117. Memorandum of Conversation1
- Ahmed Bennour, Secretary of State for National Defense
- Ali Hedda, Ambassador to the United States
- LTC Azouz Ben Aissa, Military Aide
- Mr. Fayache, First Secretary and Interpreter
- Mr. James H. Noyes, Deputy Assistant Secretary Near Eastern, African and South Asian Affairs
- Colonel A.N. Skogerboe, Assistant for Africa, Africa Region/ISA
(C) After the amenities, Mr. Bennour opened the conversation by saying he had a message to bring. Tunisia and the U.S. have been friends for a long time and Tunisia has the same views of freedom that the U.S. has; however, the U.S. military assistance to Tunisia is not up to expectations. Tunisia expects its defense needs over the next four years to amount to $40 million. Bennour said Tunisia continued to be concerned over Soviet activity in the area, and although Tunisia appreciates the presence of the SIXTH FLEET, the U.S. should also be interested in strengthening Tunisia’s defense capability. He said they had heard in Tunisia that the U.S. might cancel grant aid next year, but hoped this was not true. Tunisia used its assistance effectively and always takes good care of its military equipment. Tunisia is interested in economic development, but the Government is also interested in the people and their social well being.
(C) Mr. Noyes replied by reviewing U.S. appreciation for our good relations with Tunisia and the hospitality afforded SIXTH FLEET visits in Tunisian ports. The U.S. also appreciates the history of moderation of Tunisia in its foreign affairs. Although we are aware that Tunisia utilizes its military equipment effectively, the Ambassador, living in the U.S., is also aware of the problems we have with Congressional atti[Page 330]tudes toward military assistance. This attitude could be considered an emotional aftermath of Vietnam and limits the flexibility of the Executive Branch. Mr. Noyes added that all military forces around the world have problems with modernization and the rising cost of arms. In response to the question on grant aid, Bennour was informed that we would hope to continue some grant aid one more year, but that this was subject to Congressional approval.
(C) Bennour said that what was worrying him was the attitude of the leaders of his party and Government because it may appear to them that the new U.S. relationship with some countries (Egypt) would be accomplished at the expense of old friends like Tunisia. Mr. Noyes replied that this new relationship was designed to establish peace in the area and avoid a confrontation with the Soviets, but does not change long-term policy with our friends. It would also be to Tunisia’s advantage to lessen a requirement for arms if peace could be effectively established in the Middle-East.
(C) Referring to Libya, Mr. Bennour stated Tunisia had two theories about Qadhafi: (i) Qadhafi’s power was not weakened and his concentration on ideology means subversion, especially dangerous to Tunisia; and (ii) Qadhafi’s position has actually been weakened and Jallud has emerged as the strong man. Bennour said the GOT believed the first theory was more accurate.
Ambassador Hedda entered the conversation by acknowledging he was well aware of the problems with Congress on military assistance. He went on to say that he was pleased with the cooperation developing between the U.S. and countries of the Middle-East and that he was also pleased that State had placed North Africa with the Middle-East Bureau rather than Africa. He concluded by saying that Tunisia is against military spending, but since everybody around us is investing in military equipment, we have to do what we have to for our security. We are encouraged by a possible settlement in the Middle-East but, “I must stress that Tunisia must not be forgotten.” Mr. Noyes agreed.
(C) Finally, in conclusion, Mr. Bennour stated that they were having delays in spare parts and equipment and that Tunisia was now looking at the possibility of buying new A–4M’s rather than rehabilitated A–4C’s. (We will look into the spare parts problems.)
Summary: Tunisian Secretary for National Defense Bennour discussed U.S. military assistance with Noyes. Bennour expressed concern over possible cancellation of grant aid, and that improved U.S. relations with Egypt might be accomplished at Tunisia’s expense.
Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–770054, Box 22, Tunisia. Confidential. Prepared by Deputy Director, Africa Region/ISA Col. A.N. Skogerboe on May 16; and approved by Noyes. The meeting took place in the Pentagon.↩