482. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • HarmelPalmer Talks


  • Belgian Foreign Minister Harmel
  • Viscount Etienne Davignon, Chef de Cabinet, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belgium
  • Ambassador Scheyven, Belgian Ambassador to the US
  • Mr. Lion, Minister, Belgian Embassy, Washington
  • Mr. de Schoutheets, Member of Foreign Minister Harmel’s Party
  • Mr. Rens, Press Aide, Belgian Embassy, Washington
  • US Side
  • Mr. Palmer
  • Mr. Anderson, EUR/FBX
  • Mr. Schaufele, AFCM
  • Mr. Katzen, AFCM

Foreign Minister Harmel and his aides called on Mr. Palmer to discuss relations among our two countries and the Congo (Kinshasa).

Mr. Palmer and Minister Harmel agreed that “emotionalism” has been the basis for many recent decisions by President Mobutu. Mr. Palmer characterized the Congolese President as possessed by an “impetuous” tendency to carry things to the extreme without paying any attention to the consequences. He cited the difficulties which friendly powers such as Belgium and the United States have experienced in extending advice to Mobutu, who often arrives at decisions without consulting his Foreign Minister and others. Mr. Palmer underscored the Congolese clumsiness in their effort to indict Portugal at the Security Council, noting that such was especially foolish given the Congolese and Zambian need to use the Benguela Railroad.

Foreign Minister Harmel noted that poor administration and economic instability remain the Congo’s endemic long-range problems. According to Harmel, there are already “too many Belgians” helping in Congolese administrative functions. He prescribed the establishment of a “government planning office”, with an international staff, to cope with the myriad of Congolese administrative and economic woes.

Mr. Harmel was pessimistic concerning the next ten years for the Congo. Mr. Palmer added that, despite the need for such institutions as [Page 706] “planning offices”, short-run stability remains a key problem. For this reason, the USG supports continued assistance to the ANC and public safety programs. Mr. Schaufele cited the ANC’s recent performance in Kisangani as an example that such assistance pays off. Viscount Davignon indicated that the Belgian military technicians would not share this view but agreed that their standards were unrealistically high. Mr. Harmel noted that Belgium is agreeable to continuing support in these fields, despite the fact that Belgian officers seem always to be accused by the Congolese as representing various rival factions rather than being considered as neutral advisors. For this reason in the future, Belgian military are to serve strictly in training and advisory capacities, although military transport pilots and others are to remain. Similarly, the Belgian police program is expected to continue at its present level.

Concerning other aid, Foreign Minister Harmel advised that Belgium will retain its 3.5 billion Belgian franc global support to the Congo. Of this amount, approximately 1 billion BF will go for education, health, and agriculture. Should the Congo cause Belgium to incur expenses without the latter’s concurrence, however, these costs will be deducted from the remaining approximately 2.5 billion BF. The GDRC has agreed to seek to fill the 250 million BF “gap” between the 3.5 billion BF Belgian aid and the anticipated Congolese budget, by turning to international organizations or through budgetary acrobatics.

Secretary Palmer noted that one positive measure of the Mobutu regime has been the improvement in the Congo’s relations with its neighbors. Mr. Palmer saw the return of Tshombe as leading to a setback of these good relations, with the possibility that dissident movements again would start up at the Congo’s borders. Mr. Harmel stated that Belgium seeks to continue good relations with all former Congolese prime ministers, recognizing that one never can be sure who next may become Premier. Mr. Harmel emphasized that the GOB nevertheless continues to dissuade Belgian support for Tshombe from whatever quarter. As evidence of this attitude, Mr. Harmel cited the fact that Brussels has asked Tshombe not to reside in Belgium because of his continuing proclivity to engage in political activities. Harmel was particularly laudatory about Mr. Adoula, who is “realistic and intelligent,” and recommended him to the U.S.

Mr. Harmel suggested that the USG might prevail upon friendly participants at the forthcoming OAU conference in Addis Ababa in an effort to urge a moderate Mobutu stance towards Europeans. Mr. Palmer agreed that this was advisable, but noted that extreme caution was necessary in order to prevent such an effort from becoming known to the GDRC. He added, moreover, that Africans on their own are beginning to counsel Mobutu moderation, as witnessed by their advising modification of the Congolese resolution against Portugal at the UN.

[Page 707]

Mr. Harmel thanked Mr. Palmer for the USG’s moral and political assistance. He concluded that, with hopeless elements such as Litho, the key need for the Congo was to translate written reforms and idealistic statements into action. He added that his meetings with Bomboko seemed to be going along nicely although it appeared that we were more optimistic over the Congo than he, Harmel, was. Mr. Palmer noted that the USG has no desire to replace the Belgians in the Congo and expressed the hope that this has been made adequately clear to Mobutu. In parting, both agreed that it is most important at the present time to bolster the Congolese confidence in the Belgians and the Americans and for us “to get on the same wave length” as the Congolese.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1964–66, POL THE CONGO–US. Confidential. Drafted by Jay K. Katzen on October 13.