45. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in Algeria and Morocco1

262979. Madrid please pass Ambassador Haynes. Subject: Secretary’s Meeting With Algerian Foreign Minister.

1. (S) Entire text.

2. Summary: In first discussion new Bendjedid government has had with U.S. at this level, Algerian FonMin Benyahia confined himself largely to a restatement of established GOA position on Western Sahara dispute. He did, however, concur strongly with Secretary’s assessment of the urgent need for a peaceful settlement and indicate GOA willing to participate in effort to work one out. He stressed that GOA saw preservation of Hassan’s regime as very much in Algeria’s interest. End summary.

3. Algerian FonMin Benyahia arrived unaccompanied for Bendjedid government’s first bilateral discussion with U.S. at FonMin level. U.S. participants, in addition to Secretary and an interpreter, were Ambassador McHenry, Assistant Secretary Saunders, NSC Rep Hunter, [Page 119] and Country Director Coon. Opening courtesies included statement by Benyahia that GOA had been tied up in months since Boumediene’s death by internal reorganization, and by such external events as Colombo, NAM, and Arab League conferences. GOA felt lack of direct contact at senior USG levels during this period had not been normal; present meeting could permit preliminary review of matters of mutual interest, and GOA hoped for further meetings in coming months to permit discussions in greater depth. Secretary agreed and suggested present meeting begin with the region and Western Saharan problem. He noted Ambassador Haynes had recently conveyed our views to GOA.2 What was GOA’s current view of West Sahara issue? What were its thoughts regarding possible solutions?

4. Benyahia replied at length: The OAU operated on the “golden rule” that all states recognized the boundaries established in the colonial era; to do otherwise would destabilize the entire continent. By now all the ex-colonies had achieved political independence except the Spanish Sahara—why not it? One could overlook the “golden rule” if the inhabitants had chosen to be attached to Morocco or Mauritania but this had not happened and subsequent events showed the inhabitants did not want to be joined to Morocco. Morocco raises historical arguments, conceives of itself as an imperial nation with territorial claims that include a third of Algeria, parts of Mali extending to Timbuktu, and all of Mauritania as well as Western Sahara. Impossible to tell where this will lead, if this logic is accepted. Things being what they are, Morocco has signed a border agreement with Algeria, recognized Mauritania, and is laying no claims on Mali. In 1975 when Morocco incorrectly claimed the Spanish had transferred sovereignty to it under the Madrid Agreement it also declared that it had achieved its legitimate borders, but later it expanded its territorial claims when it took over the Mauritanian portion of the territory. Morocco is one of those rare countries where one doesn’t know where its borders end or begin. The problems this poses are rendered particularly serious since Morocco asserts its claims by force not through a process of self-determination. Algeria sees the Western Sahara problem as an issue of decolonization that has not been resolved and can only be resolved through a process of self-determination. Algeria has no claims of its own to any part of the territory. In his press conference Hassan offered to open ports to Algeria and generally implied a willingness to share the territory with Algeria, but Algeria will stick to its established borders; there is no question of its negotiating with Morocco on any such “sharing” basis. Furthermore, Algeria cannot construe the problem as [Page 120] a bilateral one between it and Morocco, as it basically is between Morocco and the inhabitants of the territory, and a settlement has to be between those two. Nevertheless, Algeria recognizes that it has certain interests in the conflict: first, it is taking place on Algeria’s border and could lead to a regional war; and second, Morocco charges Algeria, correctly, with providing material support—as to other African countries. But the Polisario is an independent movement, not a creature of the GOA; it was created during the Spanish occupation, well before 1975, and not in Algiers. The Polisario has proclaimed the SDAR which has been recognized by 32 governments.3 How could Algeria exclude the Polisario in negotiating the fate of the territory with Morocco? How could it explain such action to the 32 governments that have recognized the SDAR?

5. Secretary said USG was not taking sides in dispute. We value our relations with both Algeria and Morocco highly and want those relations strengthened. Western Sahara dispute is a danger to entire region. Continuation of conflict is in no one’s interest. As a practical matter, and notwithstanding Algerian position that issue is mainly between Morocco and Western Saharan inhabitants, USG does not see how a negotiated solution is possible unless Algeria helps. As friend of both Algeria and Morocco, we would like to urge Algeria to discuss issue with Morocco—and to extent it proves necessary, desirable, and helpful, other parties might be brought into the discussion. Otherwise, if Algeria insists on standing apart while advising Moroccans and Saharouis to discuss problem directly, the situation will just get more dangerous.

6. Benyahia said his government’s assessment of the situation was very similar. Conflict does affect stability of region as a whole. No military solution was possible, so question was what approach, what mechanism should interested parties have recourse to. He thought his government would be ready to participate in helping find a political solution, drawing on “creative imagination” of concerned parties to ensure that final settlement took account of interests of both sides. In his opinion, Benyahia continued, OAU approach responded fairly well to all these concerns. The Monrovia resolution, which created the ad hoc Committee of Wisemen, was something GOA approved of and [Page 121] agreed to work with.4 This demonstrated Algerian willingness to assume its responsibilities in working for a peaceful settlement.

7. Benyahia said he wanted to clarify Algerian policy on another point: GOA has no interest in further deterioration of situation, but sees it in its interest to get a peaceful solution. Problem is not at all a matter of ideological conflict between Moroccan and Algerian political and social systems. As GOA sees it, issue is purely a national liberation struggle by a small country that wants its independence. This has nothing to do with character of Moroccan regime. Algeria was on very good terms with that regime until 1975. It is true that in Ben Bella’s time there were attempts to destabilize Morocco—training personnel in Algeria to go back to Morocco to stir up trouble—but since June 1965, GOA has pursued constant policy toward Morocco of friendship and non-intervention. Boumediene was first to congratulate Hassan when he survived Skhirat coup attempt in 19715 and made his congratulation public while Libyans were waging propaganda war against him. There was never any proof Algerians had anything to do with either that attempt or the one a year later. Indeed, GOA feels that from its point of view Hassan is “the only pragmatic interlocutor for Morocco”. Algeria continues to believe this but fears current situation could lead to destabilization in Morocco. Secretary interjected that he agreed. Benyahia continued: Chances of such destabilization occurring are growing over time. Algeria does not want destabilization of Morocco for two fundamental reasons. First, any government that might succeed Hassan will use demagoguery and play on Sahara theme to gain popularity. Second, destabilizing Hassan could lead to string of coups and chronic instability; Algeria did not want to have adventurous regime like Qadhafi’s on its western border. Algeria prefers to have a wise man in charge with whom it can talk pragmatically.

8. Secretary apologized that time had run out and meeting would have to adjourn. He regretted not having had opportunity to discuss bilateral issues but looked forward to talking to Algeria’s new Ambassador in Washington, Redha Malek, who had just arrived.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790459–0466. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Priority to Dakar, Jidda, Madrid, Nouakchott, Paris, Tripoli, and Tunis. Drafted by Coon; cleared in S/S; approved by Saunders.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 44.
  3. The Polisario proclaimed the Saharan (Sahrawi) Democratic Arab Republic in February 1976. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–9, Part 1, Documents on North Africa, 1973–1976, Document 113.
  4. The OAU ad hoc Wisemen’s Committee was established by a resolution at the 15th OAU Summit, held in Khartoum July 18–22, 1978, to consider the issue of the Western Sahara. The text of the resolution is in telegram 3330 from Khartoum, July 24, 1978. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780303–0100) The Committee’s report, considered at the 16th OAU Summit held in Monrovia July 17–21, “said that Morocco did not have sovereignty over the Western Sahara, but only administrative control.” On July 20, the OAU adopted two resolutions calling for a ceasefire and a referendum in the Western Sahara. Hassan did not attend the Summit, and the Moroccan delegation, led by Boucetta, left the Summit after the vote. A report on the Summit and the resolutions is in telegram 5652 from Monrovia, July 20. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790330–0315)
  5. See footnote 4, Document 76.