117. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Ambassador Lakshmi Kant Jha of India
  • Mr. Henry A. Kissinger

The lunch took place at the Ambassadorʼs request. Mr. Kissinger opened the conversation by saying that the Ambassador had picked a rather difficult occasion—the signing of the Soviet [Page 316] Indian friendship treaty [treaty text at Tab A].2 In itself, the treaty was a matter of secondary concern to us, though it was hard to reconcile with the non-alignment policy of India. What did concern us, however, was the possibility that India might draw the conclusion from it of an unlimited freedom of action vis-à-vis Pakistan. Mr. Kissinger said he could not be more categorical in pointing out that a war between India and Pakistan would set back Indian-American relations for half a decade. No matter what the Ambassador was told around town, Mr. Kissinger wanted him to understand that an attack on East Pakistan would involve the high probability of a cut-off of aid. Also, if India wound up as a result of this treaty as a diplomatic appendage to the Soviet Union, there would be a much lessened interest in India. As he had pointed out to all the people he spoke with in India, the American interest was a strong, self-reliant independent India.

The Ambassador said that, of course, India was not going to be anybodyʼs diplomatic satellite. Mr. Kissinger called his attention to Article 9 of the treaty3 which, if read literally, meant that India would have to support the Soviet Union diplomatically in a new crisis over Berlin. The Ambassador said that, obviously, this was not the intention of the treaty. India was looking for a counter-weight to Pakistanʼs repeated claims to the effect that in a new war China would be on its side. Mr. Kissinger said that anything that exacerbated conditions in the subcontinent was against our policy. He hoped the Ambassador understood that we were deadly serious about it.

Mr. Kissinger also said that it seemed a pity for the United States and India, which have no conflicting interests, to quarrel over a problem whose solution was preordained by history. The Ambassador asked Mr. Kissinger what he meant. Mr. Kissinger said that it seemed to him that over a historical period, East Bengal would be gaining autonomy even without Indian intervention. We, in turn, had no interest in the subcontinent except to see a strong and developing India and an independent Pakistan. Indeed, there was a difference in our approach to India and in our approach to Pakistan. India was a potential world power; Pakistan would always be a regional power. For all these reasons, the problem would sort itself out if we separated the issue of relief from that of refugees and the issue of refugees from that of political [Page 317] accommodation. The Ambassador said that he had no difficulty separating relief from refugees, but he saw no way of separating refugees from political accommodation.

The Ambassador then handed Mr. Kissinger a letter by Prime Minister Gandhi to the President. The letter [Tab B]4 was couched in very conciliatory terms. He said it would provide an excellent opportunity for the President to state his basic policy towards India and to start a useful dialogue. He also told Mr. Kissinger that Prime Minister Gandhi had accepted the invitation to come to Washington and, indeed, on the dates we had proposed. This would give us an opportunity to ease some of the tensions.

Mr. Kissinger told the Ambassador that we welcomed Prime Minister Gandhi but that it was essential that the India/Pakistan problem not be solved by war. We would be generous in refugee relief, but India should not believe that it could use this crisis to overthrow the settlement of 1946.

The meeting ended with an exchange of pleasantries.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 643, Country Files, Middle East, India/Pakistan, July 1971. Secret. The meeting took place in Kissingerʼs office at the White House. The time of the meeting is from Kissingerʼs appointment book. (Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box 438, Miscellany, 1968–1976, Record of Schedule)
  2. All brackets in the source text. The attached text of the treaty was released in Moscow on August 9 by TASS and circulated in Washington by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service.
  3. Article 9 stipulated that each country would refrain from giving assistance to a third country engaged in conflict with the other country. It further stipulated that if either country was attacked or threatened with attack, the two countries would consult “with a view to eliminate this threat.”
  4. Attached is an August 7 letter that Kissinger sent to Nixon under a covering memorandum on August 19; see the attachment to Document 128.