78. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Atherton) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Military Assistance for Morocco

The Problem

According to the Iranians and Jordanians, the Moroccan Government has sent a special Mission to both countries seeking rapid supply of military equipment. The types and quantities of equipment the Moroccans seek are reasonable and include nothing except REDEYES that we should have any doubts about supplying; the principal issue is the political one of visibly accelerated delivery through third-country transfers.

Both the Iranian and Jordanian Governments have told us, and presumably have told the Moroccans, that they would be prepared to transfer to Morocco from their own inventories a considerable amount of U.S.-supplied equipment. A U.S. decision is required on three aspects of such an operation: (1) whether to authorize some or all of the third-country transfers involved; (2) whether and when we could replace these items in the Iranian and Jordanian inventories, as these governments have requested; and (3) whether and how we could help move the equipment to Morocco. Involved in the question of replacement is also the complex problem of payment for any items furnished Jordan and Iran as replacements.

You will want to consider these three issues in the context of more fundamental questions: (1) on the one hand, to what extent do we want to appear to be internationalizing the Sahara dispute through visible emergency supply of U.S. equipment during the forthcoming period [Page 199] of great political sensitivity and of Arab and UN diplomatic activity to reconcile Algerian and Moroccan differences over the self-determination issue prior to the end of Spanish administration on February 28; (2) on the other hand, how do we signal to King Hassan and his supporters that we are not indifferent to the fact that Morocco is under-armed while its adversaries (Algeria and Libya) are well-armed by the Soviets.

Our interests in this situation are to see the Moroccan solution to the Sahara dispute succeed, if possible while permitting Algeria to save face if it wishes to and avoiding a confrontation with the Soviets which would escalate the cost of success to us and risk another Angola-type debate with Congress.


King Hassan has sent a mission to Iran and Jordan requesting the transfer to Morocco of U.S. equipment in their inventories. The Iranian and Jordanian Governments have been sympathetic and have asked us whether we would give the necessary authorization. Hassan has painted a picture of a growing Algerian threat, backed by large-scale shipments of arms from the Soviet Union and Libya. He has claimed that the Algerians are being assisted in their Sahara operations by Cubans and North Vietnamese, and draws a parallel between the Sahara and Angola. His aim appears clearly to enlist support by presenting the Sahara problem as a U.S.-Soviet confrontation.

On the basis of all the information now available to us, we are skeptical that the Sahara question has—as yet, at least—taken on this international complexion. The Algerians are being supplied with considerable quantities of military equipment by the Soviets, possibly in the neighborhood of $400–500 million, as well as direct shipments of Soviet arms from Libya. Some of this equipment is, in turn, being used by the Algerians in backing the Polisario guerrilla forces in the Sahara, but it is far from clear that the Soviets see themselves at this point actively and specifically committed to the Algerian/Polisario position in the Sahara dispute. There is evidence, in fact, that they wish to avoid this, partly in order to maintain their modest relationship with Morocco. It is nonetheless true that Algeria is much better armed than Morocco, though its capacity to bring this superiority to bear in the Sahara is apparently limited by distances and transport problems. It is also true that the Soviets, if forced to choose, would come down on the Algerian/Polisario side.

The most marked characteristic of the Sahara dispute at this time, however, is the degree to which it is being dealt with as a regional problem, in which King Hassan has so far outwitted his adversaries and kept Arab opinion from crystallizing against him. UN Secretary [Page 200] General Waldheim and several Arab countries are simultaneously engaged in mediation efforts in the Sahara. Spain, convinced that the situation would deteriorate further unless final decolonization were sanctioned internationally through the UN, called on Waldheim to initiate an appropriate follow-up on both UNGA resolutions with respect to the rights of Saharans to self-determination. Waldheim’s representative, Ambassador Rydbeck, arrived in El Ayoun (capital of the Sahara) on February 7, to evaluate the situation. The GOM maintains that Rydbeck’s mission is limited to fact-finding, but the Algerians, and reportedly Rydbeck himself, have indicated his mission has broader scope.

Arab peace initiatives were touched off by the first direct military encounter between Moroccan and Algerian regular troops at Amgala January 26–28. Envoys from several Arab states have visited Algiers, Rabat and Nouakchott, transmitting messages from their respective leaders. On February 3, the Egyptian semi-official press announced that Vice President Mubarek’s efforts had resulted in the submission to the GOM and GOA of a three-point peace plan calling for a cease-fire, an early meeting of the Egyptian, Algerian and Moroccan Foreign Ministers, to be followed by a Summit Conference of Hassan, Boumediene and Sadat. Neither the GOA nor GOM has officially responded to Mubarek’s proposal. The GOM is resisting negotiations with the GOA on the substance of the issue until Algeria agrees to withdraw all of its forces from the territory, leashes the Polisario and recognizes GOM/GIRM sovereignty over the ex-Spanish Sahara. Morocco is proceeding with its military sweep but has refrained so far from attacking the Polisario stronghold of Mahbes near the Algerian frontier. The GOA also has not publicly responded to Mubarek and continues to demand a referendum while actively promoting the Polisario as Saharan spokesman and pleading its case in diplomatic approaches to Western, Soviet-bloc and non-aligned states. The consensus of intelligence sources and many observers is that the GOA has suffered significant defeats, diplomatically, by failing in its efforts to round up support for its position, especially among the Arabs, and militarily, at Amgala. Rather than engage in a full-scale war with Morocco, the GOA may be seeking a face-saving device to disengage from the Sahara with the idea of regrouping and conducting a long-term guerrilla action through the Polisario aimed at eventually undermining the Moroccan and Mauritanian regimes.

If the above-mentioned mediation attempts should fail, the status of the Sahara will be legally ambiguous when Spain definitively withdraws on February 28. The Tripartite Agreement between Spain, Morocco and Mauritania provided for transfer of administrative jurisdiction over the territory to Morocco and Mauritania prior to February 28, [Page 201] but it left unsettled the question of territorial sovereignty. Both UNGA resolutions—3458–A which called for a referendum and 3458–B, which recognized the Tripartite Agreement as the basis for eventual transfer of jurisdiction—recognized the principle of self-determination for the Saharans in the presence of UN representatives, differing only in the way this was to be accomplished. Under the Tripartite arrangement, the Saharan Assembly (Yamaa) created by the Spanish colonial authorities, was to serve as the voice of Saharan self-determination. This body reportedly disbanded in December 1975 as its members split into opposing factions declaring their loyalty to either Morocco or Algeria. The GOM has now announced that “working groups” of the Yamaa are meeting in Al Ayoun, and it appears the GOM may attempt to use a “rump” Yamaa to convince Rydbeck that its claims to the Sahara have been legitimized in consultation with the Saharans.

Moroccan Request: The Moroccans submitted the following shopping list to Iran and Jordan:

TOW—24 launchers and 480 missiles

200 REDEYE hand-held anti-aircraft missiles

Sixteen M 109A2 (probably M 109A1B) 155 mm. self-propelled howitzers

Thirty-six 106 mm. recoilless rifles

Four million 7.62 mm. NATO rounds small arms ammunition

12,800 shells for 155 mm. howitzers (10% smoke or phosphorus, 10% illuminating, 70% explosives, and 10% training)

One squadron of F–5 aircraft: 25 planes plus munitions and two TACANS (navigational systems).

The Jordanians have told us that they wish to help the Moroccans to the extent possible. You have received a message from Hussein to this effect. (Amman 688—Attachment 1.) In particular, the King stated that he would be willing to transfer immediately 20 of the F–5A aircraft recently given him by Iran. In return, the Jordanians would hope to receive, on a one-for-one basis, the more expensive and sophisticated F–5E’s that Morocco expects to receive from us (the Jordanians said 15–18 months from now, but the actual wait is closer to 20 months for the first delivery). Receiving new F–5E’s for old F–5A’s is very attractive to Jordan—about a 15 to 1 return as an F–5E costs over $3 million and a used F–5A is worth about $200,000. The Jordanians offered to provide Morocco with 106 mm. recoilless rifles free. Ambassador Pickering has raised the question of transporting this equipment from Jordan, and states that the Jordanians are likely to ask whether we could provide an airlift for this purpose.

The Iranian Foreign Minister informed Ambassador Helms February 8 that Iran would like to provide to Morocco as much of this equipment as it could and requested our agreement. The Iranians did not want to do so directly, he said, but desired to have Jordan act as [Page 202] middleman. He also asked if we could replace this equipment quickly in the Iranian inventory, except for 4 or 5 F–5A’s for which the Shah would not request replacements from the Moroccan order of F–5E’s.

We have subsequently ascertained that, of the equipment requested by the Moroccans, the Iranians could supply all that the Jordanians have not expressed a willingness to provide except REDEYES, and you have already decided we should not further proliferate REDEYES by providing them to Morocco.

In considering the following options, certain practical logistical and financial considerations are relevant:

—Any transfers of U.S.-supplied equipment from Jordan and Iran to Morocco must be notified to Congress. Such transfers will therefore be public knowledge, and the speed with which they can be effected will depend not only on availability, condition of equipment, and transport and financing arrangements, but also on the speed with which the legislatively-required assurances and notifications can be moved through the Moroccan, Jordanian, Iranian and U.S. bureaucracies.

—One reason for Morocco’s seeking these items of equipment from Jordan and Iran is that, due to our own force requirements, other commitments and production lead-times, we cannot provide them as quickly as Morocco wishes. We therefore cannot provide rapid replacements to Jordan and Iran; their role would be precisely to absorb the delays Morocco faces in getting these items directly from us—although there are corollary political benefits in Morocco’s being able to demonstrate in this way the support it has from Hussein and the Shah.

—Replacement costs will exceed the original costs to Iran and Jordan of any items transferred to Morocco, and we have no funds to absorb them.

The Options

There are three obvious general options:

Option 1 – Agree to the transfer of as much equipment as can be made available as quickly as feasible.

Option 2 – Not agree to any transfer.

Option 3 – Agree to a selective transfer operation, perhaps staged over a period of several months.

In addition, there are choices with respect to U.S. assistance in transporting any equipment being moved and with respect to replacement of transferred items.

Option 1: Agree to transfer of all the equipment that the Moroccans have requested except REDEYES, as quickly as possible.


—There is no doubt that Morocco is very inferior in armament to Algeria and that, if the Sahara fighting escalates, this inferiority may well result in serious difficulties for Rabat.

[Page 203]

—We have basically supported a solution for the Sahara whereby Morocco and Mauritania will take over the former colony, dividing it between them. We thus have an interest in seeing that Morocco is militarily capable of carrying out this operation against Algerian-supported opposition.

—If Algeria were to succeed in frustrating Moroccan plans, it would be seen to some degree at least as a success for Soviet-backed forces over the side supported by the U.S.

—It is at least possible that Algeria would be restrained from becoming more deeply involved if it saw active support for Morocco by the U.S.

—Hassan obviously feels exposed in the face of potential Algerian power, and any substantial assistance of this kind would have an important psychological effect for him, as well as military consequences. Not to provide any assistance, in the face of his determined efforts to acquire it, would be very discouraging to him and would lead him to question the value of his relationship with the U.S. Since the Iranians and Jordanians are also deeply involved, they would be led as well to wonder how reliable the U.S. was in this sense. The same might also be said of Sadat and Asad, both of whom lean toward Morocco on the Sahara issue and would oppose any Algerian military initiative.


—It does not appear, as yet at least, that the Soviet Union wishes to become deeply involved in supporting an Algerian operation in the Sahara, although the Soviets have continued to provide large amounts of modern equipment to Algeria.

—Visible support from the U.S., in the form of our agreement to the transfer from our friends of substantial quantities of arms, could put the Soviets in a position where they would be obliged to be politically more partisan and more active.

—There is at least as much chance that Algeria would see our action as a provocation as there is that they would be deterred by it. Our relationship with Algeria would certainly suffer, and the Algerians might well consider it necessary to respond by making their support for the Polisario more visible and more effective.

—We very much hope that regional efforts, and the activity of the UN representative, will damp down the dispute, if not actually resolve it. For us to be involved, at this juncture, with a highly visible arms supply operation that Hassan would almost certainly publicize, could seriously embarrass both the regional and the UN efforts. It could lead the Moroccans to be much less conciliatory and could lead the Algerians to refuse cooperation.

[Page 204]

—The official date for Spanish withdrawal and administrative turnover of the territory to Morocco and Mauritania is February 28. Particularly since the Moroccans have not complied with the provision of both UN resolutions calling for some determination of the wishes of the Saharan population, this date could be a focus of considerable political tension. Even the announcement of large supplies of military equipment to be provided in the near future, as distinct from actual shipment, could heighten this tension.

—In general, regardless of the military merits and of what specific reactions it might bring, a highly visible and rapid supply of American equipment would tend to emphasize the big-power, international aspects of the dispute and would work against any hope of keeping it largely regional in scope.

Option 2: Do not agree to any arms transfers.

The Pros and Cons are essentially those of Option 1, reversed.

Option 3: Agree to transfer of selective quantities and types of arms, perhaps stretching out the transfers over a period of time.


—This would provide some evidence of support for Hassan and would increase his actual capacity to conduct his operation in the Sahara.

—If the quantities were limited enough, or stretched out enough in time, the initial impact would not be as disruptive on regional efforts or as likely to give a big-power cast to the Sahara problem.

—In actual fact, such a transfer operation would probably require considerable time and it would be better to make this clear in the very beginning.

—We would have time to assess the progress of regional and UN attempts at solution, to see whether the Soviets become more directly involved, and to observe the extent to which the Algerians intend to prosecute the conflict in the Sahara.


—Hassan would be somewhat let down, since it would be difficult to prevent his knowing that it was the U.S. that restrained the Iranians and Jordanians.

—U.S. hesitancy could be interpreted in some quarters as an indication of the lack of U.S. resolve and might encourage the Algerians, with Soviet backing, to risk further military confrontations with the Moroccans.

[Page 205]

U.S. Assistance in Transportation

Whether or not there is a real issue here depends on how much equipment we authorize for transfer, and how quickly we would like it transferred. If we want a substantial amount of matériel moved rapidly, we probably have little alternative but to provide some air lift in addition to whatever the Jordanians can provide. Otherwise the two Jordanian C–130s might suffice, particularly if any F–5A’s to be transferred are themselves flown to Morocco. Other Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Iraq might also assist with an airlift.


Further study will be needed, depending on how much and what kind of equipment we permit to be transferred. Any replacement equipment we provide will certainly cost more. The difference will be particularly marked with respect to the F–5E’s, if the Moroccans agree to use them to replace the F–5A’s on a one-for-one basis, and if we authorize the transfer of the F–5A’s. In this case, the least complicated method would seem to be to continue with the supply of the F–5E’s to Morocco, with Morocco to pay as planned, and to authorize Morocco to transfer them to Jordan.


The Defense Department is examining the practical problems of availability and cost on an urgent basis, particularly with regard to aircraft. Meanwhile, there are too many unknowns and variables to permit a hard and fast decision to permit transfer of a specific number of items in a specific time period. In principle, however, while I believe that we will want to support Hassan by authorizing some early transfers, it would seem prudent to have the transfer of any substantial amounts spread out over a reasonable period of time (e.g., 30–90 days) to reduce the visibility and hence the political disadvantages. This is particularly true of the aircraft—the most dramatic and visible of the equipment. We believe, on the basis of initial DOD estimates, that the aircraft would take some time to put in shape for the trip, so that would be a natural delaying factor. If we did not agree to a U.S. airlift—and I would recommend against it as constituting too dramatic a U.S. involvement in the Sahara problem—that would also necessitate spaced-out delivery. I suggest, therefore, that we authorize immediate transfer of some equipment, such as the howitzers and 106 mm. recoilless rifles and ammunition, and say that we are studying the other requests urgently. Given the process for such transfers, we could probably not complete the authorization in less than three to four weeks. (Under existing legislation, we cannot approve third party transfers of MAP or FMS origin U.S. military equipment until Congress has been informed and transfer assurances obtained from the proposed recipient.) We [Page 206] could then discuss with the Jordanians how long it would take to move the aircraft, how this should be done, and how the replacement would be handled (we would need to talk to the Moroccans directly about that). By that time, we should have a clearer picture of the developing Sahara problem, and would be able to decide whether and under what conditions to approve transfer of the planes.

With respect to Iran’s desire to have the equipment it provides pass through Jordan, we can agree to that but should warn the Iranians that, given our procedures for reporting all transfers to Congress, the operation will be quite transparent and the Iranian role will be evident. We will have to warn the Iranians, furthermore, that early replacement of the equipment will probably not be possible, given the long lead-times involved (just as it has not been possible for us to further accelerate deliveries to Morocco directly). Finally, we will want to warn both Iran and Jordan that the transfers will certainly become public and might well attract considerable attention.

If you agree with the following recommendations, we shall draft replies to the Jordanians and Iranians for your approval.


1. That we agree to the immediate transfer to Morocco from Jordan of 36 106 mm. recoilless rifles.

2. That we inquire of the Jordanians about the practical problems involved in transferring the F–5A’s, including transportation, time for preparation, etc.

3. That we agree to the transfer to Morocco from Iran of 16 155 mm. howitzers and ammunition through Jordan, after warning Iran of the public nature of the transaction.

4. That we tell the Iranians we are sympathetic to their wish that the equipment be replaced in their inventory and are studying the possibilities, including the problems of financing.

5. That we tell the Jordanians and Iranians that we are continuing to consider urgently the remainder of their requests.

6. That we instruct Ambassador Neumann to take up the transfer question with the Moroccans, inquiring particularly about their reported willingness to replace Jordanian F–5A’s with the more costly F–5E’s.

7. That, if the Jordanians raise the subject, we say we do not believe we can make available the aircraft to transport the equipment to Morocco.

  1. Summary: Atherton provided options for third party military assistance for Morocco. He also addressed the issue of equipment transport and replacement of transferred items.

    Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, NSC OPS Staff, Box 18, Morocco (2). Secret; Exdis. Drafted by Day; and concurred in by Stern. Sent through Sisco. An unknown hand wrote “(Third Party)” under the title of the memorandum, and “HK decisions on p. 11–12” in the margin of the first page. An unknown hand wrote “in two years” next to the paragraph beginning “The Jordanians have told us”. An unknown hand wrote “no”, and “[When?] HK forgot” next to the paragraph beginning “We have subsequently ascertained that”, and circled the words “already decided” in the text. An unknown hand wrote “option 3” next to the paragraph beginning “The Defense Department is examining”. Kissinger approved recommendations 1 through 5. An unknown hand wrote “(Jordan would give as gift)” next to item 1. Kissinger wrote “why?” next to recommendations 6 and 7. The attachment is published as Document 77.