200. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Katanga


  • United States
    • The President
    • The Secretary
    • The Under Secretary Asst. Secy Williams
    • Asst. Secy Cleveland
    • Ambassador Gullion
    • Mr. Glenn
  • Congolese
    • Prime Minister Adoula
    • M. Ambroise Eleo, Minister of Economy
    • M. Mario Cardoso Chief Delegate to the UN
    • M. Julien Kasongo
    • M. Emmanuel Kimbimbi

The President said that he wished to cover some of the main problems facing the Congo even though those problems might have been already [Page 375] touched upon in conversations in the Department of State.2 He was particularly interested in Prime Minister Adoula’s ideas on the way in which the United States can best help the Congo.

The first point might well be that of the Katanga. Was much progress accomplished in this respect?

The Prime Minister stated that the Katanga question is the essential question for the Congolese. The Government and the people demand a solution of this question. Utilizing United States assistance in the matter, the Prime Minister agreed to meet Mr. Tshombe at Kitona. The Kitona talks resulted in an agreement which, if it were implemented, would constitute a satisfactory solution. The Prime Minister underlined, however, that he went to Kitona against the wishes of his public opinion and of his parliament, and even without the knowledge of his cabinet. In doing so he took a grave political risk. He took that risk because he did not want to disappoint the President and because he knew that if he did not meet with Tshombe he would create difficulties not only for the United States but also for the United Nations and thus indirectly for the Congo itself.

At the present moment, the Kitona agreements are beginning to be implemented. This is, however, a very small beginning. It seems that Mr. Tshombe has not yet taken a clear-cut decision and that he is playing for time hoping that the circumstances will allow him to reach for some solution which would preserve Katangan separatism.

Force had been used against Mr. Tshombe before. At the present moment, however, everybody seems to want a peaceful solution. In considering that question it is necessary, however, to take into account the time factor and one must not create too much impatience among those who are asking for a rapid resolution of the conflict.

What should be done under the circumstances? Tshombe is hesitating, ready to accept some solution but trying to make it one which would preserve his secession. He cannot be trusted. Even when he seems to agree, concern about his real intentions is in order. The financial and economic help of some groups has given him the hope that he might be able to go on with his secessionist schemes. The Congolese Government has now entered into negotiations with the mining corporations of the Katanga and is pressuring them to cease helping Tshombe. Contacts have also been made with the Belgian Government and this is an area in which the United States might help in order to isolate Tshombe.

Recently, however, the Security Council met on the Congo question following a Soviet initiative. This is something which the Government of [Page 376] the Congo has opposed not because it trusts Tshombe but because it believes the principle of sovereignty is involved and that no meetings about the Congo should take place without Congolese assent.

Another recent event is the resolution taken by the Congolese Parliament giving Mr. Tshombe eight days to implement unconditionally the Kitona agreement. This delay expires tomorrow.

Mr. Tshombe’s reaction to this resolution is not known to the Prime Minister. He is afraid, however, that Mr. Tshombe will not be in a position to comply with it. In consequence it might be necessary to resort to other means than those which the Congolese Government wishes to employ in order to obtain compliance.

The Government of the Congo has taken some steps to tear down the economic barriers between the Katanga and the Congo which had been erected by Tshombe. First of all, it hopes to obtain from the mining corporations agreement that they should pay directly to the Central Government the taxes due it. Secondly it hopes to ensure that the exports of those companies be shipped along the “national route” from Elisabethville through Jadotville, Kamina, Luluabourg, and finally to the harbor of Matadi. This would enable the Central Government to obtain the payment of export duties on many commodities and particularly on copper.

In answer to a question by the President, the Prime Minister stated that the products of the Katangan mines are being exported at present through Benguela in Angola. The Prime Minister continued by saying that at present the corporations in question state that they fear to cooperate with the Central Government because they are afraid of reprisals from Tshombe who wields effective power in their area “by the law of war.”

Conversations have taken place between the Congolese Government and Mr. Spaak on the one hand and the directors of the Union Miniere on the other. The latter have shown a lot of understanding for the position of the Central Government and it seems that they are ready now to change their policy and to cooperate with the Central Government. There remains, however, a disagreement of principle. As recently as January 30, the Union Miniere paid to Tshombe an important sum of money which was due to the Central Government. In explaining this action the Union Miniere pleads a case of force majeure. This interpretation is, however, difficult to accept because there is evidence that the Union Miniere has actively helped in the secession movement of the Katanga and is rather an accessory to Tshombe’s actions than a victim of force majeure. Moreover, Tshombe himself had said to the Prime Minister that in July 1960 he did not have any more than 300 men on whom he could count. This is obviously not enough military strength to force the Union Miniere to act against its will. Had the Union Miniere felt threatened [Page 377] at that time it could have asked for the protection of the Central Government and very soon afterwards for the protection of the United Nations.

Moreover, the Union Miniere people themselves have told the Prime Minister that there existed differences of opinion within the Union Miniere itself, the head office in Brussels being for the Central Government and the local administrators in Elisabethville for Mr. Tshombe. The fact remains, nevertheless, that the company itself must be held responsible for its actions, whether or not those actions were carried out with the agreement of its headquarters. The Prime Minister’s personal impression is that the Union Miniere was trying to work both sides of the street so as to safeguard its interests whichever party triumphed in the struggle. At the present moment the Central Government is demanding that the Union Miniere pay to it all of the back taxes due, regardless of what might have been paid to the Katanga provincial authorities.

The President asked if such an attitude on the part of the Central Government would not harden the position of Union Miniere and encourage it to further help Tshombe. It might be better to let bygones be bygones provided a different attitude is observed in the future.

The Prime Minister said that this might be so and that the Government of the Congo might reconsider its position but that it wanted to assert its rights even it if were later on to refrain from exercising them in order to arrive at a compromise in the matter. Its insistence on principle would, however, make it quite clear for the Union Miniere that it should not continue to put money into Tshombe’s coffers because it might be forced to pay twice by doing so.

The President asked the Prime Minister what was likely to happen as a result of the demand made by the Congo Parliament placing a deadline on Tshombe’s compliance with the Kitona agreements.

The Prime Minister replied that when Parliament sees that its wishes are not obeyed it is likely to place pressure on the Government to adopt sterner measures and probably will make additional demands of Tshombe.

The President asked what Mr. Tshombe’s attitude was likely to be.

The Prime Minister replied that Mr. Tshombe depends greatly on his advisers and tends to change his position from one day to the next. The Prime Minister personally doubted that compliance on his part is likely. Under the circumstances the Central Government may be forced to continue and intensify its own police action against the Katanga. At present the northern part of this province has been brought back under the obedience of the Central Government. Even Congolese currency, which Mr. Tshombe had banned, is now in use in that area.

[Page 378]

The President asked if additional action on the part of the United States could help bring about a solution.

The Prime Minister said that additional aid is always welcome. However, the United States has already taken steps to help and he does not see any concrete measure which might be called for at this moment.

The President asked whether a continuation of the military action by the United Nations was desirable.

The Prime Minister replied that such action might be desirable but that there were certain danger signs which pointed to the lack of efficiency of such an action. First of all, there have already been two military interventions by the United Nations and in each case fighting was interrupted after a short time. Under the circumstances people might believe that a new action might lead to a few weeks of fighting after which pressure would be interrupted. Under such circumstances there would be no incentive for them to give in to the United Nations. Secondly, a number of countries in the United Nations oppose the use of force by the organization. It might perhaps be better to help the Government of the Congo with its own police action in such a way as to make that action more efficacious.

The President said that the training of the Congolese army seems highly desirable so as to place at the disposal of the Government of the Congo a faithful and efficient force which could take over at the time when the United Nations pull out, at least militarily, from the Congo; the latter is bound to happen sooner or later.

The Prime Minister replied that this touched upon another important point of the conversation. He doesn’t believe, however, that the question of the Katanga has been entirely exhausted. He feels that helping the military pressure of the United Nations might not be successful because of the opposition to such an action by the majority of the members of the United Nations. It might be better to consider liberating Katanga by a continuation and intensification of the Government’s own police action.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Congo. Confidential. Drafted by Glenn. The source text is labeled Part I of two parts; Part II is printed as Document 201. Both are filed with a covering memorandum of February 12 from Battle to Bundy. The time of the meeting, which was held at the White House, is taken from Kennedy’s appointment book. (Kennedy Library)
  2. Adoula had met that morning with Under Secretary Ball; see Document 199.