129. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Bureau of Politico-Military Affairs (Bartholomew) to Secretary of State Muskie1

Diego Garcia

In Ankara, my British counterpart and I formalized a new side understanding (to the 1976 USUK Agreement)2 on the use of Diego Garcia (attached).3 The previous understanding required us to seek British approval of practically any out-of-the-ordinary use of the Island. Under the new understanding we need British approval only to place nuclear weapons there or to use the facilities to support actual combat operations.

HMG made a hard push to include non-combat operations against third countries on the list of uses requiring their approval. This was too restrictive for us, but we did give the British a formal assurance that we would continue our practice of prior consultation with them (not approval) on any politically sensitive use of Diego. It’s clear they consider another Iran rescue mission in this category.

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This new understanding was critical to our plans for expanding our reliance and capabilities on Diego. Without this substantially expanded flexibility to operate, we would have had trouble justifying to ourselves, let alone Congress, the $1 billion expansion program DOD has developed. Nor could we count on Diego as the main support base for the Rapid Deployment Force, should we have to surge it into the Indian Ocean.

While the temptation is great (especially in DOD) to do some chest-thumping about our success on Diego, we’ve got to let the word out very gradually. The Thatcher Government is insistent on this because they would face major criticism if we get much press play about our massive expansion plans and HMG’s relinquishment of much of their control over our operations.

Another recent factor that will add to British concern is the July 4 decision of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to seek the return of Diego Garcia to independent Mauritius. Reportedly, return of Diego Garcia has been a previously stated political goal of Mauritius. Mauritian Prime Minister Ramgoolan was to have made a demand of the British Government during talks in London on July 7. We doubt, however, that the OAU interest and Ramgoolan’s demarche will create a significant problem for either the British or ourselves.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800109–1201. Secret. Drafted by David C. Gompert (PM) and Bartholomew. A notation on the memorandum indicates that Muskie saw it. Wisner also initialed the memorandum, indicating that it was received in S/S on June 30.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 126.
  3. Attached but not printed is a June 13 memorandum of conversation detailing Bartholomew’s discussions with Patrick Moberly, Assistant Under Secretary, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The officials stated that their respective governments shared the view that the uses of Diego Garcia that required joint decision included the “installation or storage of nuclear weapons,” and “combat operations.” Bartholomew and Moberly “agreed that established procedures governing US intelligence flights from British territory also apply to Diego Garcia.” Bartholomew “also affirmed that the USG will continue the practice of consulting HMG prior to any politically sensitive use of Diego Garcia not covered” in the discussions.