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

91251. Ref: Brussels 3731,2 3732.3 Subject: Letter from Secretary to FonMin Harmel.

1. Following is Secretary’s reply to Harmel letter contained your 3731:

Dear Mr. Minister:

It was a great pleasure to see you again in Brussels and participate with you in a NATO Council Meeting. The success of this meeting was due in large part to your efforts and I want you to know how much we all appreciate the time and thought you have given to making our Alliance an effective instrument for dealing with our common problems.

I have your message of December 23 regarding the renewed problems of the mercenaries and I wish to assure you of our concern and our realization of the seriousness of this situation as it affects Belgo-Congolese relations.

Our experience with the difficult and complex Congolese situation has taught us that our influence can only be productive when used with the greatest care and when we have taken the fullest account of the appropriate role for the United States. With regard to the present mercenary problem, we believe that the European governments whose nationals are involved should take the lead. This is not because we believe the situation is any less serious than you do but merely reflects our judgment as to how we can be most useful in attempting to resolve this complex problem.

I want to assure you that we will look for every opportunity to be of assistance. While the Vice President4 will be aware of the situation [Page 823] regarding the mercenaries, I do not think that it would be useful or wise for him to make a special démarche on this subject. If the opportunity arises as the result of Mobutu raising this matter, the Vice President will state that, while we hold no brief for the mercenaries, as a practical matter, we feel it would be to everyone’s best interest, including the Congo’s, if the mercenaries were permitted to return to Europe and thus rid Africa of this difficult problem.

One additional thought has occurred to us. Would it not be possible for private interests in Europe to launch a public appeal for funds to help rebuild Bukavu? A generous, dramatic effort of this kind might help to lift this entire problem from its present stale-mated political level to a new humanitarian plane. If this idea has merit and is practical, we should be glad to see what we can do informally with private interests on this side of the Atlantic.

Once again let me assure you that we will be looking for every opportunity to be of assistance and hope that your efforts with the other European states will be successful.

I sincerely hope that the new year will bring solutions to these difficult problems. Although our tasks are often hard, it is always a great pleasure to be able to work with you, and I look forward to our continued close cooperation. With warmest regards for the coming year.5

Sincerely, Dean Rusk

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 THE CONGO. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Palmer, cleared by Leddy in EUR and Katzenbach, and approved by Rusk. Repeated to Kinshasa, Kigali, London, Paris, and Niamey.
  2. Telegram 3731 from Brussels, December 23, transmitted a letter to the Secretary from Harmel expressing his concern over the fate of the mercenaries in Rwanda. Harmel emphasized that turning the mercenaries, including 52 Belgian citizens, over to the Congo with the risk that they might be executed would constitute an act of extreme gravity. Various European and African governments had already agreed to approach Mobutu, but without U.S. participation Harmel feared this action would be fruitless. Therefore, he asked that Vice President Humphrey speak to Mobutu during his visit to the Congo on January 4. (Ibid.)
  3. Dated December 23. (Ibid.)
  4. Vice President Humphrey made a 13-day trip to Africa, December 29–January 11, during which he visited nine African nations, including the Congo.
  5. In telegram 3793 from Brussels, December 29, Knight reported that he delivered the Secretary’s letter to Harmel. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 23–9 THE CONGO)