60. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting at the Raphael Hotel between the Secretary and Foreign Minister Bouteflika: Part I, Algerian-U.S. Relations, Algerian Position on the Western Sahara


  • The Secretary
  • Mr. Atherton
  • Mr. Cooper
  • Senator Ribicoff
  • Mr. Toumayan (notetaker and interpreter)
  • Foreign Minister Bouteflika
  • Mr. Djezairi plus one

The Secretary: I am very happy to have an opportunity to meet with you today having heard and read a great deal about you over the years. It is a pleasure and an honor to meet you.

Bouteflika: It is a pleasure and an honor which I share very largely. I believe this is a very valuable opportunity which we have today. The fact that we are meeting allows us to set aside what we have read and heard about each other. I thank you for this opportunity to share ideas with you in matters of common interest. We look forward to having the pleasure of receiving you in Algeria.2

The Secretary: I would welcome the opportunity and I hope to come in the near future. I want to thank you for your kindness when you received Undersecretary Habib.

Bouteflika: Mr. Habib has many friends in Algeria and is considered as a real friend by us. Bilaterally our relations have reached such a degree that it would be a pity to leave aside political contacts. Our economic and cultural relations have advanced very well.

The Secretary: I share that view.

Bouteflika: We should have a cultural agreement between our two countries.3 We already have 2,000 students in your country and a number of Americans are teaching in Algeria. The cultural agreement [Page 161] would act as a framework and would complement what we have in the commercial and economic area. Our relations are all the more important in that they touch upon sensitive areas such as energy and the petrochemical industry. We are sending as our new Ambassador to Washington Ambassador Maoui who has 12 years of experience in our government, is well aware of our problems, and as a former Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry is very interested in having his mission be successful. Let me tell you something which I have not mentioned before and which I am saying here for the first time. We have a number of American citizens in jail in Algeria for drug related offenses. We had already reduced some of their sentences but on the occasion of Ambassador Maoui’s assignment to Washington we are releasing five of these individuals.4 There are actually six, although the sixth one is in jail for sabotage. He had been sentenced to death but then the sentence had been commuted to imprisonment. I appreciate very much your letter concerning the Paris Conference.5 President Carter’s letter to President Boumediene touched upon a number of subjects and confirmed a number of points. I do not want to discuss the Paris Conference before being assured that there is a genuine political will to take steps toward improving Algerian-U.S. relations.6 As you know, Mr. Clifford came to Algiers after Mr. Habib and it is our feeling that there is a real will to have with Algeria an open, sincere and forthcoming dialogue.7

The Secretary: Let me state that there is a very genuine will and desire on our part to have an open and forthcoming dialogue with Algeria. This is important for our country and I look forward to opening and pursuing that dialogue.

Bouteflika: There is no outstanding issue between our two countries.8 The only problems we had were related to foreign policy and have now been settled. I refer to Southeast Asia and to Southern Africa.9 Vietnam has been settled, Cambodia in its own way also. These issues [Page 162] do not have the same topicality. We follow closely your efforts to find a solution in Southern Africa. We are interested in the modest approach you follow towards Africa. We sense a new American approach vis-a-vis the third world and it is extremely important for us to have the feeling that you are now prepared to listen to new viewpoints before formulating a position. In the past, we had the feeling that your position was pre-determined and, therefore, there was no sense in having a dialogue. But now we feel that you are prepared to listen to other voices.

The Secretary: We do wish to listen and learn from those who are involved in Africa before determining what our attitude can be in dealing with the problem. Concerning African problems, we feel that the solution should be found by the Africans themselves but we are willing to play our part in assisting to find a solution in conjunction with the people of the area, not imposing views from outside.

Bouteflika: This approach is fair and attractive, and I ask as an interested party because there is a huge ambiguity in my part of the world concerning the Western Sahara.10 It is not like me to insult my friends or turn my back upon them and I have had excellent relations with your predecessor. Nevertheless, I had the feeling that a bad solution was favored in the Western Sahara, as if in weighing the problem more weight was placed on one part of the scale to the detriment of the other. Decolonialization of that area is a time bomb for the entire region. We have no problem with Morocco or Mauritania. We have treaties of cooperation with them. The people of these countries share the same interests and aspirations. Their leaders were together in the fight against French colonialism. Nothing separates us. We see a small people, very few in numbers, being deprived of the right to speak, of the right of self-expression. Our position is very flexible. If the people are consulted and say they want to be Moroccans or Mauritanians or both, we shall give our support and our blessing to that decision.11 But if the people of the Sahara do not want to belong to either of them, then a solution must be found. The international community has not abandoned self-determination and Spain as the sponsoring nation cannot dispose of the sovereignty of the people. We all remember the circumstances. Franco was dying. Spain does not know how to decolonialize. It has left problems before departing from Equatorial Guinea and it is now leaving problems in the Western Sahara. Let me add that we follow with sympathy the democratization process now going on in Spain. We have a situation here where Morocco, Mauritania, [Page 163] Algeria and Spain are all involved. The real problem is very much like the problem of the Middle East where there is no solution without the Palestinians. Here there can be no solution without the Sahraouis.

Algeria does not seek a corridor to the Atlantic or a port on the Atlantic. We do not seek a share in the Bu Craa phosphates.12 Algeria has quite enough for its own people and people of the region. We have arranged to transport our iron ore through the Mediterranean. So there is no problem for us. It is only a matter of justice and principle.

The Secretary: Let me ask you a question. As you know we have stayed apart from the controversy. I have talked to the UN SecGen a number of times and more recently in Geneva after he had been to Algeria and talked to your leaders.13 How do you see a solution coming about?

Bouteflika: I have already outlined the solution when I say that we have no territorial claim over the region.14 I do not want our situation to be misinterpreted. We are not like Morocco or Mauritania with the additional justification that we would not have succeeded. But yesterday’s remedy is not possible today and what is possible today would not be possible tomorrow. Years ago, mock elections could have taken place. This is not possible today because the Saharouis have developed a genuine national awareness.15 Mock consultations could have been held in the past because Algeria did not particularly seek a role. I believe that Ambassador Young recently met with Saharan delegates in Maputo. I think you should delegate someone to meet with them and get an idea of the total situation. Public opinion in Algeria is very sensitized to the problem.

Today you would find more Algerians to make sacrifices for the Saharouis than to make sacrifices for the Palestinians.16 This phenomenon has occurred because they are our neighbors and there is considerable mass media and TV impact. Algeria is interested in a just solution, and our feeling concerning Morocco and Mauritania is one of sorrow because they were our friends. They were our companions in arms. We have no revolution to export.17 Our country is very young. The solution is not one of exporting subversion to Morocco and trying to [Page 164] have a different regime there. We signed a treaty of cooperation with King Hassan and with President Ould Daddah. We have had a long honeymoon. In fact, for a time it was almost Mauritania against Morocco, and Algeria against Morocco and it was as a result of our efforts that Morocco recognized Mauritania. Mauritania does not have a land problem. We would understand this from the Chinese people, but Mauritania is underpopulated and does not want to extend its territory. That would be my first reflection.

The second point would be a consultation with the people. They can become Mauritanians or Moroccans and say so freely in a consultation.18 But if they reject either one, then must these people be destroyed in a genocide? That is immoral. There are quite a number of minor states with fewer people. Given the national wealth of the region and how well organized the people are, it could become a small Qatar or a new Emirate. It has lots of resources and a very dynamic people.

Now people immediately begin to raise the speculation of the ideology of being communist or becoming communist. Algeria fought for eight years for its decolonialization and we are not communists. Surely you can say that Algeria is very keen on its independence, very nationalistic, very touchy on the subject but we are not communists.19 Your Ambassador was in Algeria during the discussion on our new national charter and he witnessed the whole procedure and knows this well. Islam is the strongest obstacle to communism. I am not pronouncing any judgment against communism. We have relations with all countries and ask only that our sovereignty be respected. The third question is that since you talk about a homeland for the Palestinians, why can you not find a homeland for the Saharouis, who do not want to live in Mauritania and cannot go on being refugees in Algeria. Algeria knows war. Algeria has experienced war at firsthand, in World War II, in which our people were involved, and in the war against French colonialization. Our people yearn for peace, a peace which cannot be disturbed for a grain of sand. We seek political justice in the region. I believe it would strengthen the cause of peace and it is a noble and important objective for the US to undertake. Having first avoided the confrontation, international legality would then come into play. On the other side, there are some rigid precepts. “We have annexed it and we shall keep it.” It should be an easy question to resolve what the people want and for them to say so freely.

[Page 165]

I can say this very frankly because we are here in Paris. I was in New York at the time and your position at the UN and at the Security Council was neutral. You were for self-determination.20 We have our suspicions concerning the policies of the French government and we are convinced that part of the Spanish regime benefited from some corruption. There was a very rocky situation there. There was a rather specific reversal. Why would the King of Spain go to al Aioun and two weeks later announce partition, claiming that it was part of the legacy of General Franco. We all know that General Franco was intractable on the subject. If the US’s position was then clearly in support of self-determination, we wonder if there was at that time some secret diplomacy on your part and that the arrangement was blessed by the US. I may be wrong but I want to say what I think. So we must now make an effort to consolidate the effort for peace, avoid a confrontation that would be costly for the whole region. The region is ailing already. We have Libya versus Egypt, problems in the Sudan, Chad and Tunisia. I am sure you can make a contribution to having Morocco find a new solution for the Sahara.

The Secretary: Your description of the problem as perceived by Algeria has been very helpful. I want to reflect on what you have told me.21

Bouteflika: (Upon taking his leave from the Secretary). “Please reflect upon what I have told you. We would very much appreciate a reaction from you.”22

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Middle East, Subject File, Box 1, Algeria: 2–12/77. Secret. Drafted by Toumayan; approved by Twaddell on June 20. Vance was in Paris to attend the Ministerial session of the Conference on International Economic Cooperation. The meeting took place at the Raphael Hotel. This is part I of II. The second memorandum of conversation deals with CIEC. (Ibid.)
  2. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  3. An unknown hand underlined the phrase “cultural agreement.”
  4. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  5. Vance’s letter, transmitted in telegram 120307 to multiple posts, including Algiers, May 25, was addressed to the Ministers in the host governments who would be attending the CIEC. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770185–1212)
  6. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence. For Carter’s message, see Document 59.
  7. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence. Clifford, on a private visit to Algeria, met with Bouteflika on May 11 and Boumediene on May 12 at their request. Telegram 1195 from Algiers, May 15, summarized the discussions. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770172–0534)
  8. An unknown hand underlined “no outstanding issue between our two countries.”
  9. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  10. An unknown hand underlined “Western Sahara,” and placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  11. An unknown hand underlined and highlighted this sentence and placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin.
  12. An unknown hand underlined and highlighted this and the previous sentence. Bou Craa in the Western Sahara is the site of Moroccan-controlled phosphate mines.
  13. See Document 212.
  14. An unknown hand underlined the phrase “no territorial claim over the region.”
  15. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  16. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence.
  17. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  18. An unknown hand highlighted this and the previous sentence.
  19. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin next to this sentence.
  20. An unknown hand underlined “was neutral. You were for self-determination,” and placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin. Reference is presumably to the UN Security Council deliberations on the Western Sahara in October and November 1975 and UNSC Resolutions 377, adopted on October 22; 379, adopted on November 2; and 380, adopted on November 6. The General Assembly met on the Western Sahara in November and December 1975 and adopted UNGA Resolutions 3458A and 3458B on December 10. The United States abstained on the first and voted in favor of the second. See Yearbook of the United Nations, 1975, pp. 175–190.
  21. An unknown hand underlined this sentence.
  22. An unknown hand placed a checkmark in the right-hand margin.