562. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Congo1

70801. For McBride from Katzenbach.

1. We deeply share concerns expressed in your recent messages re dilemma in which we may be placed as result recent GDRC and OAU decisions and actions re Katgens and mercs. Problem arises most immediately in connection Mobutu’s request for US planes to repatriate those Katgens who have expressed willingness return to Congo. Any refusal on our part likely immediately jeopardize our relationships with GDRC; at same time, our agreement could be tantamount to delivering some or all to highly arbitrary future.

2. As I am sure you are also aware, problems posed for us transcend any decision re use US aircraft. While it remains to be seen what position is taken by ICRC/Geneva re procedures followed in consulting Katgens Cyangugu [sic] and re future ICRC role, all current indications are that these procedures would not bear international scrutiny on humanitarian lines. From this viewpoint, therefore, it is largely irrelevant whether Katgens return to Congo in US, Congolese, or other aircraft, or whether they proceed by surface. To US and world opinion principal concern will be whether they go back of their own free will and are accorded genuine protection under meaningful amnesty arrangements.

3. I recognize how difficult it is to get Mobutu and members his government to look at this problem from foregoing point of view. I realize also extreme strain to which US-GDRC relationship and your own personal relations with Mobutu have been put as result developments last few months. At same time, I believe it essential that Mobutu should be fully aware of public outcry that will undoubtedly result in this country and elsewhere in Western world if he deals with these people summarily. (Among important elements here, any such summary treatment will inevitably be complicated by concerns re summary justice accorded to Tshombe.)

4. Any such development as foregoing would be unfortunate at any time but it would be doubly so at moment. GDRC, with strong US support, has just won important victory in SC and Portuguese have received [Page 815] strong setback. Any arbitrary actions at this time by GDRC would be bound to jeopardize much of sympathy and good will which Congo has gained and would play directly into Portuguese hands. We do not believe this in interest of Congo or its friends.

5. Drawing as appropriate on foregoing, you should see Mobutu soonest. You should make following points clear on instructions from your government:

(A) Mobutu must find means in his own interest of making unmistakably clear to world that Katgens are being given free choice re their destinations, that those who elect to return to Congo will have full amnesty and complete protection and that those who proceed to other African destinations will similarly be protected.

(B) Towards this end, he must do everything required to reengage ICRC in impartially ascertaining desires of Katgens, leaving to ICRC determination whether they return to Congo or accept asylum in some other country.

(C) He must take whatever diplomatic steps are required to request receiving African countries to accept Katgens.

(D) Under these conditions and if other countries participate, USG will assist ICRC with transport for movement of Katgens.

(E) In absence such arrangements, USG can neither furnish aircraft nor utilize existing aircraft in Congo in way which would release Congolese transport for this purpose.

(F) Mobutu should be fully aware that any effort to repatriate Katgens under circumstances which do not meet humanitarian considerations involved will probably provoke reaction in US which will render impossible continuation level of support we have rendered Congo in past. As hard as we find this to say to him, we must make point in frankness and friendship.

6. I realize this is strong medicine but I see no alternative. However your conversation turns out, I want you to know how greatly we have admired patient and skillful way in which you have dealt with these elusive and frustrating problems. Good luck.2

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 THE CONGO. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Palmer; cleared by Katzenbach, Colonel Kennedy, Congo Country Director John A. McKesson, Admiral Moore in JC Staff J–3, and Colonel Bachtell in JC Staff J–5; and approved by Palmer. Repeated to Brussels, the Mission in Geneva, Kigali, and CINCSTRIKE.
  2. In telegram 5718 from Kinshasa, November 17, McBride stated that after he carried out the instructions in telegram 70801, he doubted he would be of much further use in Kinshasa. (Ibid.) Telegram 70931 to Kinshasa, November 17, responded that the Department deeply appreciated the problems this posed for the Ambassador and that paragraph 5(F) was not a threat but a prediction of the possible consequences of the domestic situation the U.S. Government might face. (Ibid.)