127. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary’s Meeting with Tunisian Foreign Minister Chatty


  • Tunisia
  • Foreign Minister Habib Chatty
  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Alec Toumayan (Notetaker/Interpreter)

Foreign Minister Chatty: First of all I would like to describe to you the situation in Tunisia with emphasis on our economic situation. U.S. assistance has been declining for a number of years and we have not pressed you on this because we know of your worldwide responsibilities but today the situation has become much more urgent.

We have not emphasized this in the past because we had no defense plan and all of our resources went into economic development. [Page 358] But for about two years now, ever since Qadhafi tried to set up a union with Tunisia and with the Algerians having some designs of their own against Tunisia, we have been forced to make plans for our defense and to assign some of our resources to defense.

Tunisia’s resources do not make it possible for us to conduct both development and defense simultaneously. Our resources in oil and phosphates are limited as are also our agricultural resources and we cannot pursue our economic plan and look after our defense as well. Between the Algerians who are ambitious and the Libyans who are crazy we can no longer afford to neglect our defense. We must have some defense and it must be adequate in scope.

We have made a study of our defense requirements and our minimum plan calls for $500 million over the next five years. The U.S. has assisted us with the Chaparral and some military credits but these are on commercial terms, 8½ percent over seven years. These are difficult terms. We have received better terms from the French, the Italians and the Yugoslavs. We are aware that your rules require that you operate in this fashion but I am asking you today for two things.

First, to restore U.S. military assistance in the form of grants as you used to do in the past where we could always depend on $2–$3 million per year in grants. This would enable us to pay off the interest on some of the loans or it could be given in the form of equipment. The second thing I am asking you to do is to include Tunisia in the supporting assistance program (for security assistance) because of our strategic location. You are doing this for countries like Egypt, Syria, Portugal and you can consider that Portugal is very much like Tunisia.

Our philosophy is that the West, in the Mediterranean, begins with Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, and the Sudan and continues with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and that it is all one single unified front. Any break in any part of the front affects its entirety. Morocco is well equipped militarily; so is Egypt. Saudi Arabia and Iraq also, but not Tunisia who could become a victim of either Qadhafi or the Algerians. Either one of these could call in the army after promoting troubles there. It would then be too late for the U.S. to intervene. We are not seeking U.S. intervention. We seek a 48-hour breathing space until our friends in the Security Council can act. We have information that if it were not for the presence of Egyptian troops on the Libyan border, Qadhafi would have initiated action against Tunisia this year. It was on his schedule for this year. If the Libyans cause us some trouble we can offer no military resistance. We are completely exposed, we are forced to equip ourselves and we consider that we are part of the overall strategy of the U.S. We are in the same boat with Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Egypt. President Sadat agrees with me and has told me to take it up with you. He will discuss this with you himself he said. We have asked Egypt to help us [Page 359] and they have agreed to lend us some equipment. From the strategic aspect we constitute the weakest link in that unified front and if anything happened to Tunisia it would then be too late. That is why I ask for inclusion of Tunisia in the support assistance program to which we are entitled to the same degree as are Portugal and Spain though not as much as entitled as Egypt. But those are countries that you are seeking to strengthen to ensure their security. I ask you to please reflect on this.

But the question of granting aid is most urgent, aid in the form of military equipment or of funds to cover the costs of the loans.

The Secretary: First of all I agree completely with the strategic concept you have outlined that starting from Morocco through Tunisia, Egypt and to Saudi Arabia it is all one unit and that Tunisia constitutes the weakest link because it has powerful neighbors and inadequate resources and that therefore Tunisia needs aid.

The problem is what we can do given Congressional restraints and that is a matter I must look into. There is considerable resistance to grants but it is not impossible to overcome it. Considering including Tunisia under support assistance is a question that I must take up with the President, with the Bureau of Budget and with Congress. I am sympathetic and would like to make this possible.

But now we must wait until after the election, assuming that we are elected we will then consider it seriously and will do so by the end of November. We will look at the situation.

Foreign Minister Chatty: President Bourguiba has asked me to convince you of the importance of this and I am pleased to hear that you are sympathetic.

The Secretary: Yes I am, and we shall do what we can. I suggest that we now go upstairs and join the others.

  1. Summary: Chatti and Kissinger discussed Tunisia’s security concerns. Chatti asked for U.S. military assistance in the form of grants rather than credits.

    Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 277, Memoranda of Conversations, Chronological File, October 1976. Secret; Nodis. The meeting took place in Kissinger’s office. Drafted by Alec G. Toumayan in OPR/LS; and approved by Collums.