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History of U.S. – Malta Relations
SS Ohio

SS Ohio coming into the Grand Harbor



The U.S. Embassy in Valletta strives to strengthen cooperation, friendship, and trade between the United States and Malta through the promotion of shared values such as individual freedom, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The Embassy works with all sectors of Maltese society in an effort to promote these values.


Revolutionary War:

U.S-Maltese diplomatic relations span over 200 years. During the American War of Independence, 1800 Maltese and Knights of the Order enlisted in the French Navy to assist the fledgling United States in its War of Independence. The Maltese played a crucial role in the victory and in 1781, with the help of Maltese sailors, the French Navy defeated the British in the Battle of the Chesapeake. With the defeat, the British could not regroup and resupply their troops. Consequently, the American army forced a British surrender and the end of the war. In 1783, in a gesture of gratitude from the young United States, Benjamin Franklin, in his capacity as U.S. Ambassador to France, presented America’s first medal Libertas Americana to Grand Master Emmanuel de Rohan.

Franklin sent the medal to Grandmaster de Rohan specifically to thank him for his support, accompanied by words saying, “I have the honor to address to Your Eminent Highness the medal which I have lately struck. It is an Homage of gratitude, my Lord, which is due to the interest you have taken in our cause; and we no less owe it to your virtues and to your eminent highness wise administration of government.” Franklin also asked that the Grandmaster allow American ships to come to Maltese ports. In his response, de Rohan wrote, “This monument of American liberty has a distinguished place in my cabinet. Whenever chance or commerce shall lead any of your citizens or their vessels into the ports of my island, I shall receive them with the greatest welcome.”

With the appointment of the first U.S. Consul to Malta in 1796, American ships taking part in the Barbary Coast War (1801-1805) could anchor in Malta for fresh water and provisions.

Liberty Bell:

Two hundred and thirty two years ago, the Liberty Bell rang in Philadelphia and the Declaration of Independence was read aloud for the first time. John Pass (Pace), who cast the Liberty Bell, is said to have been of Maltese origin. On the bell he imprinted the following words: “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land and unto all the inhabitants thereof.”

World War II:

August 15, 1942 represented a crucial moment in Maltese history when five out of the 14 vessels that formed part of “Operation Pedestal,” including the American tanker SS Ohio, broke through the Nazi blockade of Malta to deliver fuel and food to the starving population. The arrival of the vessels was the turning point in the Maltese islands’ fate during World War II and became known locally as the Santa Marija Convoy, in honor of the August 15 Feast of the Assumption, popularly referred to as “Santa Marija.” In recognition of these events, King George VI awarded the George Cross “to the island fortress of Malta – its people and defenders” in 1942. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, describing the wartime period, called Malta “one tiny bright flame in the darkness – a beacon of hope for the clearer days which have come.”

That same year, the USS Wasp, an aircraft carrier, delivered Spitfire fighters to Malta. Most of the aircraft were intercepted and destroyed by the enemy forces upon arrival in Malta. A second delivery of aircraft allowed Malta to stave off defeat. It is in reference to this operation that Winston Churchill asked, “Who said a Wasp couldn’t sting twice?”

In 1943, General Dwight D. Eisenhower and Italian Marshal Pietro Badoglio signed an armistice on board the British ship HMS Nelson in Malta’s Grand Harbor. Later that year, President Roosevelt visited Malta; his words are immortalized on the walls of the Palace in Valletta: “In the name of the People of the United States of America, I salute the Island of Malta, its people and defenders, who, in the cause of freedom and justice and decency throughout the world, have rendered valorous service far above and beyond the call of duty. Under repeated fire from the skies, Malta stood alone but unafraid in the center of the sea, one tiny bright flame in the darkness – a beacon of hope for the clearer days which have come. Malta’s bright story of human fortitude and courage will be read by posterity with wonder and with gratitude through all the ages. What was done in this Island maintains the highest traditions of gallant men and women who from the beginning of time have lived and died to preserve civilization for all mankind.”

On February 2, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Malta Conference to participate in discussions to end the war. Discussions were held ashore and aboard the U.S.S. Quincy.

Libyan Conflict:

During the 2011 Libyan conflict, Malta served as an evacuation point and provided relief for persons leaving Libya, including U.S. citizens. Later on in the year, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Malta briefly enroute and upon her return from Libya.

U.S. Embassy:

Shortly after independence, the United States and Malta established full diplomatic relations. The first U.S. Embassy was located in Valletta, eventually moving to Sliema. In 1974, the Embassy relocated to premises in Floriana, where it remained for the next 37 years. In 2011, the Embassy moved to its current location in Attard.

Malta and U.S. Presidents:

On September 19, 1963, Malta’s Prime Minister George Borg Olivier met with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. A year later, on September 21, 1964, Malta became an independent state.

In July 1988, Malta’s Prime Minister Edward Fenech Adami met President Ronald Reagan at the White House.

On December 2-3, 1989, President George H.W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev met in Malta to officially end the Cold War. Due to stormy waters, they met on board the Soviet cruise liner Maxim Gorky in Marsaxlokk Bay.

In 2005, Malta’s Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi met with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House.

In subsequent years, Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat met with President Barack Obama and with President Donald Trump at the White House.

In 2022, Prime Minister Robert Abela met with President Joseph R. Biden in New York.