297. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Prospects for Ethiopian Development; Ethiopian-Somali Dispute; Portuguese African Territories and South Africa


  • U.S.
    • The President
    • Angier Biddle Duke, Chief of Protocol
    • J. Wayne Fredericks, Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
    • William J. Tonesk, Deputy Chief of Protocol
    • William B. Jones, Acting Chief Northern African Programs, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
  • Ethiopia
    • His Highness Assrate Kassa, President of the Senate of Ethiopia
    • Senator Lij Araya Abebe, Member of Senate of Ethiopia
    • Honorable Ato Tadele Yigezou, Member of Chamber of Deputies of Ethiopia
    • Mr. Tesfaye Roba, Charge d’Affaires, Embassy of Ethiopia

The President expressed his pleasure at the role played by Ethiopia in Africa and particularly of its leading role at the recent Addis conference. [Page 468] The President expressed gratitude for the fine welcome and response to the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.

Prospects for Ethiopian Development

The President asked the impression of His Highness on the prospects for the future of Ethiopia. His Highness replied that Ethiopia has a chance for a grand future, provided it receives help. Ethiopia is tied down by her economic needs and her inability to obtain finance for development. She is less fortunate than some other African countries in that she has not had the benefit of direct assistance during a colonial period. Ethiopia would welcome an increase in the size of the Peace Corps and they wish to explore the possibility of forming their own peace corps type organization. (Note: this point was discussed in some detail earlier when His Highness talked with Mr. Shriver.) They are also engaged in the exploration for minerals.

Ethiopia has a five-year development program, but at least one-half of the program must be based on outside financial aid.

Ethiopian-Somali Dispute

The President introduced the subject of the prospects for settling the dispute between Somalia and Ethiopia. His Highness remarked that it would be easier for Somalia to answer this question as they initiated the dispute. There is no way to settle the matter until Somalia changes its present inflexible “Greater Somalia” policy. The demands of Somalia cannot be met by Ethiopia. To accede to the Somali position would set a dangerous precedent in Africa as there are many countries which could have boundary disputes based on ethnic considerations. “Where would the mapping of Africa end if Somali claims are honored?” Ethiopia views arming Somalia as the arming of an aggressor. Ethiopia has no aggressive intent toward Somalia, there being no economic attraction. Ethiopia has no claims on Somalia and wants to pursue a policy of peaceful co-existence.

The President expressed concern at the direction Somalia might take and inquired where Somalia might go for arms.

His Highness stated that the Somalis are fanatical on the question of “Greater Somalia”. It would not surprise Ethiopia if Somalia turned east for arms and support. There is nothing the Somalis would not do in pursuing their aims. The world can’t afford to see a breach of peace which might lead to World War III. Somalia should be firmly told that her aims will not succeed. The idea of a “Greater Somalia” was originally started by certain foreign countries.

The President inquired if the reference was to the British, and received an affirmative reply. The President stated that the U.S. has no evidence that the British now hold these views. The President noted [Page 469] Somalia’s strategic location and expressed the hope that a peaceful settlement of Somalia’s disputes with Ethiopia and Kenya will be worked out.

His Highness asserted that there is little hope for settlement unless the Somalis change their view. Ethiopia has gone as far as possible in offering co-existence, including a plan whereby the various nomadic tribes would be free to use Ethiopian territory, but Somalia refused.

Portuguese African Territories and South Africa

In response to a question from the President concerning the situation in the Portuguese areas of Africa and in South Africa, His Highness described as “painful” Ethiopia’s decision to break relations with Portugal. Ethiopia has a long history of friendly relations with Portugal and offered to act as mediator in the present dispute. Her plan would have called for a continued Portuguese presence, but a gradual turning of control to the Africans with eventual independence. This was rejected by Portugal, so a break in relations between Ethiopia and Portugal was necessary. The situation looks very dangerous and it appears that unless Portugal modifies its positions there will be bloodshed.

Concerning South Africa, His Highness felt that there is apparently no hope at all. The South African government appears inflexible and this may lead to disastrous consequences. It is a more difficult situation than with Portugal.

The President wondered if success in South Rhodesia might help the situation in South Africa, to which the response was “this is dubious.”

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, POL 1 AFR. Confidential. Drafted by Jones and Fredericks on July 31 and approved in the White House on August 12. The conversation was held at the White House.

    Prior to this meeting on July 25, Komer sent President Kennedy a memorandum recommending that during the meeting Kennedy stress that domestic reform and development were Ethiopia’s prime needs, and that the United States was not backing Somali territorial ambitions, but attempting to retain a relationship with Somalia in order to prevent its leaning too heavily on the United Arab Republic, the Soviet Union, or the People’s Republic of China. (Kennedy Library, President’s Office Files, Ethiopia Security)