153. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Congo


  • The Secretary
  • Ambassador Louis Scheyven, Belgian Embassy
  • Mr. C. Vaughan Ferguson, Jr., AFS
  • Mr. Robert H. McBride, WE

Ambassador Scheyven said that he had been instructed to call to express the amazement of the Belgian Government at the reception which Lumumba had received in Washington. He said the official invitation extended to Lumumba, the fact that he stayed in Blair House and the honors which he had received had all made a great and very painful impression on the Belgian Government and the Belgian people. He said the Belgian Government thought that the US had made a choice in favor of the viewpoint of Mr. Lumumba as against that of the Belgians. He said the big reception which the Congolese leader had received here would strengthen his position in the Congo and would weaken that of Belgium as well as that of anti-Lumumba forces in the Congo.

Ambassador Scheyven said that the Belgian Government had also been pained to see that on the first Security Council vote in the UN the United States had voted in favor of the resolution presented and had not abstained as had the British and the French. He said there had been a lack of support for Belgium in the UN by the United States. He said that the Belgian Government was very distressed at the events of yesterday in connection with the reception of Lumumba. He said he thought the reaction was somewhat similar to that which would occur in the United States if the Belgian Government were to invite Fidel Castro to visit Brussels and accord him a great reception. He repeated that there had been a strong and unfavorable reaction in Belgium to the reception of Lumumba in Washington. In this context he said that [Page 368] Belgium had remained firmly loyal to the United States and a devoted ally. In the past there had not been any problems between Belgium and the United States. Belgium had wished to limit political consultation in the Community of Six in order to avoid there being any creation of a bloc position against the United States. Similarly the Belgians had sought to have the Sixes and Sevens problem evolve in a way that would not be unfavorable to US interests.

The Secretary in replying said that we had of course heard more or less the same thing from Belgium directly with regard to Belgian reactions to the Lumumba visit to Washington.1 He said he was sorry that yesterday’s events had caused so much trouble in Belgium. He said that on July 26 we had sought to explain the problem which the Lumumba visit posed for us.2 He said any other reception of Lumumba would have been a refusal of normal courtesies. There was a protocol problem involved for us. However, we regretted the very bad effect which our reception of Lumumba had had in Belgium and he hoped it would be realized that the position we had taken was mandatory for us. The Secretary noted that we had not selected Lumumba as Prime Minister of the Congo but had inherited him along with independence. In the light of the circumstances we felt we had no choice in the way we had received him. However, the Secretary did wish to express regret and indicate that we were fully conscious of all the things which the Ambassador had said regarding Belgian-American friendship. He said that we had not intended to give the impression we were choosing up sides against Belgium on Congolese issues.

The Secretary continued saying he did not believe that Mr. Lumumba had been very happy with his talks here. He said that the U.S. had taken the line that we would not proffer any aid independently but would operate through the UN insofar as Congo aid was concerned. Our posture was to operate through and at the request of the UN. The Secretary said he had talked with Mr. Green, the Minister of External Affairs in Ottawa,3 and Mr. Green had agreed to take the same line when he saw Lumumba later in the week.

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Ambassador Scheyven next inquired as to what our position was on the outstanding issues of the Belgian bases and the Katanga. The Ambassador said that the Belgian talks with Hammarskjold in Brussels had been unsatisfactory. He referred to previous conversations with the Secretary and said he thought that previously there had been agreement that there was no urgency in sending troops to Katanga where order prevailed. He added that if UN troops were to go to Katanga now there would be a renewed flight of Belgian technicians, who had returned to the area, to Rhodesia. Ambassador Scheyven said that he hoped we still shared Belgian views on this point and would so inform Hammarskjold. He noted Hammarskjold had said he thought it was necessary to send troops to Katanga. In this event Belgian forces would be obliged to withdraw. Therefore he thought that we needed to buy time on this issue, particularly since Tshombe appears to have altered his own position. Ambassador Scheyven stated that Belgium had originally believed a unitary government was desirable for the Congo but was not sure that this was any longer possible. The Belgian position continued strongly in favor of collaboration with the Congolese and Belgium still wished to do what it could in the technical field. Therefore it was essential to have some time to arrange evacuation of the bases. Belgium hoped that her allies would tell Hammarskjold now that he should not force the issue of the evacuation of the bases or the Katanga problem.

Ambassador Scheyven continued, saying that the Belgians realized they would have to evacuate the bases eventually since their treaty only called for them to remain if the Congolese wished and it was quite clear that Lumumba now wished them to depart. He said Belgium would be ready to withdraw when the time was ripe but that if the issue were forced now Belgian technicians would leave the Congo even though the Belgian Government wished them to remain and had indeed ordered many back to their jobs in order to assist with the maintenance of the Congolese economy. He said he thought the job of replacing all of the Belgian technicians and civil servants in the Congo was too great for the UN. If the UN were to enter Katanga and force the Belgians out of their bases the result would be chaos, he concluded.

Ambassador Scheyven asked again if the United States agreed with this position and would use its influence with Hammarskjold to this end. It was the Belgian impression that Hammarskjold’s position had hardened recently and that the trend of his thinking is to force the Belgians out now. He said he had no doubts that Lumumba was also pressing in this direction.

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In reply, the Secretary said that he could tell the Ambassador for his Government’s information only that we had sent word to Hammarskjold that we did not think it would be advisable for him to send troops to the Katanga until he himself had visited the area or sent a principal assistant there.4 The thrust of our recommendation to Hammarskjold was that he should go slow and not move hastily on inserting troops into Katanga. Of course we did not know that he would take our advice.

The Secretary said that we did not wish the sense of our instructions known publicly because our position was that individual nations should not be active in connection with the Congo crisis and that should it be known we were giving advice and recommendations to Hammarskjold there might be an effect on possible Soviet intentions. In this connection the Secretary noted that we would not for example move troops internally in the Congo. In fact our entire posture was that the UN was the responsible agency. He said he thought that when Hammarskjold was on the spot and saw the situation he would act realistically.

Finally the Ambassador inquired again with regard to our position on the Belgian bases in the Congo to which the Secretary replied that the principal one was in Katanga anyway.

The Secretary concluded saying we hoped the situation would evolve satisfactorily and repeating that we were sorry our reception of Lumumba had caused problems and had been misunderstood in Belgium. The Secretary said that if we had not given the normal reception to Lumumba it would appear that we were indicating we would have nothing to do with him and his government.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 332.70G/7–2860. Secret. Drafted by McBride. Approved in S on August 1.
  2. Burden termed the U.S. reception of Lumumba “catastrophic” in a July 27 telephone conversation with Herter, in which he urged that a message be sent to Hammarskjöld suggesting that he delay sending U.N. troops into Katanga and into the Belgian bases in the Congo. He told Herter that the Belgians knew the United States had not sent such a message although the British and French had done so. (Memorandum of telephone conversation prepared in the Secretary’s office; Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations)
  3. Penfield informed Ambassador Scheyven of the plans for Lumumba’s visit in a conversation on July 26 in which Scheyven conveyed Belgian concern over issues relating to the withdrawal of Belgian troops. (Memorandum of conversation by Chadbourn; Department of State, Central Files, 770G.00/7–2660)
  4. On July 28. According to a memorandum of telephone conversation prepared in the Secretary’s office, Herter told Green that “we felt Lumumba may be on a shopping expedition in which he might try to play us off against the Soviets” and that channeling aid through the United Nations would undercut this. (Eisenhower Library, Herter Papers, Telephone Conversations)
  5. Telegram 282 to Léopoldville, July 27, instructed McIlvaine to convey this message to Hammarskjöld, who was en route to the Congo. (Department of State, Central Files, 770G.00/7–2760)