47. Telegram From the Mission to the United Nations to the Department of State1

748. Subj: Trip to Africa by Committee of 24.

Shaw (UK) told MISOFF Mar. 11 UKUN had received word from London that UK has decided not to participate in Committee of 24 trip to Africa this year. UKUN had raised question with London few weeks ago when Committee Chairman Mestiri queried UKUN on its intentions re participation in trip, in connection with possible invitation by Mestiri for Committee to visit Tunisia (USUN 305).2 Shaw said UK did not intend inform Mestiri or any other Committee member of UK decision for time being.
Committee has not formally decided to make Africa trip but general expectation is that there will be trip, probably to Tunisia, Zambia and Tanzania, in May, and next meeting of working group is expected to recommend Africa trip. Mestiri has not specifically queried us on our intentions but he has mentioned trip as foregone conclusion in course of our informal discussions with him. We have made point to Mestiri and to all others who have raised subject that we seriously question usefulness of Africa trip and that in any case, we consider trip by entire Committee unnecessary and wasteful in funds in terms of practical results and have suggested that trip by small sub-committee, representative of all groups, might be considered instead. Mestiri thought this idea was non-starter for this year but that it might be possibility for future.
As Dept aware, Mission’s assessment of desirability of US participation in future Committee trips to Africa significantly influenced by experience of 1967 trip. That trip revealed that Committee’s importance to bone fide African petitioners had diminished considerably and petitioners who were in one way or another persuaded to appear tended be purveyors of trumped-up anti-Western charges and noticeably susceptible to leading questions of anti-US Committee members. Trip turned out to be grand exercise in vituperation against Western [Page 79] countries by radical ASAFs and Soviets and, in absence of UK, all fire was directed at US. Although present chairman, unlike predecessor, would not be active participant in such hostile proceedings, we believe situation which US would encounter on trip this year would not be essentially different from that of 1967.
As noted above, we have repeatedly expressed our serious doubts over utility of African trip and these reservations continue with even greater force in light of Committee’s work program this year. Committee has decided take up Rhodesia and Namibia as first items of business and it will, therefore, have completed its consideration of these major African interests (and quite possibly of Portuguese territories also) before getting to Africa. In these circumstances, most members of Committee privately seek justify trip only on grounds that Committee’s on-the-spot presence would be manifestation of continuing UN interest in African problems.
Mission strongly believes US should this year join UK in deciding not to participate in Committee’s trip to Africa. In explaining decision, we would reiterate our strong doubts over usefulness of trip, particularly in view of fact African problems will already have been considered, and we would recall excesses of 1967 trip. As a positive element, we would suggest dispatch of a small sub-group which could have contact with petitioners and host governments—ostensible reason for trip—as effectively as full Committee. While trip would probably be held without US and UK participation, absence of two leading Western states would clearly undermine prestige of operation, very likely diminish Committee’s enthusiasm for trip, and might prove coup-de-grace to future trips. (Since such trips are expensive and, from US standpoint, produce negative results, this would be welcome development.) It is possible Italy and/or Norway might also decide not participate and in any case, absence of US and UK might well persuade Mestiri not to invite group to Tunisia. Most importantly, we believe US non-participation on trip would be desirable (and not unexpected) balance to decision remain on Committee for another year and would hopefully serve to encourage moderate forces in Committee by highlighting, in meaningful way, another aspect of Committee’s performance with which we are dissatisfied.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 19 UN. Confidential.
  2. In telegram 305, February 3, Yost reported that Shaw had said that Mestiri favored a short (about 10 days with two stops) trip by the Committee to Africa. One of the two stops would be in Tunis. (Ibid.)