73. Editorial Note
President Nixon met at the White House on June 16, 1971, with Indian Foreign Minister Swaran Singh. Ambassadors Jha and Keating were also present, as were Henry Kissinger and Joseph Sisco. Before the arrival of Singh and Jha, Kissinger briefed Nixon on the upcoming meeting. He recommended a combination of sympathy and firmness in dealing with Singh. Kissinger said: “Iʼve told Yahya that he had a personal channel through me to you. I am just trying to keep them [the Indians] from attacking for 3 months.” Returning to his advice on how to deal with Singh, Kissinger said: “You could say that you are directing that $60 million be made available for refugee support after July 1.” He anticipated that Foreign Minister Singh would be delighted. He [Page 183] added: “You will see whether you can get $20 million from other programs this month.” Kissinger further advised Nixon to tell Singh that “overt pressure on Pakistan would have a counter-productive effect, and that you are working with Yahya in your own way.”
President Nixonʼs meeting with Foreign Minister Singh began at 3:08 p.m. After an initial exchange of greetings, during which Nixon conveyed his congratulations to Prime Minister Gandhi on her electoral victory, Singh outlined the “tremendous problem” created for India by the influx of often destitute refugees from East Pakistan. He said that problems growing out of the influx impacted on India politically as well as economically. “In this situation, we seek your advice.” He expanded at length on the building crisis and observed “obviously some political settlement is needed.” Singh warned that unless something was done, and done quickly, dangerous instability would develop on the subcontinent.
Nixon asked Singh how he saw “the historical process working.” Singh observed that it appeared that Pakistan was reaching “the point of no return.” Nixon asked Singh to outline an outcome that “would be in Indiaʼs best interest.” He asked if India envisioned “an independent country” in East Pakistan. Singh replied: “We have no fixed position on that.”
Nixon assured Singh that Indiaʼs position was being well represented by Ambassador Jha and sympathetically reported from India by Ambassador Keating. Hence, Nixon said, “I am keenly aware of the problem.” He indicated his familiarity with the problems of poverty and instability that plagued the subcontinent, as well as the problems posed by population pressures. He said: “What we feel is one thing, what we can do is another.” Nixon noted that his administration was in regular contact with the Government of Pakistan, but added “the question is how we can discuss this matter with them … in a way that will maybe, may bring about action that would lead to amelioration of the situation.” He suggested to Singh that “the best course of action we think as a government is for us to, is for you to have confidence, and I want you to convey this to the Prime Minister on a completely off-the-record basis, you must have confidence that one, I am acutely aware of the problem. … Therefore, I will use all the persuasive methods that I can, but I must use them in the way that I think is the most effective.” He reiterated: “I am aware of the problem, I shall try to use my influence as effectively as possible.”
Turning to the specific problem of the refugees, Nixon said that he was considering various options in attempting to help deal with the situation. He noted that there were only 15 days left in the fiscal year and added that it would be possible to provide $20 million to India before July 1. He said that after July 1 the United States would be able [Page 184] to provide an additional $50 million for refugee assistance, subject to Congressional approval. “I realize that that does not get at the long-range problem. The long-range problem is how do you stop this inflow of people. How maybe youʼd start having them turn around and start outflowing them.” … “You brought to my attention when you met me. The Prime Minister, and Ambassador Keating all brought to my attention, and I am convinced of the seriousness of the problem. I will try to find methods that I think will be effective. … It must not be in a way that appears that weʼre, that what has happened here is that the United States is inserting itself into basically an internal situation.” Nixon emphasized that the parties involved must arrive at their own solution, rather than have one imposed on them. “In the meantime,” he said, it was important “to keep as cool as possible, in terms of charges and counter-charges. … You can count on our financial assistance to the extent that we are able.”
Singh expressed his appreciation for the financial assistance offered by Nixon. He reverted, however, to the question posed for India by the continuing flow of refugees. The fundamental question he said was how to stop it. Nixon replied that he was aware that “the funds, while essential, [deal] with a temporary problem.” He recognized that it was not possible to “buy the problem away.” “The problem is going to go away only as the deeper causes are resolved. And I am aware of that. How we get at those deeper causes is very sensitive problem.” Nixon went on to say: “I donʼt think anything, however, certainly at this point, would be served by any indication of the United States putting public pressure on Pakistan. That I know would be wrong if we want to accomplish our goal.” He suggested that quiet diplomacy would be much more effective. (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Tapes, Conversation between President Nixon and Indian Foreign Minister Singh, June 16, 1971, 2:58–3:41 p.m., Oval Office, Conversation No. 523–2) A transcript of this conversation is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 138.