24. Telegram 1117 From the Embassy in Libya to the Department of State1

1117. Subject: Passport Problem: Remarks by MFA Official. Ref: Tripoli 1101. Summary: LARG has decided to fill out its passports in English as well as in Arabic, Chargé told today. Clear implication of original presentation of this fact was that LARG hoped USG could reciprocate by somehow using Arabic in its passports. Chargé discouraged this idea and his MFA interlocutor later denied that he was proposing a deal. Believe we are on right track and should continue to stand fast. End summary.

1. Chargé was called down August 30 by MFA Acting Director General for Treaties and Legal Affaires, Suleiman Attiga, to discuss “passport problem”. EmbOff accompanied Chargé.

2. Contrary to our expectations, Suleiman did not focus narrowly on the current Libyan aspect of the problem, namely delays in visas for dependents of students. Rather, he made a presentation as follows: He had been asked to talk to Chargé about restrictions on travel of Amer[Page 77]icans and Libyans in general. The Libyan Chargé in Washington Hussein Zaggar had indicated that the Department seemed inclined to show some flexibility on the subject (he did not explain precisely what was meant by this). In any case, the MFA would be interested in knowing what that flexibility might be, e.g. the insertion of a page printed in Arabic, or whatever. The LARG had made a decision to print its passports in English as well as Arabic and to fill them out in both languages. All missions would receive a circular note to this effect within a couple of days. Could Chargé state what the position of the USG was on this matter?

3. Chargé replied that the LARG’s decision to print and fill out passports in English as well as Arabic was a new fact that, of course, would be reported. The USG position had remained essentially unchanged since the submission of our aide mémoire of November 15, 1972, which Chargé summarized. That position boiled down to the principle of equal treatment. Just as the USG recognizes the right of LARG to issue passports in any languages it chooses, the USG expects the LARG to recognize U.S. passports printed in our national language. Correspondingly, the USG believed that the LARG did not have the right to require the USG to print its passports in a language other than English. Colonel Qadhafi had himself stated this principle in his interview that was published in Al-Ahram on May 27. (Attiga simply nodded when he heard this.) Chargé also pointed out the legal and practical difficulties for the USG of following any other course. At the same time he would point out that USG too hopes for a resolution of passport problems on both sides, and that in fact there had been no difficulties in this area prior to January one.

4. Attiga returned to the theme that LARG was now interested in “solving the passport issue” with the USG. This time he urged that the U.S. adopt a rubber stamp like other countries. “I can guarantee that if you do that there will be no more problems for Americans.” Chargé immediately replied that this was “incredible” as LARG had made perfectly plain, even by note, that rubber stamps were only a temporary solution and that the LARG’s request was for printing passports in Arabic. Accompanying EmbOff expressed same incredulity. Attiga then said “what you are saying, then, is that there is no flexibility on your side.” Chargé replied that USG had always been flexible enough if there was reciprocity, but that it was inconceivable the USG would start printing passports in any other language than English. Attiga expressed great disappointment that USG could not at least accept a rubber stamp.

5. Since in his initial presentation Attiga had seemed to link the LARG decision regarding printing passports in English as well as Arabic with a hoped-for “flexibility” on the U.S. side, Chargé summarized [Page 78] Attiga’s position to him making the implication explicit. Attiga denied that this implication was intended, however, and emphasized that the LARG’s decision was quite independent and final. He also indicated that the Ministry had received instructions from the RCC on the whole subject of passports within the last two days, and that his talk with the Chargé was at the request of the Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs. He said he would report to him regretfully that the American position had not changed. Chargé said that was correct.

6. In passing, Chargé briefed Attiga, who did not appear aware of the facts, on the problem of contemporary visas for dependents of eligible principals applying at the Libyan Embassy Washington, on the occasional but serious problems of denials of entry to American dependents at the airport, on the fact that the Embassy had only one consular officer, who was overworked and had instructions to give priority to other work besides visas, and on the fact that Chargé had not been granted an interview at the RCC or ministerial level since January 1, except for one appointment with ForMin Kikhya. Chargé also made clear that there was no split between the Dept and the Embassy on passport policies, that the Department made policy and the Embassy carried it out, and that if the LARG was not happy with those policies one approach would be for somebody at a high level in the LARG to discuss the matter with the Chargé.

7. Chargé took opportunity to raise several other matters including a strong demand for prompt payment of the Embassy’s Balfour Day claim (septel). Also pointed out passports were a small matter compared to the US/Libyan relations in the field of petroleum. LARG had recently nationalized one American company and forced other into partial nationalization. USG urged continued talks with the remaining companies until there is an amicable solution. Instead of cooperation in this field there was constant harassment. Latest event was two-weeks’ notice to president of Mobil to leave his house despite a valid lease. Similar problems had been experienced recently by other American companies with residences in that area (former Gargour estate).

8. Comment: As best we can analyze it at this time, the motive for today’s interview was as follows: LARG decided for some reason, possibly an agreement with Egypt regarding standardization of passports, to start issuing passports printed not only in English as well as Arabic (as since January 1972) but filled out in English too. This decision had nothing to do with our passport policies, but at same time LARG is under heavy pressure from many students regarding visas for their families. So someone in RCC or MFA decided to try to use the LARG decision to lever the USG into accepting Arabic somehow, and thus solve the students’ problem. This did not work. Believe we are on the right track and LARG now knows at a higher level that the solution to [Page 79] our delaying of visas is their dropping of restrictions. Reviewing Embassy’s proposed draft note (reftel para 4) in this light, it still seems appropriate to the situation as we see it.

  1. Summary: The Embassy informed the Department of the Libyan Government’s decision to print passports in both English and Arabic.

    Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Confidential; Priority. Repeated to Cairo.