94. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Belgium 0

796. After consideration your excellent despatch 5661 and in accordance with suggestions developed during Ambassador’s consultation, Department has concluded it would be desirable for Ambassador (with subsequent assistance such other members of the Embassy staff as he may consider advisable) to undertake a series of discussions with appropriate Belgian officials in order obtain their assessment of developments in Congo. We would be particularly interested in Belgian [Page 259] views on timing of various phases Belgian program for granting Congolese independence, possibility of creation federal system of government in Congo rather than unitary state, relative strength and effectiveness various Congolese leaders and political groupings, and Belgian plans for continuing economic and technical assistance to Congo. We would hope that from these discussions would come a continuing exchange of views between US and Belgian authorities in Brussels and Leopoldville at various levels and in technical as well as policy field.

Department believes Ambassador’s absence on leave during period of elections and King’s Congo visit2 would make such an approach entirely in order and not tend to generate Belgian suspicion or antagonism. Furthermore, developments over past months confirm Belgians much more ready to consult with US, if not to solicit our advice or assistance.

Since refdes was transmitted situation in Congo appears somewhat improved particularly in light realization by Congolese leaders at Kisantu Conference3 some sort of federal structure an economic necessity. However, Department fully cognizant inherently unstable pattern in Congo.

In course discussions, Belgians may well ask for US views concerning Belgium’s Congo program. Ambassador authorized respond that US is of course interested in maintenance political stability in Congo and general alignment of area with Free World. We believe that the aims of present Belgian policy in the Congo are laudable and hope that they can be attained in harmonious cooperation. Should Belgians officially request public statement US views, Ambassador may state that he will explore feasibility such action with Department.

If Belgians should raise question of US economic or technical assistance in Congo, Ambassador should point out that funds available for such purposes extremely limited and established US policy permits US action in these fields only when metropole unable meet territory’s requirements. We would be prepared examine any Belgian proposal, but could not make any commitment. We would also attempt make available information concerning private US funds which possibly could be drawn on.

Most pressing need would appear to be in field training for public administration and Embassy should discuss this with Belgians. Experience with other colonial and ex-colonial powers has shown however this is very sensitive area and US assistance not generally welcomed.

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FYI. Although Department realizes possible danger in becoming identified too closely with Belgian colonial policy, we nevertheless believe that cooperation with Belgians in pursuing common aims offers us best, if not only, means of influencing future independent Congo. We therefore envisage Ambassador and staff discussions with Belgians as first phase of exploratory operation designed identify areas of common interest in which US can be of assistance to Belgians in maintaining and promoting orderly progress toward Congolese autonomy.

We must also keep in mind repercussions elsewhere both in Europe and Africa of any vigorous US action in the Congo. For example, any substantial aid program would certainly result in US being faced with shopping list from any number of emerging African nations. Other metropolitan powers for different reasons might resent US attention to Congo and independent African states could if we were not careful interpret out actions as attempt preserve colonialism. These considerations may be of minor significance and need not inhibit Embassy in its discussion with Belgians but are mentioned to emphasize area wide implications of problem. End FYI.4

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 611.55A/1–860. Confidential. Drafted by C. Vaughan Ferguson, Director of the Office of Middle and Southern African Affairs, and W.C. Sherman of the Office of Western European Affairs; cleared with the Director of that Office, Robert H. McBride; and approved by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs James K. Penfield. Pouched to Léopoldville and Elisabethville.
  2. In despatch 566, December 10, 1959, the Embassy warned that the U.S. policy of leaving responsibility for the Congo to Belgium risked the failure of the long-term U.S. objective of the emergence of a stable, Western-oriented Congo. It urged a more active U.S. role, suggested areas of possible U.S. assistance to the Congo, and recommended an approach to the Belgian Government as a first step. (Ibid., 611.55A/12–1059)
  3. King Baudouin departed on December 16 for a 2-week visit to the Congo.
  4. A meeting of representatives of five Congolese parties, December 24–27, 1959; it called for a federal constitution.
  5. Despatch 817 from Brussels, February 2, reported that Ambassador Burden had met with Minister for the Congo Auguste de Schrijver on January 26 to initiate a series of discussions with Belgian officials concerning developments in the Congo. Burden indicated a wish to commence quiet meetings with Congolese leaders, but de Schrijver did not respond. (Department of State, Central Files, 755A.03/2–260)