125. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President Ford
  • Habib Bourguiba, Jr., Special Envoy of President Bourguiba of Tunisia
  • Brent Scowcroft, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Amb. Ali Hedda, Ambassador of Tunisia

Bourguiba: I have a mission with many purposes. First, to present the best wishes of my father, who is the George Washington of his country. Just in May we celebrated our 20th anniversary and you were kind enough to send your number two man, the Vice President.

President: I want to welcome you here and thank you for the lovely bicentennial gift.

[Photographers took pictures of the gold olive tree.]

Bourguiba: It has a two-fold meaning. First, the apple tree is the symbol of peace. Then it is also the symbol of continuity.

President: It is an exquisite gift.

I was pleased to send the Vice President to your anniversary. Our relations are excellent and, so far as I know, we have no issues between us.

Bourguiba: That is true. It has not always been fashionable to be pro-American but we have been consistent.

President: We greatly appreciate that. I hope your father’s health is better.

Bourguiba: It is, but he has bad periods. He is 73 years old—and has spent much time in prison. [He described President Bourguiba’s imprisonment, especially during World War II when Hitler had him released in hopes of helping the effort.]

President: Are there any issues we should discuss?

Bourguiba: This was my main purpose in coming here. My talks with Marshall Mars of OPIC were very reassuring. We are now in a po[Page 353]sition to absorb technology transfer. We could cap the $750 million the US has given us by becoming the showcase of development. Our birth rate has gone from 3.5 to 1.6. My father has a very clear project in his mind. I was pleased to see the emphasis here on agro-business. If we don’t over the next five years produce enough to feed the people, the progress of the last 50 years will be wasted.

President: What is your chief crop?

Bourguiba: Cereals, olives, fruit. We are also reforesting. We have a national tree day.

Many American banks are now interested in coming to Tunisia, I am proud to say.

All this policy of the wisdom of my father is in possible jeopardy because of our neighbors. Libya is ruled by a crackpot. I have met him. He should be in a nut house. This is our short-term danger but very serious. He has acknowledged publicly that he is inciting the people of Tunisia and Egypt to overthrow their leaders.

Over the longer term the danger is Algeria. They have inherited the French sense of “grandeur”. They have a concept of a super-Algeria reaching from Senegal to Egypt.

We don’t want to endanger our economic development but we have to “keep a stone in our hand.” Unfortunately that stone is expensive.

Our overall needs are $1.2 billion over the next five years. I have already been to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. They are inhibited by appearing to help opponents of Libya and Algeria. I would appreciate it if you would put a little friendly pressure on them.

President: We will certainly do that. We will also look at the military and economic program and do what we can.

Bourguiba: We need, as a top priority, missiles against tanks and aircraft.

Qaddafi has developed a base right on our border—out of an old base.

President: We will do our best.

Bourguiba: We are the only practicing democracy in the Mediterranean.

[Describes from Turkey around the sea what problems are being faced.]

  1. Summary: Habib Bourguiba, Jr., and Ford discussed Tunisian security assistance, and the threat posed by Libya and Algeria.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversation, Box 20. Secret; Nodis. All brackets are in the original. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. In telegram 166454 to Tunis, July 3, the Department reported on the July 2 meeting between Bourguiba, and Habib. Bourguiba expressed his concerns about Qadhafi and Boumediene and the impact defense spending might have on the Tunisian economy. (Ibid., NSC Operations Staff for the Middle East and South Asia, Box 27, Visits File, Tunisia, Bourguiba, Jr.)