118. Telegram From the Embassy in India to the Department of State0

3537. Department pass Defense. Reference Embassy telegram 3505.1 The moment of truth on the MIG’s came at noon when Desai called me in to say that he had not been fully informed on developments when he talked to me on Friday last. In fact he had learned upon return of Menon that exploratory discussions with Soviets had been taking place and [Page 241] were well advanced. Of the three possible planes, F-104’s, Mysteres and MIG’s, only the MIG’s seemed be available promptly on payment terms which Indians could afford and with prospect of manufacturer and appropriate provision for spares in India. The papers continue to speak a completed deal and I sensed he might be softening me up for such an announcement. I asked him directly if the transaction completed and he said no. I then asked him if a decision had been taken to buy the MIG’s and he said not in the sense of a government action, whatever that may mean. I then made the following points with adequate force:

I did not like being told on Friday that nothing was happening and discovering on Monday that developments were well advanced. On Desai’s presumed information I had reported that no negotiations were in progress.
Our policy was to be tolerant and good humored but he, Menon and above all the Prime Minister should be aware of the limits. We were providing $500 million in economic aid, another $280 million in food. The Indians were saying in effect that this was insufficient so they must turn to Soviets to equip their forces. This was callous of American public opinion and highly illogical to boot.
To reinforce the point, I told him of conversation last night on the plane with L.K. Jha, Permanent Secretary Finance. Jha sought me out to speak of their developing alarm over balance of payments. As matters now stood, this kind of worry came to us while Menon went to Soviets for arms. Such a division of labor would never be acceptable to Congressional or American public opinion for reasons he could well understand.
It was true, as Desai had said earlier, that the Soviets had made an offer and we had not. It was not our policy to merchandise our arms around the world and this was a policy that India should appreciate. I then told him that we had specifically asked Lockheed to exercise restraint. I noted that in the case of the C-130, a dual-purpose vehicle, we had offered a demonstration and had been refused.
I then took notice of his earlier statement that the Russians had offered better terms including rupee payment and that India could not accept arms aid. Rupee payment was as much a form of aid, and as prejudicial to Indian principles, as acceptance of MAP assistance. Because Russian bookkeeping was more clandestine than ours acceptance of rupees was no less in the nature of a gift. It was the same deal, slightly less generous, as the one on which they got food.
Finally, while noting that I could not promise to match Soviet offer, we did expect to be asked. If it developed that for reasons of policy or security classification we couldn’t do business, then at least they would have dealt with us courteously and could go ahead with the Soviets. I took occasion also to observe that there could be no emergency [Page 242] over the licensing of manufacture since planes from this source would not be available for some years anyway.

Desai, who seemed rather ill at ease during this eloquence, was I think impressed. I asked that matter be put firmly and fully before Prime Minister and he said it would be. I then said I hope we might be kept informed.

To pin these matters down I am summarizing them in form of a note to Desai which I am sending over this afternoon.2 One can never be quite confident where Menon is concerned, but I have feeling this may produce at least temporary block. Although I have avoided any commitment, implications for possible Washington action and decision will be evident.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 791.5622/5-862. Secret; Niact. Repeated to Canberra for the Secretary and to London. Relayed to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Army, Navy, Air Force, and the CIA.
  2. In telegram 3505, May 4, Galbraith reported that he had taken up with Foreign Secretary Desai reports in that morning’s local press to the effect that the Indian Government was close to an agreement with the Soviet Union to equip two squadrons of the Indian Air Force with Soviet MIG fighters. Desai said there was no such plan. (Ibid., 791.5622/5-462)
  3. The Embassy transmitted the text of this note to the Department in telegram 3545, May 9. (Ibid., 791.5622/5-962)