266. Memorandum of Conversation0
- Call on the President by Dr. Saidou Conte, Special Representative of Guinean President
- The President
- G. Mennen Williams, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
- Edmond C. Hutchinson, Deputy Administrator for AID
- William C. Trimble, Director, Office of West Coast and Malian Affairs
- Mrs. Sophia Porson, Interpreter
- Dr. Saidou Conte, Minister of Youth, Education and Culture
- Karim Bangoura, Ambassador of Guinea
The President welcomed Minister Conte and asked him how it felt to be back in the United States. The Minister replied that it seemed as though he had never left. In reply to the President’s further question, Minister Conte said that he had a great deal of work to do in Guinea since he is responsible for education and youth affairs, but that he found it very exciting.
The President then asked after President Toure. Minister Conte said that his President was very well, that they had left Guinea on the same day, himself to Washington and the President on his way to Nigeria but that he should be back in Guinea by now.
Minister Conte said that he was very happy to be back in Washington and to have a chance to see his many good friends here. He explained that his Government and President Toure had asked him to come to the United States on a mission of friendship, and that he brought with him a message from President Toure to President Kennedy. His visit marks the occasion of the opening of the American Fair in Guinea which the Guineans consider to be a major event and to which they attach great importance. He also wished to take advantage of his trip here to go over economic relations between Guinea and the United States. He added that the Government of Guinea would be happy to receive any representatives to the Fair that the United States Government might care to send. He said that the Government of Guinea was very pleased to learn that Mr. Shriver had been appointed as representative, and was looking forward to having both Mr. and Mrs. Shriver in Conakry. Governor Williams said that he understood that Mrs. Shriver would be unable to go to Guinea as she had previously accepted an engagement to deliver a speech at that time under the auspices of the Mental Health Foundation. The President said he would look into the matter.
The President then asked Minister Conte about Guinea’s economy. Minister Conte replied that it is getting off the ground, but that the situation is not brilliant. There are serious economic problems as President Toure had described on his most recent visit to the United States and these difficulties are increasing because Guinea’s relations with the USSR and, as a matter of fact, all the Bloc countries are poor and are getting even worse.
The President inquired as to the percentage of Guinea’s exports going to the Bloc. Minister Conte said it was difficult to give an exact figure but he estimated it at around 30% to 35% and that it might be as high as 40%. This is Guinea’s great problem, because this 40% cannot be sold elsewhere to earn hard currency and, thus, in effect, is blocked. Therefore, a considerable part of Guinea’s production is mortgaged for some time ahead since it has long-term credit arrangements with the Bloc based on barter agreements. In reply to a further question Minister Conte said that arrears to the Bloc covering the last three years amount to some [Page 417] $40 million to $48 million; and, of course, these arrears continue to accumulate from year to year.
The President then inquired about Guinea’s relations with France. The Minister said that a French mission had visited Guinea and the Government of Guinea had sent one mission to France. The two governments are now examining the points at issue between them, and the Government of Guinea believes that they will soon reach a solution. He pointed out that since 1958 Guinea has received no aid at all from France, and moreover, that Guinea had had to pay out of its own funds military pensions which the French Government should have paid. France owes Guinea some G.Fr. 6 billion, i.e., $24 million, for these pensions.
Reverting to relations with the Bloc, the President asked how Guinea expected to pay off its debt to the USSR. The Minister answered that Guinea cannot mortgage all of its exports, because it must live and thus export elsewhere to earn hard currency. The USSR has been told and the latter must understand that this is a credit which Guinea will pay off within its production capabilities, but that some of the production must be used to earn hard currency.
The President asked how Guinea planned to earn hard currency to improve its balance of payments. Minister Conte said that Guinea hopes to do it in three ways: 1) When their differences with France are settled, the $24 million owed by France will be paid over; 2) By increasing agricultural and mineral production. In this connection the Government of Guinea and FRIA have agreed that FRIA is to increase its output this year, thus increasing Guinea’s earnings; 3) Through aid from friendly countries. He mentioned that besides FRIA, Guinea is now negotiating with the Harvey Aluminum Company for the export of bauxite.
The President asked what products Guinea exports to the Bloc. Minister Conte replied that they largely consist of agricultural products such as coffee and bananas.
The President inquired what Guinea received from the Bloc in return. The Minister replied that this was a real problem for Guinea. The Bloc furnishes some food products, but mostly equipment, and the difficulty is that the Bloc equipment is not suited to Guinea’s climate. In fact, it is not unusual to see Soviet equipment lying alongside the roads because it does not work. He said that the principal types of equipment supplied were tractors, vehicles and maintenance equipment. The most serious problem is with the vehicles; they do not work at all. The result is that Guinea is losing on two counts: first, because exports don’t earn foreign exchange, and secondly because the equipment can’t be used. He added that Guinea has made this quite clear to the USSR.
President Kennedy said that we are trying to do what we can to help Guinea solve its economic problems. He said that he takes a great interest in Guinea; he was aware of problems with the USSR and to its still [Page 418] unsettled differences with France, and appreciated both put Guinea at a disadvantage. We are trying to do what we can, although we may not have been able to do as much as we would like. We are trying to obtain enough dollars to be able to meet our responsibilities around the world. We are hopeful that we can do something for Guinea, but we must wait to see what action the Congress will take. He trusted that the negotiations with France will work out as this would be very helpful. For our part, the President repeated we shall do what we can for Guinea.
Minister Conte thanked the President and said that Guinea realizes that the United States has many commitments around the world, and is most grateful for what the United States has done for it. Guinea is asking for more assistance, but it is because Guinea believes that it has given proof of its courage and because Guinea believes that a nation must first help itself. The purpose of foreign assistance is to help a nation to help itself. For this reason, American aid helps Guinea increase its own efforts. He then expressed the Government of Guinea’s thanks to the United States Government and AID for their assistance which, he said, has been very effective. He concluded by handing the President a letter from President Toure.
The President thanked Minister Conte for the message and asked him to convey his best regards to President Toure.
- Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Guinea, 5/63. Confidential. Drafted by Porson and Trimble. The conversation was held at the White House.↩