214. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (De Palma) to Secretary of State Rogers 1


  • U Thant’s Decision to Retire

The attached message reporting Ambassador Bush’s talk with U Thant May 252 appears to provide all the clarification we need regarding [Page 385]the Secretary General’s intentions. While he did not say he would refuse to be drafted he did state unequivocally that his decision to retire at the end of this term is “final”. He made the same statement May 25 to a conference of non-governmental organizations in New York. Accordingly, I see no need for another approach to U Thant as we were contemplating in the message which was sent to the White House for clearance. That message has been recalled.

I do, however, believe we should promptly get the word out that we are satisfied the rumors about U Thant’s availability for another term are without foundation. After the usual expressions of appreciation for his period of service, we could indicate that we are convinced it will be necessary to face up to the question of a successor this fall, that there are a number of qualified candidates and others who may yet become available and that we shall have to begin looking seriously at their prospects for election.

In response to questions about our choice, we would state that we have made no decision but that, while it will be difficult, we feel it should be possible to reach agreement in the first instance among the Permanent Members on a worthy and strong successor.

I have agreed to see Henry Tanner of the New York Times Thursday, May 27. I do not know what he wants to discuss other than “UN matters”. If you agree, I could steer the conversation toward this question and, on background, make the points indicated above.

I also suggest that Ambassador Bush be authorized to inform the UK and French Permanent Representatives of his talk with U Thant and of our intention to undertake a serious study of the qualifications and prospects of possible successors. He could state that we will want to consult them closely in due time regarding tactics for dealing with the Soviets on this matter.


That I be authorized along the above lines to discuss with Henry Tanner our interest in a successor to U Thant.
That Ambassador Bush be authorized to discuss this matter along the same lines with the UK and French Representatives.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, UN 8–3. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by De Palma.
  2. Telegram 1378 from USUN, May 25; attached but not printed.
  3. Rogers initialed his approval of both recommendations on May 26. Authorization for Bush to discuss the succession question with the British and French Representatives was sent to him in telegram 93937 to USUN, May 28. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 300, Agency Files, USUN, Vol. VI)