276. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The President
  • Foreign Minister Adam Malik of Indonesia
  • Ambassador Mosbacher, Chief of Protocol
  • Indonesian Ambassador Soedjatmoko
  • Assistant Secretary of State Marshall Green
  • John H. Holdridge, NSC Senior Staff Member

Following a very brief discussion of the purpose of Mr. Malik’s visit to the UN in connection with the West Irian debate,2 the President remarked that he had good memories of his visit to Djakarta last summer, and certainly hoped that our relations were going well. He jokingly said that he hoped, too, the Indonesians were receiving good cooperation from Ambassador Green. As he had said when in Indonesia, if one looks at this area of the world Indonesia’s 120 million people and great geographic area give it a key relationship in the future of the region. Without Indonesia, there would be no real possibility for regional solutions. Knowing that the Indonesians wish to retain their independence, we in this Administration were looking forward to maintaining a close relationship with them. Mr. Malik stated that he indeed hoped that our relationships could be strengthened.

Changing the subject, Mr. Malik declared that the Indonesians had read the President’s recent speech3 with great interest and sympathy, and looked on it as a very objective statement of the US situation in [Page 595]Vietnam. Mr. Malik added that he thought the speech also indicated the time now was right for political movement in South Vietnam so that the thrust of US policy would not only be of a military character. As he looked at US domestic developments, he had the impression that many people thought the US was pressing solely for a military solution. Political development in South Vietnam might therefore deflect domestic opinion away from controversy in the US to events in Vietnam. Although the position of Thieu and Ky was not so good, their situation might be strengthened if they were to rely more on the leadership in the countryside. If the relationship between the national leaders and the natural leaders in the countryside could be developed, to the point where the latter were willing to participate in the physical development of the country, the influence of the Viet Cong would be neutralized.

The President declared that one of the most encouraging developments in his ten months in office was the strengthening of the Vietnamese territorial forces, as distinct from the regular armed forces. General Abrams had said that this was the most significant development which had occurred. The territorial forces had always existed, but before had not possessed much of a will to fight; now they were better equipped, increasingly active, and could provide security to outlying areas which the regular forces could not reach.

Referring to Mr. Malik’s comments on political development in South Vietnam, the President said that this in fact was our objective, but that the process took time—years and even generations. What we were trying to do was to compress political evolution in the country into a time span of five minutes. Nevertheless, it was important to make the effort, for if there were no local elements assuming responsibility, once the regular military went away, the old problems would appear again. The President likened this type of war to playing a violin—there had to be at least four strings: economic, military, political and social progress.

Mr. Malik noted that one of the side effects of the President’s speech could be found in his area, namely, the speech would definitely increase the desire of the nations of the area to increase their cooperation regionally. In this respect, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers were to meet in Kuala Lumpur in December. The President’s speech had had a reassuring effect on the ASEAN countries and would encourage them to work out a greater degree of regional cooperation.

The President said that in this country we had to rule out the easy way of ending our involvement in Vietnam. We could of course get out easily, but this would in turn get us out of Southeast Asia, and therefore we had to find a way to bring the war to an end and yet achieve our limited objective of preventing a government from being imposed [Page 596]on the Vietnamese people from the outside. Noting that this objective had been accomplished in Indonesia, the President hoped that the same outcome would be reached in Vietnam. He thought that he could keep US opinion in support of this goal, and certainly would resist efforts to wash out the war as a bad deal, which would bring very bad consequences.

Mr. Malik indicated that, on the other hand, there was a danger that the ending of the US involvement in Vietnam would lead to isolationism. The President agreed, saying that Vietnam must not be interpreted domestically as a failure, especially after the loss of 40,000 lives. If we were to leave under humiliating circumstances or with the war a failure, the American people would say in the event that a threat were directed against Indonesia, Thailand or India, “Why do anything?”

Continuing, the President mentioned that one point had been very encouraging to him: Mr. Malik and his colleagues had been able to avoid a Communist takeover in Indonesia. They had displayed courage and leadership and by resisting had showed that the people and leaders of their country possessed the will to retain their independence. Indonesia was the brightest spot: having had the greatest problems, it had now turned completely around.

The President touched on the problems in other areas, referring to Thailand and Malaysia, and noting Malaysia’s interracial conflict. He commended Singapore under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, observing that Lee understood the problems of Vietnam. The difficulties of all these countries, including Laos and Cambodia, were related and were but a part of the total picture.

In response to a statement by the President that Ambassador Green had been in Indonesia when the change had happened, Mr. Green recalled the President’s visit to Indonesia as a private citizen, recalling that the President had been the best visitor the Embassy had ever known. Mr. Green then spoke of the long-standing friendship which Mr. Malik had displayed toward the US, which had existed even during the bad days under Sukarno.

The President remarked that Mr. Malik understood the real nature of the problems facing his country, and recognized that there were civilian as well as military components. Moreover, Mr. Malik had a view which was not limited to Indonesia, but saw things in terms of the whole area. Too many people, the President said, thought only of their own country. On his trip to Europe, European friends had said to get out of Vietnam in any way. Their reasoning was that because the US was in Vietnam it was not doing enough to support Europe. The same situation was true in the Middle East. The Israelis, for example, assumed that if we were not in Vietnam we would do more for Israel. [Page 597]He had told them that if Vietnam ended as a failure, “forget it”. Americans would simply withdraw from Vietnam, Asia and the Middle East and stay home. He stressed that we were not going to fail; however, we needed to appreciate the fact that there was a domino effect—indeed, just to talk in these terms was to touch on too small a part of the picture. In terms of the effect on the US and its world relations, if we were unable to succeed in supporting one small country for limited goals, great internal frustrations would result. The US had to play a world role, but a proper, not a dominating one. The key was to find a way to end the Vietnam war so that this world role could be played successfully. Most of our friends in Asia understood this. Our efforts were directed not so much at changing North Vietnam, but rather towards trying to find solutions which would enable South Vietnam to stand on its own feet.

Turning again to the subject of regional cooperation, the President stated that this was very important and he was encouraged to hear about the meeting in Kuala Lumpur. Regional cooperation was the responsibility of the countries concerned but was also very helpful to our policy here. Too many people here had never visited the region and did not know the great national pride and desire on the part of the peoples of the region to stand on their own feet. Assistance was not wanted if it meant control, and this was a very healthy attitude. However, the US could play a good partnership role.

Mr. Malik mentioned on the score of foreign assistance that early after the 1965 coup he had told Ambassador Green not to offer aid before Indonesia had settled its own house. Ambassador Green added he had been told by the Foreign Minister at that time that when the time had come for US aid he would let us know.

The President asked about Indonesia’s present situation—were we doing about what we should be doing? Mr. Malik replied that he hoped the US would continue and possibly increase its present level of aid, which was crucial in maintaining Indonesia’s stability and accomplishing its five-year plan. The President referred to the difficult situation in the US, with the Congress having cut the aid appropriation below what we had asked for. The Foreign Minister should understand that what we were doing now was not a reflection of what we would like to do. However, over a period of five years he anticipated that the situation would be different and Congress would provide more support.

Mr. Malik said that he was fully aware of these difficulties, but that the Indonesians were still not giving up hope. The President observed in response that we would do as well as we could.

Mr. Malik again brought up the possibility of new isolationism in the US, particularly among the youth. The President said in reply that [Page 598]the isolationists were not a majority. Some elements in the population said we should not do anything abroad, but most would support a responsible foreign policy. Over 300 members of the House and 59 Senators had joined in resolutions supporting his policy on Vietnam. This was the kind of support which counted. Policy was made in this way, not otherwise.

Mr. Malik referred to the Asian Development Bank Special Fund, and wondered about the US contribution. Ambassador Green noted we had pointed out that we could not yet go forward with our contributions since we had no special legislation. The President said that he had a long talk with World Bank President McNamara prior to the Sato visit and had talked in general on this subject. Mr. McNamara felt that we need to give more emphasis to the whole Asian problem. He himself could only say that as a result of his own personal intervention we would give this matter more attention. Frankly, we had a problem with Congress, but over a period of five years there would be a change.

Mr. Malik mentioned the question of the Indonesian oil quota in the US, to which the President remarked that he was very familiar with this whole issue, and knew that the Indonesian quota was quite modest. Mr. Malik expressed the hope that the Indonesian quota would be kept open and that Indonesia would have increasing access to the US market. The President assured him that Indonesia would have a percentage of any increase and would keep this in mind.

In conclusion, the President urged Ambassador Green to encourage members of the Cabinet and Congressional leaders to visit Indonesia in order to see the country and to get a feel for Indonesia’s problems. He told the Foreign Minister that the Indonesians were fortunate to have as Assistant Secretary of State a man such as Ambassador Green who was so thoroughly familiar with Indonesia and its conditions. He asked Mr. Malik to transmit his best wishes to President Suharto.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 531, Country Files, Far East, Indonesia, Vol. I. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Holdridge and forwarded to Kissinger under cover of a separate attached memorandum, November 25. Kissinger initialed his approval on the covering memorandum on November 28 and wrote: “Send to State. Incidentally this goes to S/S only as all other Presidential MemCon s. Don’t let into the working level.” The meeting was held in the President’s office. Another copy of the memorandum of conversation is ibid., RG 59, Central Files 1967–69, POL 7 INDON.
  2. Foreign Minister Malik visited Washington November 15–18 in between visits to the United Nations in New York. In addition to his meeting with the President, Malik also met with Rogers and key members of Congress. Details of these discussions are reported in telegram 195740 to Jakarta, November 21. (Ibid.)
  3. President Nixon, in his address to the nation on the war in Vietnam on November 3, made the point that the United States would not engage in “an immediate, precipitate withdrawal” from Vietnam, but would, instead, “persist in our search for a just peace through a negotiated settlement, if possible,” or would “withdraw all of our forces from Vietnam on a schedule in accordance with our program, as the South Vietnamese become strong enough to defend their own freedom.” (Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 901–909)