71. Editorial Note

The Communications Satellite Conference convened in Washington on July 21, 1964, and concluded an intergovernmental agreement that established organizational principles for the system and another agreement that provided for the commercial, financial, and technical operations of the system. The latter would be signed by COMSAT on behalf of the United States. Together, the two agreements provided a framework for a global commercial communication satellite system. (Memorandum from Rusk to President Johnson, July 24; Johnson Library, National Security File, Subject File, Communications (Nat’l Communications System, COMSAT, etc.), Vol. 1 [1 of 2])

The COMSAT Board, however, refused to convene, threatening the success of 6 months of negotiations. General O’Connell, in a July 28 memorandum for the record, described the problems: “many [Board members] were outspoken in their disagreement with actions taken by the management; the philosophy of the international consortium; the details of the international agreements; lack of information which had been furnished to the Board in the past; [and] pressure which had been put on the Board to make decisions prematurely or too rapidly.” (Ibid.) In a July 28 memorandum for McGeorge Bundy, O’Connell foresaw the possibility for “further adverse action,” including “Rejection by the Board of the International Agreement in toto and recommendation for unilateral U.S. action to put up a Comsat system” and “Refusal of this Board of Directors to act to approve the new International Agreement so that it may be signed by the United States.” (Ibid.)

Nonetheless, on July 24 the agreements were initialed by representatives from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Ireland, [Page 135] Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, the United States, and the Vatican. The documents would be open for signature for 6 months, beginning on August 19, 1964. (Circular airgram CA–1278, July 31; National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1964–66, TEL 6) For text of the agreement establishing the Interim Arrangements for a Global Commercial Communications Satellite System and the Special Agreement, signed at Washington and entered into force August 20, 1964, see American Foreign Policy: Current Documents, 1964, pages 1137–1154.

President Johnson spoke to the COMSAT Board on August 17, lauding the satellite system as one that would make possible 24-hour-per-day telephone service and the transmission of photo facsimile messages. “All the human knowledge stored in computers will be available in seconds to help solve problems half-a-world away.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1963–64, Book II, pages 971–972)