395. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Belgium1

1667. This tel provides basis for discussion with Belgians of kind of OAU political solution we could both accept and persuade GDRC to accept without damage to any of our basic interests. It should be regarded as indicative of our current thinking, not as plan to which we committed in every detail. Moreover, it does not deal with tactics for its implementation, which would be subject subsequent discussions once elements of an acceptable plan were agreed. It also does not deal with actions we should take to get Tshombe to take further steps to improve his relations with OAU and African leaders. (We attach great importance to this aspect and believe, for example, that it would be useful for him to contact not only moderate leaders but also Nkrumah to take advantage of possible favorable developments.)

Combination of circumstances now exists offering reasonable opportunity for political settlement in Congo consonant with GDRC’s basic interests and not inimical those of GOB and US. Main elements these circumstances are: (1) GDRC’s position of relative military strength vis-à-vis rebels and (2) new initiative by OAU Congo Commission to cooperate with GDRC in dealing with Congo problem.

Failure of Tshombe to exploit present generally favorable circumstances would leave him with no alternative but to seek additional military aid to suppress rebellion strengthened by continuing assistance from radical Africans (and indirectly from Communists), thus raising problem escalation. As thinly disguised South African and Portuguese military aid to Tshombe becomes more apparent, it is possible more and more African countries would side with rebels. Thus, unless GDRC gets on political track promptly, we are likely be confronted with following highly undesirable prospects: escalation; increasing isolation of US and Belgians in de facto alliance with Tshombe, South Africans, Portuguese and Rhodesians; and difficult choice between increasing aid and disengaging, both of which would involve risks we wish avoid. In light these considerations and fact that even if we took on increased military and political burden we would still have no assurance solution [Page 574] to Congo problem would result, we strongly favor seeking political solution and desire maximize chances of achieving one.

Crucial period will be between arrival of OAU subcommittee in Leopoldville, anticipated Feb. 7, and Feb. 26 meeting of OAU FonMins. During this period OAU Commission will be developing national conciliation plan for Congo. Sooner we and Belgians can decide on elements we could accept in such plan, more likely we are to be able influence GDRC and OAU in right direction.

It is evident that to obtain political solution some political concessions would have to be made to radical countries supporting rebels. Believe, however, plan could be worked out which would keep both military and political risks for GDRC within acceptable bounds. Moreover, chances for gaining acceptance for such plan would be greatly increased if GDRC could take forthcoming attitude toward OAU efforts and give moderates something to work with. Even if effort failed, GDRC would have enhanced its position with moderates and shifted onus for intransigence to rebels and their supporters.

Any plan will presumably be based on four principal elements of OAU and SC resolution: (1) nonintervention, (2) cease-fire, (3) withdrawal of mercenaries, and (4) national reconciliation. Maximum objective of rebels and their supporters would be plan which would (1) call for discontinuance of all military assistance to GDRC without interfering with covert military assistance to rebels; (2) place responsibility for initiating cease-fire on GDRC; (3) insist on immediate, unconditional withdrawal of mercenaries; and (4) propose government of national reconciliation excluding Tshombe as Prime Minister and including rebel leaders which would set date and determine conditions for national elections. On other hand, maximum objective of GDRC and its supporters would be plan which would: (1) bar aid to rebels but permit continued assistance to GDRC; (2) place responsibility for cease-fire on rebels; (3) allow GDRC to maintain effectiveness of its armed forces, including mercenaries as long as militarily necessary; and (4) retain Tshombe as PM but exclude rebel leaders from pre-election government and proceed with elections only where GDRC fully in control.

Both we and Belgians have consistently advocated political solution which recognizes GDRC sovereignty and territorial integrity of Congo. Political solution means negotiations between GDRC and OAU and therefore inevitably compromise between positions set out above.

Following are some ideas which we believe acceptable from point of view of GDRC basic interests as well as Belgo-US interests. They should be viewed as package since neither GDRC nor rebels could be expected to accept elements adverse to them without compensating [Page 575] concessions from other side, nor could either be expected to accept cease-fire plan without machinery to police it.

(1) Cease-fire: GDRC and rebels would declare publicly their willingness to abide by cease-fire as soon as all parts of OAU plan for implementing it were agreed to by all parties concerned and observers were in place. (Cease-fire would, of course, not prevent either party from dealing with disturbances of public order in territories under their control. Nor would it prevent GDRC, perhaps in consultation with OAU, from securing help to develop long-run capability for maintaining internal security on its own.)

(2) Nonintervention: Plan for implementing cease-fire would call on all OAU members on one hand to cooperate with cease-fire by not supplying or permitting supply of arms or ammunition to rebels, and on other hand call for suspension of all further outside military assistance to GDRC’s combat forces as long as cease-fire in effect. For their parts, GDRC and rebels would agree neither to request nor receive military assistance for duration of cease-fire. Plan would also provide for agreement of GDRC, rebel authorities, and neighboring countries to permit stationing in areas under their control of observers from OAU, and possibly UN, to check on implementation of these agreements. Suspension of all outside military assistance would be effective as soon as observers in place and cease-fire in effect. To assure that individual observers were acceptable to GDRC and other party concerned, lists would be presented in advance for their approval.

(3) Mercenaries: GDRC would agree to phase out mercenaries as rapidly as it could obtain substitutes to help maintain internal security, which it would agree to try to obtain from OAU countries of its own choice. OAU Commission would urge countries receiving GDRC requests for troops or police to comply promptly to extent possible. (We would like Belgian views on what countries would be acceptable to GDRC and estimate of number of troops they could provide.)

(4) National Reconciliation: GDRC would agree to proceed with national reconciliation by holding national elections in March as announced in all areas where security situation permits. It would reiterate its offer of amnesty to those who laid down their arms and allow all citizens to participate in elections on same basis, including rebels who are abiding by cease-fire. In rebel areas, ad hoc arrangements for temporary administration during pre-election period would be worked out on local basis with approval of central government. For their part, rebels would agree to seek representation in government of national reconciliation through electoral process. They would not insist on “round-table” or formation, before elections, of government of national reconciliation excluding Tshombe and including rebels. (However, part of the bargaining process may result in some commitment by [Page 576] GDRC to include “rehabilitated” rebels in post-election cabinet.) GDRC would also inform OAU of its intention to invite certain OAU countries, as well as UN SYG, to send observers. All parties would agree in principle to accept results of elections.

Presumably, there would need to be sweeteners on both sides. On GDRC side, in light of apparently satisfactory settlement of contentieux, one sweetener might be acceleration and expansion of Belgian technical assistance to Congo. This might place particular emphasis on prompt introduction “equipes polyvalentes” to help maintain order in all areas where circumstances permit their employment. On OAU side, sweetener might include US offers of logistical support for OAU observer teams, airlift to bring African troops to Congo and some financial support for African troops and/or police while in Congo. (We are not in position to make any commitments on these points but would explore ways and means once general agreement on plan reached.) On rebel side, effort to sell this package may take form of some enticement to disenchanted rebels to break away from Gbenye leadership. It would also include assurances to OAU that US would take steps to assure that cease-fire was not broken through use of US-supplied aircraft for combat operations.

Clearly it would be unwise to put forward at this or any other time a “Belgo-US plan”. It seems to us essential that there be considerable African palaver on this subject as means of educating both sides to realities. Meanwhile it is equally essential that we and Belgians in first instance and perhaps British at a later date determine in our own mind limits to which we feel we can go and still get a livable political solution. We should also consider means of persuading, when the time comes, both the GDRC and the OAU to agree on a reasonable solution as well as to take into account the alternatives. Approach to OAU would be through selected moderates. We would also have to consider what steps we might urge moderates to take outside OAU if OAU effort should break down.2

With this in mind you should, as soon as feasible, explore these ideas with appropriate Belgian officials, stressing rationale and need to keep discussions strictly confidential to avoid leaks, and seeking their views and suggestions.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Congo, Vol. XI, Memos & Miscellaneous, 1/65–9/65. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Leopoldville. The telegram is attached to a February 8 memorandum from Komer to Bundy. Komer stated that this was the outline plan he had stimulated for a political settlement of the Congo issue which protected the essential position of the GDRC, although many aspects would be painful to Tshombe and Kasavubu. He noted that the important thing was to find a way to close out this affair without letting it escalate or the United States get over-committed.
  2. In telegram 2899 from Leopoldville, February 9, Godley agreed that early Congolese discussions with other African states and the OAU regarding a political solution in the Congo could be desirable, but commented that it would be extremely hard to convince the Congolese to accept any cease-fire to which the rebels were legally a party or to allow rebel leaders like Gbenye to stand for election. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL 23–9 THE CONGO)