143. Memorandum From Harold Saunders of the National Security Council Staff to the Presidentʼs Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Guidance for KeatingUS Policy Toward China and India

You will recall from our brief of August 312 that Foreign Minister Singh asked Ambassador Keating and Senator Percy for clarification [Page 392] of the US position in the event of Sino-Indian hostilities. He recalled that:

  • —in July he and the Defense Minister had the impression from your talks in Delhi that India “could be reassured concerning continued US support against China;”3
  • —after your return, in connection with a talk you had with Ambassador Jha, the US position “was conveyed that if China intervened as the result of an Indo-Pakistan confrontation, the US reaction could not be assured.”

Singh said he was surprised at the apparent change and told Keating: “We would definitely like to know where it now stands” [Tab A, para. 6].4 Keating reports he is seeing Singh tomorrow, September 8, and asks for guidance [Tab B].5

I assume that you were at least making a distinction between unprovoked and provoked Chinese attack and, perhaps more, attempting to unsettle any Indian planning for attacking Pakistan. I also assume that Singhʼs question is a serious one since past Indian contingency plans have been based on the assumption of some sort of US help in the end.

It seems to me there are three generally possible ways to respond:

Remain silent and leave the Indians uncertain.
Instruct Keating to reply that there is no ground for confusion. The US has often expressed its interest in Indiaʼs independence and its consequent concern over an unprovoked Chinese attack (your first statement). But if India started a war, obviously the situation would be different.
Add to the explanation in para. 2 above some comment that the Soviet-Indian treaty has injected further complications into our review of the situation.


I am not in favor of a big exercise and a formal reply to Singh. My own suggestion would be to instruct Keating to use paragraph 2 above as his own explanation and pass Singhʼs question off that way. Since this is a serious question, the Indians may continue to ask it until they [Page 393] are satisfied that they understand our answer but this way we may be able to preserve some of our flexibility.


Letʼs remain silent

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 597, Country Files, Middle East, India, Vol. IV, 1 Jul–30 Nov 71. Secret; Nodis. Sent for action.
  2. Apparent reference to an oral briefing done by Saunders and Hoskinson.
  3. See Document 93.
  4. All brackets in the source text. Telegram 13793 from New Delhi, August 29, which reported on a conversation that Keating and Senator Charles Percy (R–Illinois) had on August 28 with Foreign Minister Singh, was attached at Tab A but is not printed.
  5. Tab B, telegram 14180 from New Delhi, September 6, was attached but not printed.
  6. Neither recommendation is initialed. In a September 7 note to Kissinger, which is attached to the memorandum, Haig wrote: “You will recall I told State at your direction that you did not make such a statement.” Haig was referring to Kissingerʼs exchange with Jha on July 17. Haig concluded that Kissingerʼs recollection of his exchange with Jha had not been passed to Keating.