275. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Visit of the Dalai Lama to the United States
[Page 1141]

Tibetan representatives have informed us that the Dalai Lama wishes to visit the United States and Europe this coming Autumn.2 The trip will be a “private” one but the Dalai Lama would hope to call upon U.S. public officials. The Dalai Lama’s visit to the United States would be intended to focus attention on the Tibetan issue in the Human Rights Commission.

State opposes the visit on the grounds that it would generate support for and attention to the Tibetan cause and “would create, gratuitously and without a compensating gain, a further point of friction between us and Communist China.” State seeks clearance on a telegram to our Embassy in New Delhi asking how to forestall the visit. (Tab A)3

There is no doubt that the timing is unfortunate, coming as it does when we are in the midst of an effort to improve relations with Communist China. On the other hand, the Chinese have hardly abandoned their basic positions in order to talk with us and we should perhaps avoid precipitate decisions to abandon points of principle to accommodate them. We have for years supported resolutions in the United Nations pointing to denial of human rights to the Tibetans. We have endorsed the principle that they should have the right of self-determination (while making clear that we believe Tibet has traditionally been under Chinese suzerainty) and we have made substantial contributions to ease the problem of Tibetan refugees in India and Nepal.

The Dalai Lama’s previous performances abroad suggest that he would handle himself discreetly during a U.S. visit and would not seek to embarrass us if the ground rules of the visit were made clear.

Rather than simply turning off the proposed visit in the cursory manner proposed, I believe that it would be more in keeping with our [Page 1142] past positions to keep the prospect of a private visit open. As a practical matter, we hardly wish to be exposed to the charge of acting on the basis of expediency to woo the Chinese Communists. Moreover, in our present euphoria concerning Sino/U.S. relations, we should not lose sight of the likelihood that we may yet have reasons to want good working relations with the Dalai Lama and his entourage.

In fairness to State’s position, I would emphasize that too close an identification with Tibetan separatist aspirations would rank with our Taiwan policy as key road-blocks to any improvement with relations with Communist China.

To resolve the conflicting U.S. interests, I propose that, instead of flatly opposing the concept of a visit we indicate a willingness to look forward to such a visit on the following terms:

It would be a private visit.
The Dalai Lama would not expect to see officials higher than Ambassador Yost or Under Secretary Johnson. (This is about the level which we usually deal with the Dalai Lama’s elder brother and personal representative. This is also the top career as opposed to political level.)
The Dalai Lama and his entourage would be given to understand that we would not expect the question of the political status of Tibet to come up during the visit. If it did, we would go no farther than to repeat our present position.
The visit would be inconvenient this year but we would wish to consider it seriously in 1971 (after the UNGA session is over).


That you authorize me to tell State that the position on the Dalai Lama’s visit should be as described in the numbered points above.4

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Country Files, Middle East, India, Box 600, Dalai Lama (possible 1971). Secret. Sent for action. Initialed by Kissinger. A notation on the first page reads: “To HAK.”
  2. Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XXX, Document 343. Rostow emphasized to Gyalo that the incoming administration would have to consider this issue. The problem of the Dalai Lama’s visit lay dormant during 1969. Embassy officials met with the Dalai Lama’s representative in New Delhi, Thupten Ningee, in early January 1970. Thupten suggested a “private, informal” visit to meet Tibetan communities in the United States and scholars interested in Tibet during the autumn of 1970. (Telegram 162 from New Delhi, January 6 and telegram 294 from New Delhi, January 9; both in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 30 TIBET) The Department of State’s initial reaction was to seek an opportunity to “subtly” discourage the visit. (Telegram 3304 to New Delhi, January 8; ibid.) Phintso Thonden, the Dalai Lama’s representative in the United States, also asked that the Dalai Lama meet with high-level United States officials during his visit. (Telegram 54 from USUN, January 15, and telegram 7917 to USUN and New Delhi, January 17; both ibid.)
  3. Attached at Tab A but not printed was a February 19 memorandum to Kissinger from Eliot, outlining the Department of State position and reviewing previous requests by representatives of the Dalai Lama for a visit to the United States, and a draft cable.
  4. Haig initialed the approval option for the President on March 28. The four points listed above were included verbatim in an April 1 memorandum from Kissinger (signed by Haig in his absence) to Rogers. This memorandum concluded: “I should appreciate it if the proposed outgoing telegram to New Delhi could be revised to make it somewhat less negative, in line with the four points above.” The instructions were forwarded to New Delhi in telegram 50041, April 6. Both the telegram and memorandum are in National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 30 TIBET.