285. Memorandum of Conversation0

SUBJECT

  • United States-Somali Relations

PARTICIPANTS

  • Somali
    • Prime Minister Abdirascid Ali Scermarche
    • Foreign Minister Abdullahi Issa Mohamud
    • Ambassador to the U.S. Omar Mohallim Mohamed
    • Ambassador to Ethiopia Abdulrahim Abbey Farah
    • Deputy in the National Assembly Michael Mariano
    • Deputy in the National Assembly Abdinur Mohamed Hussein
  • United States
    • The President
    • Deputy Administrator, AID, Frank M. Coffin
    • Assistant Secretary G. Mennen Williams
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary Henry J. Tasca
    • Chief of Protocol, Angier Biddle Duke
    • Director, Office of Northern African Affairs, William Witman II

The President welcomed the Prime Minister and asked his judgment on events in East Africa, as well as how he felt relations between Somalia and the United States could be improved.

Prime Minister Abdirascid thanked the President for the opportunity of expressing views on problems of interest to both countries, which he would do with the President’s indulgence in a frank and direct manner. He asked that it first be established, however, that the Somalis were grateful for American interest and support both before and after independence.

The Prime Minister went on to say that Somalia could not solve its problems by itself; it needed the help of the developed countries, especially the United States as a world leader. Somalia’s problems were political, economic and social. Political independence was not enough if the country did not advance with economic development, especially for such a backward country as Somalia.

Abdirascid then gave an historical account of the “artificial and unjust” division of Somali lands during the last century into five parts by Italy, Great Britain (2 parts), France and Ethiopia. The greatest hope of [Page 451]the Somali people was for reunification, but the Somali Constitution condemns all manifestations of violence. He felt there was a necessity for good offices or mediation by friendly states, and hoped the U.S. could be helpful. Ethiopia toward the end of the last century had incorporated a large part of Somali territory, and was using troops against the Somali population. These troops were equipped with arms furnished by the United States. He said he had told the U.S. Embassy the U.S. should stop the moral and material aid it was providing Ethiopia against the defenseless Somali people. The Government knew what the U.S. explanation was, but it was very difficult to explain to the man-in-the-street that the U.S. was furnishing arms to Ethiopia. The Prime Minister appealed to the President as the highest authority in the United States to stop furnishing arms to Ethiopia. He added that Ethiopia was also encouraging the Kenyans not to come to terms with Somalia over the Northern Frontier District. In the interest of avoiding a new Congo situation, he hoped the U.S. would intervene with Kenya before independence to transfer the Somali-inhabited area to Somalia.

President Kennedy replied that the problem of arms for Ethiopia was a difficult one. We had had similar situations elsewhere as in the Pakistan-India dispute over Kashmir. We would attempt to prevent the use of our equipment against the other. We recognized that as long as Ethiopia possessed the important territory Somalia claimed, relations between the two countries would be complicated. Our assistance to Ethiopia was begun long before Somalia became independent, and was not related to Somalia in any way. We would like to see relations with Ethiopia improved but were not sure what the U.S. could do. The Kashmir dispute had gone on for 14 years, but we were not able to influence it. Nor the Pak-Afghan, Thai-Cambodian, Ecuador-Peru, even Cuba-U.S. disputes. There was tremendous popular feeling, and we were not able to settle them as we would have liked to see them settled. Perhaps the UN could help. But it was beyond the resources of a single country like the U.S. to solve all problems, especially those going back in time. We could only try to minimize differences, and try to keep a balance. The President noted that we were providing relatively large economic assistance for Somalia in addition to the obligations of the Italians and British which they should fulfill. We were anxious to see the problems between Somalia and Ethiopia settled, and would do anything we could.

Prime Minister Abdirascid remarked that he understood U.S. difficulties over good offices. Somalia was anxiously awaiting arms, but was not asking for arms just because Ethiopia was getting arms.

The President responded he would like to talk to the Prime Minister about how we might assist Somalia in this area. (Abdirascid did not take the President up on this point.) The President then went on to cite the use by the Portuguese in Angola and the French in Algeria of NATO arms, [Page 452]and said he understood Somali irritation, but assured the Prime Minister we would attempt to prevent the wrong use of the arms we were giving Ethiopia. He reiterated that we would be glad to talk to see if we could be of any assistance to Somalia. (Again Abdirascid seemed not to grasp the meaning of the President’s remark.) The President added that the Ethiopians alleged Somalia was getting arms from the UAR and the Soviets. The Prime Minister vigorously asserted that Somalia was getting absolutely no arms from the Soviets.

President Kennedy summarized this part of the discussion as follows:

a.
We would be glad to talk about any assistance we might give, and
b.
We would look again at the use of American equipment against the Somali people.

An Italian interpreter was used.

  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Countries Series, Somalia. Confidential. Drafted by Witman. The conversation was held at the White House. A memorandum of President Kennedy and Prime Minister Abdirascid’s discussion of U.S. economic assistance to Somalia on November 27 is ibid.