331. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • India–Pakistan


  • British Side:
    • Prime Minister Heath
    • Sir Alec Douglas-Home, State Secretary
    • Mr. Anthony Barber, Chancellor of the Exchequer
    • Lord Cromer, Ambassador to U.S.
    • Sir Denis Greenhill, Permanent Under Secretary in the Foreign Office
    • Sir Burke Trend, Secretary of the Cabinet
    • Mr. Donald Maitland, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
    • Mr. John Graham, Private Secretary to Sir Alec Douglas-Home
    • Mr. Peter James Moon, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister
    • Mr. Clive Rose, Assistant Under Secty. for Science and Technology, Foreign Office
    • Mr. Hugh Overton, Head of the North American Department, Foreign Office
  • American Side:
    • The President
    • Secretary Rogers
    • Ambassador-at-Large Kennedy
    • Ambassador Annenberg
    • Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Exec. Office of President
    • Asst. Secty. Hillenbrand
    • Mr. Ronald L. Ziegler, Exec. Off. of President
    • Treasuary Under Secretary for Monetary Affairs Volcker
    • Mr. Helmut Sonnenfeldt, Senior Member, NSC Staff
[Page 865]

The President and Prime Minister called upon the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary of State to summarize the results of their conversations of December 20 and the morning of December 21. Sir Alec began by saying that on India–Pakistan there was no fundamental difference in assessment between the United States and the United Kingdom, although there had been a difference as to UN tactics. In the British view, the trouble really began historically when the Pakistan Government moved to align itself with the Peopleʼs Republic of China, opting out of SEATO and loosening its ties with CENTO. India considered this a real threat to the security of the sub-continent. Eventually this led to what was essentially a treaty of convenience between India and the USSR. The British were doubtful that India wanted to go over completely to the Soviets, for example, to the extent of granting formal base rights. It was now essential that the United Kingdom and the United States come together in dealing with the new problems of the future. This would require adequate response to three aspects of the situation: (1) keeping West Pakistan afloat; (2) meeting the humanitarian requirements in the face of inevitable famine in Bangla Desh; and (3) finding a way of coming to terms with India as the most powerful country in the sub-continent.

In the UN, Sir Alec continued, the United States felt it had to register its disapprobation of Indian action. The British wanted to keep a looser position and therefore abstained on the various UN votes. It was unrealistic to think any further in terms of a united Pakistan. We must now deal with the fact of three countries in the sub-continent. He and Secretary Rogers had agreed to keep in close touch in connection with future developments, beginning with the question of some sort of a signing-off resolution in the UN.

The Secretary said he thought the prospects for such a resolution were not too good. The UN might close up tomorrow and India and Pakistan had not yet agreed on any formulation. He had pointed out to Sir Alec the difficulties the United States will have with the Congress in getting any assistance for India, although this might not apply so much to purely humanitarian aid. There might be some difference on timing between the British and the United States as to establishing relations with Bangla Desh. It was difficult to tell what Bhutto was going to do except that one could be fairly certain that he would exploit the situation for his own political benefit. He would probably release Mujib in due time and try to blame the Pakistan military for not having turned over control to civilians sooner. Home observed that there would soon be a meeting of the consortium which would be faced with the problem of keeping West Pakistan afloat. Here there was scope for British-American cooperation.

The President asked for British views on the Soviet interest in the current situation. Would Russia pick up the tab for India or would they [Page 866] want the Western countries to participate? Sir Alec said he thought the Indian nonalignment tradition would prevail, at least for quite a time. The Indians were obviously worried about possible growing Chinese influence in Bangla Desh and would want moderate Bangla Desh leaders to be in control.

The President asked for the British judgment as to whether, if this Chinese danger arose, the Indians would try to get help from us or the Soviets, or both. He noted the sentiment in Congress and elsewhere that our considerable aid to India in the past 25 years—a total of some ten billion dollars—had led only to our being kicked in the teeth. The question was being asked whether such aid was in the United States interest if we remained totally without any influence. The argument was made that such money could be used better at home. Sir Alec said we had to assume that there would be no gratitude on the part of Indian politicians. India, however, would not want to be totally dependent on the USSR. It was worth keeping those contacts with India which we enjoyed, and he thought the Indians would want this. It was for this reason that the British had found the apparent US attitude during the past month worrying. He thought enough good will remained in India to enable the United States to recover its position. The Secretary commented that Mrs. Gandhi resents our even mentioning aid as a factor in our relations. The Congress simply would not approve any program under these circumstances. Sir Alec asked whether anyone ever thanked the United States for its aid. The Secretary said not all countries had acted as had the Indians. We hoped, of course, that the United States could recapture some of its influence with India.

The President said the United States was not simply interested in receiving a “thank you very much” from the Indians. We do what we do in our own interest and must be able to justify our action in those terms. If it were simply a matter of the United Statesʼ getting back in the good graces of India, we would do something to achieve this, but he doubted whether this was the right way of looking at the problem. He was inclined to think we should be patient. India has to make an important decision “whether to become like Sadat or not”. He wondered whether it was desirable simply to accept the Indian position that they are automatically in the right on every issue and we are in the wrong.

Sir Alec reiterated how important it was to realize what Pakistan did when it lined up with China. Mrs. Gandhi has gambled that Chinese influence would not get out of bounds in Bangla Desh. It was in the Western interest that the new Bangla Desh should be basically India-oriented rather than China-oriented.

The President observed that there was no question as to our goal of insuring that India did not fall into the Soviet bag. There were some five hundred million Indians trying to make it with a non-totalitarian [Page 867] society. How could our influence best be used? British advice would be welcome. We frankly had to admit that our dealings with India were a historic failure, registered, for example, in the fact that India had voted contrary to our position on 93% of all UN issues that mattered. Pragmatically we may have to accept the Indian way, and it was necessary to explore the possibility of moving in a more measured pattern in our relations with India. The Secretary commented that not only has India voted against us in the UN, but it has missed no opportunity to be vocal in its opposition to us.

Sir Alec said you must start with the assumption that you will get nothing from the Indians in the way of support, but you must also look at the basic Western interest in India. He agreed that the West should move pragmatically in the new circumstances.

The President said that it was far more important to keep India from Soviet than from Chinese domination under current circumstances, although in the long run it might be different. We can agree that we want to keep India independent. Our long-term goal was the same as that of the British, although we might differ on tactics. The Secretary noted that if India does grant facilities to the Soviets this would reinforce negative US opinion. The President concluded that the closest cooperation on this question should take place between the United States and the United Kingdom. We must give Bhutto time to achieve a settlement before we move definitively on Bangla Desh.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 INDIA–PAK. Secret; Nodis. Drafted on January 13, 1972, by Assistant Secretary for European Affairs Martin J. Hillenbrand. The meeting was held at Government House. The conversation, part I of VIII, was one of a number of exchanges December 20–21 among Prime Minister Edward Heath, Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home, various advisers and members of the British Cabinet, and a U.S. team headed by President Nixon that included Rogers, Connally, Kissinger, and Haldeman.