSR maintains modest military sales and training programs in Morocco.


Soviet arms sales to Algeria are understood to be paid for in hard currency, which makes them a significant entry in each country’s commercial accounts. The Soviet Union also exports civilian goods to Algeria and provides economic assistance. However, a recently concluded $2 billion, 20-year agreement, which provides Soviet technical assistance, financing, and chemicals in return for deliveries of Moroccan phosphates, and an even more recent fishing agreement, probably will make Morocco the USSR’s largest trading partner in Africa.


Within the Maghreb, Moscow places priority on its relations with “progressive” Algeria but clearly does not want to push the Moroccans closer to the West and therefore tries to maintain normal relations with King Hassan. The Soviets have avoided publicly choosing sides on the Sahara conflict. Like ourselves, the Soviets are believed to see little advantage in a war between Algeria and Morocco, although the persistence of tension facilitates Soviet arms sales and creates a degree of Algerian dependency they hope eventually will be of strategic benefit.

U.S. and Soviet Larger Interests in Africa and the Middle East

Soviet relations with the Maghreb are more clearly divided when the issues are regional or global. Although the stridently Third World Algerians sometimes criticize Soviet policies, Algiers and Moscow frequently share views. The Algerians assisted the Soviet/Cuban intervention in Angola by permitting Soviet transport aircraft to refuel and overfly their territory. They have tended to side with the elements backed by the Soviets in the Ogaden and southern Africa. (At the same time, Algeria has apparently strongly cautioned Cuba against becoming involved militarily in Eritrea against Muslim Eritrean liberation elements which have in the past been supported by Algeria, Iraq and Cuba itself. To at least some extent these representations, and those by Iraq, appear to have played a role in inducing the present Cuban restraint.) The Moroccans consistently decry Soviet intervention on the African continent.

Again, there is less ambiguity when Soviet relations with the Maghreb are set within the context of Soviet interests in the Arab world. Algeria’s pro-Palestinian militancy and participation in the “steadfastness front” against Sadat coincide with Soviet objectives, while Morocco’s advocacy of a peaceful settlement is frequently at odds with Soviet tactics.

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American behavior in the dispute between Morocco and Algeria will influence attitudes toward the U.S. of other friendly Middle Eastern, European, and African nations. U.S. policies will have a negative impact on many of these countries to the extent they are perceived as part of a U.S. “failure” to oppose effectively the growth of Soviet/Cuban military influence in Africa. Morocco has close ties with France and with the other moderate regimes in these regions, e.g., Iran, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Zaire. All of these countries share Hassan’s alarm about Soviet intrusions in Africa and favor a negotiated settlement to the Arab/Israeli dispute. Some of Algeria’s close associates in Africa and the Middle East, e.g., Libya, Iraq, PDRY, Angola, Benin, Madagascar, advocate Middle East policies generally supported by the Soviets; and the Africans among them have welcomed Soviet military intervention on their continent.

Moroccan Objectives in the Western Sahara Dispute

The Moroccan claims to the Sahara, supported by the large majority of Morocco’s population, have a deep historical and religious basis. The annexation of the territory in February 1976 was the expression of a powerful current of irredentism. In geopolitical terms, the Moroccan leadership viewed the annexation as a means of preventing the creation of a radical Algerian puppet state which would isolate Morocco from the rest of Africa; and the Sahara’s phosphate reserves were seen as important to the country’s economic future.

Hassan’s dominant personal interests are his continued reign and the perpetuation of the 300-year old Alaouite dynasty. His “recovery” of the Sahara has unified the nation behind him, and he could not surrender the territory without grave risk of a military coup or popular uprising. For the moment the military situation in the Sahara and Mauritania is manageable. But he would be sorely tempted to strike more aggressively at Polisario sanctuaries in Algeria, if the tide of battle turned against his forces. On the other hand, he realizes the danger to his position of a full-scale conflict with the much better armed Algerians, and he is painfully conscious of the growing financial burden of the ongoing guerrilla war. He is ready for a negotiated settlement, but only if it does not call into question the annexation of that portion of the Sahara he now controls.

Over the longer term Hassan will continue to regard the Soviets as sponsors of an ideology obviously alien to his regime and rule. This recognition will not preclude economic cooperation, but in the political sphere his preference will be the West, as long as he believes the West can resist Soviet ambitions. Should he become persuaded the West was going to abandon Africa to these ambitions, he probably would seek a temporizing accommodation with Moscow, hoping the West would rally before he was overthrown.

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Algerian Objectives

Much more than in the neighboring Kingdom, Algeria’s Sahara policy reflects the personal views of the leader, for Algerians generally do not actively support their Government’s stance. Because the motivation is to this extent personal, it is less clearly defined. Elements are believed to include Boumediene’s desire for Algerian geopolitical pre-eminence in northwest Africa as well as his pique at Hassan’s attempt to confront him with a fait accompli. There also is anger with Ould Daddah for his betrayal of their earlier partnership. Boumediene regards the Moroccan monarchy as an offensive anachronism and would be pleased to precipitate the King’s overthrow. Although he denies any Algerian territorial ambition, establishment of a client state would facilitate the export via the Atlantic of southwest Algeria’s mineral resources when and if commercial exploitation proves viable. There is also, however, some truth to Boumediene’s professions of concern for Saharan self-determination which probably evokes a sympathetic response from the more ideological elements of the ruling elite—as opposed to more pragmatic figures including Foreign Minister Bouteflika.

Although the Algerians have supported OAU consideration of the Sahara dispute, in contrast with the Moroccans, who have quietly sabotaged successive attempts to have it examined under OAU aegis, this presumably was for tactical advantage. Most potential intermediaries who visited both Rabat and Algiers reported the Algerians equally opposed to negotiations. As the costs of the conflict increase, and French support makes a Moroccan/Mauritanian defeat unlikely, the Algerians are perhaps becoming more willing to seek a negotiated settlement.

Over the longer term, the Algerians will remain highly nationalistic and reluctant to compromise their non-aligned status by giving the Soviets base rights. But they will cooperate with the Soviets in support of “progressive” Arab and African elements and might eventually grant some additional port privileges if their dependency on Soviet arms increases. The elaboration of their economic ties with the U.S. could modify their propensity to such behavior over the long run.

The Western Europeans

France and Spain remain deeply involved in the Maghreb. The former’s support for Morocco and Mauritania provoked a crisis in Franco-Algerian relations when the Polisario seized French hostages and the French Air Force subsequently destroyed Polisario military formations. But neither the French nor the Algerians can afford the permanent alienation of the other, and a limited reconciliation once again appears underway. The French probably would support any peace initiative they regarded as viable and are particularly well placed [Page 67] to put pressure on Rabat and Nouakchott to negotiate, but they are reluctant to promote a peace settlement unilaterally.

The French share their African protégés’ concern about the Soviet role in Africa. They have intervened militarily to support friendly African regimes not only from Soviet-backed elements but from those sponsored by the Libyans in Chad. Given the domestic political sensibilities and limited French resources it is unclear how long France will be able and willing to sustain the present level of its commitments to Lebanon, Djibouti, Chad, Mauritania/Morocco, or where it will cut back if it chooses to do so.

Squeezed between their economic dependence on Algerian energy and the vulnerability of their Moroccan enclaves to military pressure by Hassan’s troops, the Spaniards have made it clear they will not take any risky initiative to resolve the Sahara conflict.

Current U.S. Strategy

Basic U.S. objectives in relations with Morocco have been the preservation of close security and political ties and the expansion of American trade and investment. In relations with Algeria the fundamental objectives have been the protection and promotion of our economic interests and the normalization of the bilateral political relationship.

As the Sahara conflict unfolded in 1975, the Administration believed U.S. interests would be better served by the absorption of the Sahara by Morocco and Mauritania than by the possible creation of an unstable, Arab radical microstate, under Algerian suzerainty, which could be subject to Soviet influence. But the U.S. was reluctant to become very involved and recognized there were previous public U.S. affirmations in the United Nations of the applicability of the principle of self-determination. The U.S. consequently adopted a public posture of neutrality. However, in recognizing the Madrid Accord providing for the transfer of control of the Sahara from Spain to Morocco and Mauritania, and in voting for the pro-Moroccan resolution while abstaining on its pro-Algerian rival at the 1975 General Assembly, the U.S. revealed its pro-Moroccan bias.5

The pro-Moroccan resolution called for “free consultations” with “all the Saharan populations originating in the Territory” that would be “organized with the assistance of a representative of the United [Page 68] Nations appointed by the Secretary General”. However, a UN mission in January–February 1976 concluded that conditions in the territory were too unsettled for meaningful “consultations” with the population.

The Spanish actually completed withdrawal on February 26, 1976, turning over administration to Morocco and Mauritania, who immediately proclaimed sovereignty over their respective portions of the western Sahara on the basis of a unanimous vote by those members of the old Spanish territorial assembly (a slim majority) who had chosen to remain rather than to join the Polisario independence movement in exile. UN Secretary General Waldheim declined the Moroccan invitation extended 36 hours before this vote to send a UN observer and subsequently refused to acknowledge that the terms of either the pro-Algerian or the pro-Moroccan UN resolution had been fulfilled. Although Morocco and Mauritania have pointed to Saharan participation in subsequent national elections as further evidence that self-determination has taken place, the only member of the international community to fully endorse their claim has been the Ivory Coast. The U.S. has said that it would not take a public position on the self-determination question, on the grounds that the UN has asked the OAU to deal with the entire issue. The Moroccans have correctly pointed out that U.S. statements characterizing them as an administering authority strongly imply that we are not satisfied that self-determination has yet occurred.

There has been little international interest in the dispute. With Moroccan encouragement, the OAU avoided action on the issue for two years. The U.S. position did not become a domestic issue until the question of continuing Moroccan use in the Sahara and Mauritania of F–5 aircraft obtained within the framework of the 1960 Moroccan-American military assistance agreement was brought to the attention of Congress. (To prevent use of U.S.-supplied equipment against Israel, that agreement specifies that weapons obtained from the U.S. Government can be used solely for the internal security and protection of the Kingdom of Morocco.)

The problem crystallized in autumn of 1977 when the Moroccan Government, after several military reverses by the Polisario, whose Soviet arms inventories had been greatly improved in previous months by the Algerians, requested U.S. authorization to purchase armed reconnaissance aircraft (OV–10) and Cobra helicopters to use in the Sahara and Mauritania.6 After considerable internal debate, the Department of State informed key Members of Congress in January and February of the Administration’s desire to authorize the sale. It was explained the U.S. first would amend the bilateral assistance agreement [Page 69] to permit use of U.S.-furnished equipment, not only for the defense of the Kingdom of Morocco, but to protect territory subject to Moroccan administrative control, i.e., the Sahara, and the territory of nations in the region with which Morocco had defense arrangements, i.e., Mauritania. At the same time, we noted that we would make clear to the Moroccans that we would continue our policy of “reserving” on the issue of sovereignty.

There was considerable Congressional opposition to this proposal, led by HIRC Subcommittee Chairmen Diggs and Fraser, and SFRC Subcommittee Chairman Clark, and its further advocacy appeared unwise as the controversy with Congress deepened over aircraft proposals for the Middle East. The Moroccans and Congress subsequently were informed in March that the Department had decided not to proceed “at this time” with the amendment to the bilateral or the sales.7 Subcommittee staffers subsequently abandoned plans to try to write legislative restrictions on our traditional FMS programs with Morocco when the Moroccan Ambassador pledged that his Government would respect end use restrictions on future FMS equipment.8

Currently, the U.S. is seeking redeployment to bases in Morocco of the F–5 aircraft stationed outside the country. The Moroccans also have been asked to give formal assurances that other military equipment purchased in the U.S. will not be used in the Sahara and Mauritania. In addition to legal obligations, the Department of State seeks to preclude a Congressionally imposed arms embargo. Unless or until we change our policy, the F–5s are a key issue, and their use is a major problem for those vocal and influential Congressmen who oppose the use of U.S. arms in the Sahara.

The Moroccan response is uncertain. Until they can replace the F–5s with French-supplied F–1 aircraft just now coming off the production line, the F–5s will remain the only high performance aircraft in their inventory. With over a third of their army committed to the conflict with the Polisario, the Moroccans want to protect their forces with air power.

Pending a response from the Moroccans to these requests, and to offer some protection from Congressional criticism in the interim, the Department of State has deferred action on new requests for major equipment items. Already one million dollars has been diverted from the $45 million FY 1978 FMS program earmarked for Morocco. As the fiscal year wears on, there may be further raids on this sum, should it remain uncommitted. Should the Moroccans refuse to withdraw the [Page 70] F–5s and/or to give satisfactory assurances on use of U.S. equipment, we would have to decide if we are obligated to inform the Congress officially that Morocco has violated our agreement. Should this happen, it would further strain Moroccan-American relations.

Another element in U.S. policy toward the Sahara dispute has been refusal to play the role of intermediary. This has been suggested by the Algerians, but it is not clear how serious they have been. Informal discussion of their proposal has indicated their actual aspiration may have been to persuade the U.S. to reduce arms deliveries to the Moroccans. An additional motive may have been to sow further doubt in Moroccan minds about the reliability of their ties with the U.S. The formal response to these Algerian suggestions has been that the U.S. wishes to avoid major power involvement and believes African or Arab Governments could more appropriately play this role.

To summarize, the key elements of current U.S. strategy are:

—No U.S. weapons for Moroccan use in the Sahara or Mauritania.

—Suspension of approval for new arms transfers to Morocco pending clarification of Morocco’s position on use of U.S.-furnished weapons in the Sahara and Mauritania.

—No recognition of Moroccan sovereignty in the Sahara.

—Formal U.S. neutrality on the merits of the Sahara dispute.

—No U.S. role in mediation.

—Admonishing the Moroccans and the Algerians not to escalate the level of hostilities in the Sahara.

—Refusal to be critical of French military intervention against the Polisario.

—Reminding the Algerians of their responsibility to restrain the Polisario from attacking civilian targets in Mauritania and thus provoking French retaliation.

—Seeking to expand our energy-related commercial relations with Algeria.

—Building on the above, by being responsive to Algerian desires to expand official relations in the cultural, educational, and agricultural fields.

Effect on U.S. Interests

The risk of maintaining present U.S. policy is that an impasse on Moroccan use of American equipment involving continuing inaction on new arms transfer proposals could seriously erode bilateral relations and adversely impact on our relations with other moderate regimes in Africa and the Middle East. It is difficult to quantify this, but certainly we wish to avoid introducing still new complications in the atmosphere and substance of our relations with these countries. As concerns partic[Page 71]ulars on a bilateral basis, this would be a poor climate in which to press for formal authorization for the USAF deep space tracking facility. Obtaining permission for Sixth Fleet visits might become more difficult. Moroccan positions on Middle Eastern and African issues will remain generally consistent with those of the U.S. But there probably would be a less cooperative response to specific requests for assistance in pursuit of U.S. strategic and diplomatic objectives, particularly when the Moroccans perceive a significant cost involved in their cooperation with us.

Of course, a continuing impasse on Moroccan use of American arms is not inevitable. The Moroccans may respond affirmatively to recent urging that they withdraw the F–5s from the Sahara and Mauritania and that they provide suitable assurances regarding the use of FMS and Munitions Control list equipment they want to obtain in the U.S. A variant solution to the F–5 problem would be a Moroccan assurance that by sometime this fall (when the F–1s may be ready to be deployed), they would withdraw the F–5s. To some extent, such a deal could build on our latest Congressional testimony, in which we made the point that our policy on the F–5s previously had not been made clear to the Moroccans.9 Current American policy would be more viable, should this occur.

Alternative Strategies

1. Closer Alignment with Morocco

The Strategy

On the assumption that U.S. interests in the Maghreb, as well as in Africa and the Middle East, will be best served by strengthening our relations with Morocco, some of the following initiatives could be undertaken:

—Amendment or reinterpretation of our bilateral military assistance agreement to permit use of American weapons in the Sahara and Mauritania.

—Subsequent sale of the OV–10, Cobra, and other U.S. weapons without limitation on their use in the Sahara and Mauritania.

—Recognition of Moroccan and Mauritanian sovereignty in the Sahara, either unilaterally or perhaps in concert with the French and moderate Africans and Middle Easterners.

—Accept Moroccan acknowledgment that our F–5s must be withdrawn from Sahara and Mauritania as soon as they can be replaced by operational Mirage F–1s sold by France.

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To minimize the adverse impact of such a strategy on our relations with Algeria, some of the following initiatives would be appropriate:

—In return for U.S. support, urge the Moroccans to make concessions which would facilitate a negotiated settlement.

—Reschedule the Boumediene state visit.

—Offer U.S. training to Algerian military officers.

—Approve sales of selected non-lethal equipment to the Algerian military, e.g., computers and civilian model training aircraft.

(Should DOE subsequently approve pending LNG contracts, these decisions could have a salutary effect on our relations with Algeria.)


Any change in our policies on arms sales and recognition of Moroccan sovereignty would arouse vocal Congressional opposition, probably including introduction of a motion of disapproval, and provoke accusations of bad faith and of violations of the Arms Export Control Act. There also would be some public criticism of the Administration for alleged inconsistency with its human rights and arms restraint policies, as well as claims that recognition of Moroccan sovereignty conflicted with UN charter obligations.

Effects on U.S. Interests

On the positive side, such a strategy would restore Moroccan and Mauritanian confidence in the reliability of American cooperation, encouraging continued Moroccan support in the realization of U.S. strategic and diplomatic objectives in the Mediterranean, Africa and the Middle East. One likely immediate benefit would be definitive Moroccan agreement for construction of the USAF deep space optical tracking station. If and when the Moroccans resolved the Polisario problem, they might be prepared to use their military forces in situations similar to Shaba or Chad, where a moderate regime faced an externally assisted threat. This strategy also would be welcomed by important Middle Eastern, Western European, and African governments friendly to the U.S. There would be voices in the Congress who would be supportive. On the other hand, continuing Moroccan concern about their Algerian frontiers, the limited size of the Moroccan army, and internal political constraints make it unlikely the Moroccans would be able or willing to commit forces in conflicts where they would be likely to suffer substantial casualties, where their involvement might be prolonged, or where they might be defeated. Their availability to deal with possible Cuban forces elsewhere in Africa, therefore, is probably extremely limited.

The negative consequences of this strategy would include some deterioration in relations with Algeria, and the possibility of some [Page 73] Algerian purchases of additional arms to offset acquisitions by Morocco. The Algerians conceivably could retaliate by suspending energy deliveries to U.S. customers, but this would be much more damaging to Algerian interests than to American, as alternative sources are readily available. It certainly would be more difficult to persuade the Algerians to abandon their support for terrorists. U.S. firms probably would be awarded fewer Algerian contracts; few indeed, if Exim financing were unavailable. The Boumediene Government could again become openly confrontational and obstructive in international fora. Its dependence on the Soviets might increase, and the Soviets consequently could perhaps obtain greater Algerian assistance provisioning and maintaining their Mediterranean Squadron.

Stepped up American support could make the Moroccans less willing to negotiate. There is no guarantee it would enable the Moroccans to defeat the Polisario. It would accentuate the East/West element in the dispute since more significant amounts of U.S. arms would be employed against an adversary armed with Soviet weapons. There would also be some adverse African reaction.

2. More Active Promotion of a Negotiated Settlement

The Strategy

The Moroccans and Algerians are reported by reliable intelligence sources to have met twice this spring in unsuccessful efforts to resolve the Sahara dispute through negotiation.10 If it is determined that it is desirable for the U.S. to become actively engaged in efforts to promote a peaceful settlement, the following are possible scenarios:

A. Recalling several statements in the past two years in which King Hassan guardedly expressed willingness to consider further measures of self-determination for the Saharans, we could take the initiative to explore with him or with his counselors the steps the Moroccans would need to take to gain recognition of their “recovery” of the Sahara from favorably disposed countries (Spain, France, and the influential Arabs, as well as the U.S.).

B. The U.S. could encourage Arab or African states, singly or in concert, to urge Morocco, Mauritania, and Algeria to meet again to discuss their differences. These states might be encouraged to offer their good offices in arranging meetings.

C. The U.S. could try to enlist France’s cooperation in encouraging Arab or African offers of good offices. France itself could be asked to use its influence in Rabat, Nouakchott, and Algiers to promote [Page 74] negotiations. (We are aware the French have examined settlement options but have been waiting for an improvement in their relations with Algeria before consulting with us or other governments.)

D. The U.S. could encourage UN Secretary General Waldheim to try to bring together the Moroccans, Mauritanians, and Algerians, perhaps during the Special Session on Disarmament, when senior diplomats from the three nations will be in New York.

The parties themselves will have to determine their objectives and what tradeoffs and other compromises might be acceptable. The following is an illustrative list describing possible elements of a peace settlement which might be suggested to potential intermediaries or to the parties themselves:

Basic Plan

—Establishment of a Polisario state in the portion of the Sahara now controlled by Mauritania (when first suggested by the Algerians in secret negotiations, this proposal was rejected by the Moroccans).

—Creation of a special region within Mauritania or special regions in both Mauritania and Morocco in which the Saharans would have some degree of political autonomy and/or guarantied economic benefits.

—Establishment of a Mauritanian/Moroccan condominium in the Sahara which would permit internal self-government by the Saharans but leave the Moroccans and Mauritanians responsible for defense and foreign relations.

—Creation of a federal state in which Morocco and the Sahara, or Morocco, the Sahara, and Mauritania would be constituent parts.


—Moroccan ratification of its border agreement with Algeria recognizing Algerian sovereignty in the Tindouf region.

—Guarantied Algerian access to an Atlantic port.

—Saudi assistance to a Saharan state or autonomous region(s).

—Increased Saudi assistance to Mauritania.

—An agreement on regional economic development with sharing of tasks and benefits.

—A Saharan referendum conducted in accordance with procedures acceptable to Morocco, Algeria, and Mauritania.


The U.S. alone does not have sufficient leverage with any of the governments concerned to pressure them to take steps they are not ready for. The main drawback to the strategy of indirect pressure [Page 75] described is that every previous attempt to facilitate a negotiated settlement has failed because the positions of the Algerians and Moroccans proved irreconcilable. The Algerians demanded the Saharans be permitted an unfettered exercise in self-determination; and the Moroccans would not allow any self-determination process which would call into question their retention of that portion of the Sahara they have annexed. There also are very difficult practical problems, e.g., authenticating the nationality claims of the area’s nomadic population, the modalities of a plebescite when a large portion of the Saharans are living in Algerian-controlled refugee camps, etc.

A more active American role would be inconsistent with our previous reticence about providing good offices. We have a consistent public record of opposing great power involvement of any kind. Some potential intermediaries might be irritated by a U.S. approach to help solve a problem remote to their interests while the U.S. is perceived as responding inadequately to problems of more direct concern to them, e.g., the Saudis and their worries about the Horn and Aden.

Effects on U.S. Interests

A durable peace settlement almost certainly would further U.S. interests not only in the Maghreb but elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East. However, a Saharan microstate could become a troublesome radical Arab entity susceptible to Soviet influence.

Unsuccessful mediation initiatives in which the U.S. hand were visible could sow further seeds of doubt in Moroccan minds about their relationship with the U.S. On the other hand, if an American initiative had failed due to Algerian intransigence, the Administration might face less Congressional opposition if it subsequently adopted the strategy of a closer alignment with Morocco.


Whatever strategy or strategies are adopted, the strain in current relations with Morocco, the need to persuade the Algerians that their relations with groups employing terrorism could endanger Algerian-American economic relations, and the postponement of the Hassan and Boumediene state visits are strong arguments for the dispatch of a special American envoy who could discuss these issues with leaders in Rabat and Algiers. His position, area experience, and the enthusiasm with which his appointment has been welcomed in Algeria and Morocco uniquely qualify Under Secretary Newsom for this task. Should it be decided that U.S. policy should go beyond the status quo, Newsom could undertake the demarches and/or negotiations associated with alternative strategies.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Council, Institutional Files, Box 48, PRM/NSC–34 Secret. Prepared in response to Presidential Review Memorandum/NSC–34. Sent to Brzezinski on May 12 under a covering memorandum from Tarnoff. Dodson forwarded the paper to Mondale, Vance, Blumenthal, Brown, Schlesinger, Warnke, Brown, and Turner under a May 18 covering memorandum. Attached but not printed is an undated Checklist of Major Decisions.
  2. Kissinger met with King Hassan during his visit to Rabat October 15, 1974. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–9. Part 1, Documents on North Africa, 1973–1976, Document 90.
  3. See Document 151.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 154.
  5. The Madrid Accord, signed by Spain, Morocco, and Mauritania on November 14, 1975, ended Spanish presence in the Spanish Sahara, ceding the northern two-thirds of the territory to Morocco and the southern third to Mauritania. UN General Assembly Resolutions 3458A and 3458B were adopted on December 10, 1975. The United States abstained on the first and voted in favor of the second, which endorsed the Madrid Accord. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1975, pp. 188–190.
  6. See footnote 2, Document 152 and Document 222.
  7. See Document 153.
  8. See Document 157.
  9. Presumably Veliotes’s March statement. See footnote 3, Document 154.
  10. See Document 229.