126. Telegram 184120/Tosec 190110 From the Department of State to Secretary of State Kissinger in Portland1

190110. For the Secretary from Habib. Subject: Action Memorandum: Tunisian Concern Over Libyan Intentions (S/S No. 7615858). Ref: Tunis 5177.

1. The Problem

Tunisian Foreign Minister Chatty, in lengthy meeting with Ambassador Mulcahy July 22, expressed alarm over intelligence reports that Tunisia might be Qadhafi’s next target and made plea for U.S. support in possible forthcoming crisis. Mulcahy proposes four courses of action involving deployment of Sixth Fleet units, aerial reconnaissance and intelligence cooperation and requests Department’s urgent response.

2. Background/Analysis

Chatty told Mulcahy that GOT had received new indications of LARG measures to increase its arms buildup at newly-opened airbase near Tunisian border. GOT suspects LARG will simultaneously stage border incidents, renew propaganda war and launch terrorist actions directed at tourist centers in order to discredit GOT. Chatty asked what advice or help the U.S. could provide to cope with this threat, and suggested that more USN ships be sent into Tunisian waters in the next few weeks. Mulcahy commented that the Tunisians seem to have concluded that Tunisia is Qadhafi’s next target and their concern is amplified by the knowledge that their poorly-equipped defense forces are inadequate to the challenge they face. Alluding to your recent assurances to Bourguiba, Jr. that the U.S. would not forget its friends in difficult times, Mulcahy said that the Tunisians expect some positive gesture of our support in their hour of need. He suggested that we explore four courses of action:

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—Extend the Tunis port visit of the USS Barney and USS Montgomery (scheduled for July 27–August 2), or alternatively have the ships remain near the Tunisian coast utilizing their air search radar to detect Libyan aircraft incursions.

—Arrange another one or two-unit naval visit not later than August 1 to a Southern Tunisian port (Sfax, Gabes, or Djerba) by ships having air search radar capability.

—Utilize air reconnaissance by U.S. military aircraft, preferably not based in Tunisia, during the critical early August period.

—Make available to the GOT maximum intelligence from all sources concerning Libyan activities.

The Department has received no intelligence which would support Tunisia’s view that a Libyan attack, clandestine or otherwise, is imminent. On the contrary, Libya according to all reports is concentrating its military buildup on the Egyptian frontier and directing its venom against Egypt and the Sudan. Reportedly the airbase near the Tunisian border is inoperative because of a lack of administrative and operational facilities. Nevertheless, the Tunisians obviously perceive a threat whether it actually exists or not and I believe we should do what we can to reassure them.

In the hope we may be able to provide the Tunisians material evidence of our concern and support, we are urgently investigating the possibility of expediting delivery to Tunisia of military equipment budgeted under the FY 1976 FMS credit program. In this connection, we have suggested that dollars 10 million in FMS credits be allocated to Tunisia for the transitional quarter and are urgently trying to obtain NSC and OMB approval. (FYI. This is part of the transitional quarter funding package submitted to you by under Secretary Maw in his July 21 memorandum.)

3. Recommendations:

We recommend that:

(1) You authorize us to approach DOD to extend the visit of the Barney and Montgomery and to work out a schedule of increased ship visits to Tunisian ports and deployments in Tunisian waters (the current fleet deployment to the Eastern Mediterranean precludes such a schedule for the time being).

(2) That you authorize us to explore with DOD the feasibility of utilizing USN ship-air search radar to assist the Tunisians in detecting Libyan aircraft and to share information obtained with the GOT.

(3) That you authorize us to discuss with appropriate intelligence agencies the feasibility of utilizing air reconnaissance by U.S. military aircraft to gather intelligence on any Libyan moves against Tunisia and to share same with the GOT.

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(4) That we formally ask CIA to produce a description and assessment of Libyan intentions based on currently available information to be shared with the GOT. (On a contingency basis, INR has asked the Agency to produce such a report by July 27.)

(5) That we inform the Egyptians of the response we are planning to make to the Tunisian expressions of concern.

(6) That you approve the attached draft telegram to Tunis responding to Ambassador Mulcahy’s cable (Tunis 5177, repeated septel).


Draft Cable to Tunis

From Secretary for Ambassador. Subject: Tunisia Urges Increased U.S. Naval Presence. Ref: Tunis 5177.

1. Information available to Department from various intelligence sources does not appear to support GOT contention that military, subversive or terrorist, attack on Tunisia by Libya is imminent. However, in consideration of fact that Tunisia’s leaders perceive such a threat and have requested U.S. support, we are taking following steps in response to your suggestions para 8 reftel:

2. A. Consulting with DOD on extending visit of USS Barney and USS Montgomery or alternatively redeploying other Sixth Fleet units to Tunisian ports/waters (though latter alternative may not be immediately available given current fleet deployment to Eastern Mediterranean).

B. Exploring with DOD feasibility of using USN air search radar capability to monitor Libyan aircraft.

C. Discussing with appropriate intelligence agencies utilization of air reconnaissance of Libyan targets by U.S. military aircraft and sharing of info obtained with GOT.

D. Requesting CIA to prepare report asap on Libyan terrorist, subversive and other hostile activities and an analyses of their significance for Tunisia. The report will be provided to GOT about July 30.

3. Meanwhile you should convey to Chatty from me the following message as quickly as possible:

4. Ambassador Mulcahy has reported urgently to me the concerns that you expressed to him on July 22 about Libyan intentions toward Tunisia. In particular, he told me of your request that the U.S. increase its naval presence in Tunisia during the early days of August, which you consider to be the critical period.

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5. I want to assure you that, as we have told Tunisia in the past and as I recently reiterated to Habib Bourguiba, Jr., the U.S. is fully prepared to help Tunisia in every way it can. We regard your country as a close and warm friend and one whose security is of importance to us.

6. I am looking urgently into the question of naval visits to determine the best way to provide the increased presence you desire. I wanted you to know immediately, however, that we are prepared to help and that we would be in touch with you further, just as rapidly as possible, about the precise steps we will be able to take.

7. I send you and President Bourguiba my warmest regards. Henry A. Kissinger.

  1. Summary: Kissinger was informed of Mulcahy’s July 22 meeting with Chatti, and was presented a series of recommendations to address Tunisian concerns.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Weislogel and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs Arthur R. Day; cleared by Deputy Director of Politico-Military Affairs Richard A. Ericson, Special Assistant of the Office of Research and Analysis for Near East and South Asia George S. Harris, Otto, and Collums; and approved by Habib. In telegram 5177 from Tunis, July 23, Mulcahy summarized his meeting with Chatti on July 22, during which they discussed Tunisian concerns regarding Qadhafi’s intentions and the need for more U.S. military and diplomatic support in the event of a crisis. (Ibid.) In telegram 184239 to Tunis, July 25, Kissinger informed Mulcahy of steps taken to address Tunisian concerns, and instructed him to deliver a message informing the Government of Tunisia of continued U.S. support. (Ibid.)