9. Telegram From the Embassy in Belgium to the Department of State1

1358. I am seriously concerned about rapidly deteriorating situation in Congo and ill-considered Belgian attempts to respond to it (Deptel 1355)2 which come at time when we are re-thinking our own position and have no firm guidance to offer.

All recent telegrams from Ambassador Timberlake (Léopoldville’s 1517 to Department3 latest example) indicate that UN effort in Congo has been completely unable to restore law and order and continues to pursue policy partly responsible for present serious situation. Mobutu-Kasavubu regime shows little sign of reorganizing itself into more permanent and effective government and appears increasingly to be losing control of own military. On other hand, Gizenga-Lumumba group is growing in strength and rapidly expanding its sphere of influence.

Large numbers of Belgians still in Kivu and Orientale now in serious danger from Lumumbist CNA. Belgian government and people, which still have strong emotional ties and extensive economic interest in Congo, are understandably responding with dismay to present Congo situation. This reaction has led to ill-planned, uncoordinated and inadequate attempts to improve military situation (Embtels 1345 and 1354)4 which I have had the greatest trouble in discouraging. I am fully aware that unilateral measures outside framework of general Western policy can serve only to destroy position of Belgium and West in UN and in Africa without any countervailing advantage, but situation is in part result of vacuum created by failure to formulate clear and effective US policy.

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In my view, disapproval of initial Belgian response to Bomboko request (Embtel 1293, Deptel 1341)5 is not enough. If we are not able to formulate clear US policy on Congo to deal with rapidly deteriorating situation and sell it to our allies rather soon, different elements in Belgium will, in spite of my efforts, continue to supply their own paramilitary ad hoc solutions, greatly complicating the situation.

I appreciate fact that our position is being formulated on urgent basis (Deptel 1271)6 and that Congo is by no means only serious situation confronting Department. However, my concern is increased by Deptel information 13257 and Burgess reply (Polto 978)8 which suggest there may be delay of several weeks before we re-think our Congo policy.

I am fully aware of number and difficulties of issues involved. However, there is great time pressure on us both in Belgium and in Congo. I therefore suggest that you give consideration to recalling Timberlake and me for immediate consultation in order to help develop coherent and positive policy as soon as possible.9

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 770G.00/1–2361. Secret; Priority; Limit Distribution. Repeated to Léopoldville.
  2. Not found. The reference may be to telegrams 1345 or 1354 from Brussels. Telegram 1345, January 19, reported that Minister for African Affairs d’Aspremont was considering sending more Belgian officers to Léopoldville to act as advisers to Mobutu but that Ambassador Burden had persuaded him to postpone doing so. (Ibid., 770G.00/1–1961) Telegram 1354, January 20, reported that a number of white recruits for the Katanga gendarmerie had left Brussels the previous day. It noted that, although the Defense Ministry had apparently abetted this, d’Aspremont and Foreign Minister Wigny had not known about it in advance and had been apologetic when Burden complained. (Ibid., 770G.00/1–2061)
  3. Dated January 14. (Ibid., 770G.00/1–1461)
  4. See footnote 1 above.
  5. Telegram 1293 from Brussels, January 12, reported a discussion with Foreign Office Secretary General Jean van den Bosch concerning a request by Congolese Foreign Minister Bomboko for military assistance. Van den Bosch stated that Belgium was willing to provide the assistance but would not do so without U.S. support. (Department of State, Central Files, 770G.00/1–1261)Telegram 1341 to Brussels, January 22 (approved by Secretary Rusk), stated the Department had concluded that assistance outside the United Nations as requested by Bomboko would be unacceptable in terms of its risks to U.S. and Western interests. (Ibid., 770G.00/1–1861)
  6. Telegram 1271, January 14, stated that Bomboko’s request and Belgian willingness to agree to it posed a problem of the “gravest implications,” and instructed Burden to inform the Belgians the U.S. position was being formulated on an urgent basis. (Ibid., 770G.00/1–1261)
  7. Telegram 1325, January 19, repeated Topol 982 to Paris, which stated that the Department would prefer to have NATO Council discussion of the Congo deferred for a few weeks. (Ibid., 770.00/1–1861)
  8. Dated January 20. (Ibid., 770.00/1–2061)
  9. In telegram 1728 to Léopoldville, January 26, also sent to Brussels, Rusk requested that Timberlake and Burden return to Washington for consultations but not simultaneously: Timberlake should arrive by January 30 or 31 and Burden in early February. (Ibid., 770G.00/1–2361)