326. Letter From President Nixon to Indian Prime Minister Gandhi1

Dear Madame Prime Minister:

I have received your letter of December 15, 1971,2 in which you seek to place the responsibility for the war in the subcontinent on others and in particular the United States. In the light of the many exchanges over the past year it cannot surprise you that I reject this view.

I will write you soon at greater length in confidential channels where this discussion belongs. But I cannot let your statement that “not [Page 855] a single worthwhile step” was taken to bring about a political solution remain without response on the public record. It is a matter of judgment what is “worthwhile.” The U.S. made efforts extending for nine months to take steps to assist the refugees and to provide the worthwhile basis for political negotiation.

When we met in Washington you were assured of our intention to continue to carry the main financial burden for care of the refugees. You were informed of the Government of Pakistanʼs willingness to take the first step of military disengagement if it could be assured that India would reciprocate subsequently. You were also informed of various ways which could be used to get talks started between the Government of Pakistan and Bangla Desh representatives. We asked your Ambassador to work out with us a specific timetable for political evolution. You said that India wanted a peaceful solution. We accepted this statement at face value.

We never made any claims that our proposals met Indiaʼs position fully. They were proposals which would have started the process of negotiations. I had thought that this was one of those times when statesmanship could turn the course of history away from war.

If there is a strain in our relations, and there is, it is because your government spurned these proposals and without any warning whatever chose war instead. The subsequent disregard by your government of repeated calls of the United Nations for ceasefire and withdrawal— adopted by overwhelming majorities—confirms this judgment.

The stand taken by the United States in recent days has not been taken against India. It has been taken against the practice of turning to military action before all political resources are exhausted.

We recognize that India is a major Asian power and that we share the common values of genuinely democratic government. No act has been taken with a desire to damage the relationship between our two great countries. We would hope that the day may come when we can work together for the stability of Asia, and we deeply regret that the developments of the past few months in South Asia have thrust the day of stability farther into the future.


Richard Nixon
  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 755, Presidential Correspondence File, India (1971). No classification marking. Sent to Eliot on December 18 under a covering memorandum from Haig in which he indicated that President Nixon wanted the letter delivered to the Indian Ambassador prior to the Presidentʼs meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Bhutto that day. Haig also noted that the President had directed that his letter should be released to the press. (Ibid.)
  2. See Document 314.