Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a subseries of volumes of the Foreign Relations series that documents the most important issues in the foreign policy of the administration of Jimmy Carter. This volume documents the evolution of the administration’s policy toward North Africa. Readers interested in the administration’s policies throughout the African continent should consult Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume XVII, Part 1, Horn of Africa; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume XVII, Part 2, Sub-Saharan Africa; and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume XVI, Southern Africa. Readers interested in the administration’s efforts to find a comprehensive peace settlement in the Middle East should consult Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, volume IX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, August 1978–December 1980.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XVII, Part 3

This volume documents the Carter administration’s efforts to promote stability in the Maghreb through a multi-faceted approach that addressed the many challenges in the region: “normalizing” relations with Algeria and Libya; reassuring Morocco and Tunisia of the administration’s continued support and consulting them on the Middle East peace initiative; and serving as an “honest broker” in the regional dispute over the Western Sahara.

The volume chronicles the Department of State’s efforts to normalize relations with Algeria, largely through an increase in U.S. investment in the country and a commitment to increased educational and cultural exchange. The greatest tangible evidence of the normalization of relations is documented in multiple discussions with Algerian officials on regional issues. Normalizing relations with Libya remained elusive, despite the professed desire of both Carter and Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi to do so. Qadhafi’s support for international terrorists, belligerent behavior toward Tunisia, Egypt, and Chad, and aggression toward the United States and its representatives prompted multiple interagency policy reviews and discussions, as well as numerous démarches, none of which proved effective in dealing with the unpredictable Qadhafi. Carter abandoned the effort and suspended relations with Libya in May 1980 in the aftermath of the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli in December 1979.

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Morocco and Tunisia received significant attention from Carter, the National Security Council, and the Departments of State and Defense. Both countries were concerned about real and perceived threats from their neighbors in the Maghreb and sought reassurance that the United States would continue to provide security assistance. Congressional concerns over Morocco’s use of U.S. arms in the Western Sahara created tensions with the long-term ally, resulting in several inter-agency reviews. Despite this tension, Morocco, like Tunisia, remained actively engaged in the dialogue over regional problems and supported the administration’s policy toward peace in the Middle East.

Administration concerns that the conflict in Western Sahara would destabilize the region led the Department of State to hold numerous high-level meetings with Moroccan, Algerian, and Mauritanian officials in an attempt to help resolve the conflict. A lower level meeting was also held with a representative of the Polisario. Several members of Congress expressed concern over the conflict and traveled to the region to assess the situation. Despite these efforts, the administration was unable to resolve the differences among the parties and Carter left office without a settlement.


The editor wishes to acknowledge the assistance of officials at the Jimmy Carter Library, especially Betty Egwenike, Ceri McCarron, and Brittany Paris. Thanks are due to the Central Intelligence Agency for arranging access to the Carter Library materials scanned for the Remote Archive Capture project. The History Staff of the Center for the Study of Intelligence of the Central Intelligence Agency were accommodating in arranging full access to the files of the Central Intelligence Agency. The editor also thanks the staff at the National Archives and Records Administration facility in College Park, Maryland for their assistance with Department of State material.

The editor collected and selected documentation and edited the volume under the supervision of Adam M. Howard, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. Adam M. Howard reviewed the volume. Chris Tudda coordinated the declassification review under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification Division. Stephanie Eckroth did the copy and technical editing under the supervision of Mandy A. Chalou, Chief of the Editing and Publishing Division.

Myra F. Burton