313. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Congo


  • Governor Harriman
  • H.E. Paul-Henri Spaak, Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Belgian Ambassador Scheyven
  • Viscount Etienne Davignon, Chef de Cabinet of Belgian Foreign Minister
  • Emile Indekeu, Political Counselor of Belgian Embassy
  • G. Mennen Williams, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
  • Wayne Fredericks, Dep. Asst. Secretary for African Affairs
  • Joseph Palmer, Director General of the Foreign Service
  • Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson
  • Henry Tasca, Dep. Asst. Secretary for European Affairs
  • David McKillop, Director, Office of Western European Affairs
  • Frederic Chapin, Sp. Assistant to Governor Harriman
  • William Brubeck, White House
  • Ambassador to Belgium Douglas MacArthur
[Page 454]

Governor Harriman opened the discussion after dinner by pointing out that we felt that Tshombe or Kasavubu should be induced to make some gesture as a contribution to the security of foreigners in Stanleyville and to improve relations with other African countries. Since, as Mr. Spaak had earlier pointed out, Tshombe had recently made a statement which was not helpful, being somewhat too belligerent in tone, he would like to have Mr. Spaak’s further thinking on what should now be done.

Mr. Spaak replied that the military situation was better and if it were not for the hostages in Stanleyville, he would say let the military situation take its normal course. However, we do not know what may happen to our nationals if the rebels lose their heads completely. In Leopoldville the problem is not with Tshombe himself but lies in the fact that a number of people have influence upon him, such as Munongo, as well as a number of Belgians who do not fall under the Belgian director of technical assistance. They are former friends of his from the Katanga and they do not always give him the best of advice.

Mr. Spaak went on to say that after Kindu a few days will be needed to consolidate the ANC forces. He knew that Gbenye had been telegraphing messages in all directions to the effect that the Americans and Belgians are bombing civilians, but as far as he knew there have been no air attacks on towns except very limited action on Boende. Gbenye’s messages show that he is losing his head completely.

Mr. Spaak concurred that we should take advantage of the breathing spell after the taking of Kindu. He had read the text of the proposed declaration and felt that it should be made by Kasavubu rather than Tshombe since the former enjoyed better standing with the Africans; however, it would be better to have it made by Tshombe than to have no statement at all. After first reading the text he thought it was well put together and met the requirements of the situation. He had one comment. There was a sentence on page 3 which we would never get Kasavubu to accept. This was the sentence about sending OAU personnel to observe the elections. However, the most important thing was to get Kasavubu personally to make the declaration. Perhaps both embassies in Leopoldville could jointly try to “sell” this to Kasavubu.

In view of the enormous importance of this text Mr. Spaak wondered whether its delivery to Kasavubu should perhaps be entrusted to someone special other than our Ambassadors (there was at present no Belgian Ambassador in Leopoldville). Governor Harriman asked him if he had anyone particular in mind and Mr. Spaak indicated he would [Page 455] prefer that person to be an American. The Governor pointed out that we would prefer that special person to be a Belgian. Mr. Spaak stressed that it was not a refusal on his part to assume such a responsibility, rather the question was who was in a position to influence Kasavubu and he didn’t know the answer to that question. It developed that Mr. Van Bilsen, Director of Belgian technical assistance in the Congo, who had been Kasavubu’s adviser in earlier days, was the person Mr. Spaak had in mind. It was agreed that Mr. Van Bilsen, who is now in Brussels, would be contacted by Mr. Spaak upon the latter’s return to Brussels on November 10.

Turning to the military situation Governor Harriman said that the Van Der Walle column in Kindu would be reinforced as soon as possible so that it could then be decided whether it would launch an attack against Stanleyville. He understood that Mr. Spaak thought a direct attack would be better if it were not for the hostages whose security was a paramount consideration.

Mr. Spaak pointed out that for an attack on Stanleyville timing was very important because of the 800 Europeans there, some 30 of whom were Americans and about 500 Belgians.

Governor Harriman said that Tshombe knows that he must have Belgian-U.S. agreement before he makes an attack. The question was whether one should keep pressure against the rebels or not since experience shows that when the rebels are under pressure generally they do not mistreat foreigners but tend to be rough when things are going well for them.

Mr. Spaak said that Van Der Walle knew he must make no move against Stanleyville without warning us first. However, we have very little control over the column approaching Stanleyville from Boende, as this column is led by South African mercenaries. We must confirm to Van Der Walle that he can make no move on Stanleyville without letting us know. The distance of 250 miles that separates Kindu from Stanleyville is a very important factor because as the ANC troops advance Gbenye may lose control over the rebels who may panic and lose their heads completely. Mr. Spaak stated very strongly that Tshombe must be told emphatically that he can make no move against Stanleyville without prior notification. To a question about safety of the hostages in Stanleyville, Mr. Spaak replied that the danger in Stanleyville was not so much from Gbenye or Soumialot personally but rather that they might lose control over the forces they had unleashed. It could well be that ANC troops advancing against Stanleyville would create general panic over which rebel leaders would have no control. He had thought of recalling Van Der Walle to Brussels for consultation and for an appraisal of the Stanleyville situation. So far we had been extremely fortunate [Page 456] in Albertville, Uvira and Kindu. The action had been so fast the rebels had not had time to kill hostages.

Mr. Brubeck suggested that we find out Van Der Walle’s estimates of the value of an air strike on Stanleyville using blank ammunition at the time of his column’s land attack on the town.

Returning to his thought of recalling Van Der Walle to Brussels for consultation, Mr. Spaak expressed his uncertainty over this idea, as well as his feeling that the operation against Stanleyville must be a lightning fast strike.

Davignon suggested that the Belgians send their military attaché to talk to Van Der Walle, after which he would come to Brussels to make his report. Davignon commented that Tshombe dislikes Van Bilsen and that Rothschild could conceivably accompany Van Bilsen when he calls on Tshombe. This could be considered a normal step because both have responsibilities for technical assistance.

Mr. Spaak indicated he might suggest that Rothschild accompany Van Bilsen. He went on to say that we should tell Kasavubu that we are always ready to help technically and militarily but that the proposed declaration was an essential preliminary to the military operation and needed to create doubt in the minds of the rebels. Monmart (Belgian Military Attaché in the Congo) would be sent to Kindu to see Van Der Walle to explain to him that if he moves on Stanleyville it must be a lightning fast strike because delays can have very grave consequences. Mr. Spaak believed that we had time for such consultation since Van Der Walle will require a few days to reorganize his forces.

Governor Harriman said that we welcomed these Belgian initiatives.

Mr. Spaak also indicated that another danger was that in Leopoldville there were people who were not greatly concerned over the fate of the 800 Europeans. Munongo was one who advocated a policy of brute force. Mr. Spaak thought that the U.S. and Belgium should hold fast and tell Kasavubu that the declaration must be made.

After summing up the procedures outlined above Mr. Spaak indicated that there were other things that could also be done by the Congo Government, such as sending some emissaries to other African countries on explanatory missions.

Returning to the questions of Tshombe, Governor Harriman was assured by Davignon that Montmart in previous talks with Tshombe had gained Tshombe’s acceptance of the idea that no operations against Stanleyville would be undertaken without letting us know. Montmart had also talked with Mobutu and Kasavubu. They as well as Tshombe agreed that the military must proceed to Stanleyville but they fully appreciate the problem that we (U.S. and Belgium) are faced with.

[Page 457]

Ambassador Palmer suggested getting the Nigerians to support the idea of a Kasavubu declaration. Davignon suggested the Ethiopians in addition. Tshombe, he asserted, respects the Ethiopians who helped him at Addis Ababa. Mr. Brubeck suggested that in addition to the Nigerians, the Tunisians and the Ethiopians be asked to recommend to Kasavubu that he make the proposed declaration. Davignon pointed out that Arab countries such as Tunisia are out as far as Tshombe is concerned. Governor Harriman agreed that Tunisia should not be approached but that the Nigerians and Ethiopians should be urged to tell Kasavubu that it is essential he make such a declaration.

On the question of individuals to be sent by the Congo Government as emissaries to other African countries, Mr. Spaak thought it was all right to send Langema as he was on good terms with Tshombe and had performed missions for Tshombe before, but we should guard against being too specific about whom we should like to have sent and merely point out in general terms that we feel such missions would be most useful. For example, if we should mention Bomboko, Tshombe, Nendaka, and Mobutu might object.

Mr. Fredericks suggested getting the Zambians to play a part also.

  1. Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Harriman Papers, Subject Files, Spaak, Paul-Henri. Confidential. Drafted by McKillop. Belgian Foreign Minister Spaak was in Washington November 8–9 to discuss the crisis in the Congo.