176. Telegram From Secretary of State Kissinger to the Embassy in France 1

Secto 3022. For the Ambassador from the Secretary. Subj: France Plans to Recognize MPLA.

I am extremely disturbed by Sauvagnargues’ letter indicating that French recognition of the MPLA is imminent.2 I can appreciate that France has more at stake than many countries, wishes to keep in step with its former African colonies, and feels vulnerable because it has been involved with us in aiding the anti-MPLA forces in Angola. There is little point in wasting political capital with a close ally if the effort seems pointless. But I would hope that France might postpone its action for about a week until at least we have thought through our own position and been able to convey it to our friends in Africa and coordinate with our friends in Europe.
In transmitting my letter below on an urgent basis, you should explore with Sauvagnargues the possibility of postponing recognition in order to apply maximum pressure on the MPLA to make concessions to the view point of half of Africa and much of Europe. You should stress with him that, in our belief, there is an inherent contradiction between the French Government’s proposed assertion to the [Page 444] MPLA that it attaches “le plus grand prix” to Soviet-Cuban withdrawal and its hasty, unconditional recognition. You should also stress that his move destroys the possibility for any meaningful approach to the MPLA by the countries of Africa and the world which are very prepared to see the MPLA lead an Angolan government but not as a Soviet-Cuban satellite.
You may tell Sauvagnargues that we are in the process of refining a policy toward Angola designed to bring maximum pressure to bear on the MPLA to make some concessions, using arguments of persuasion as much as withholding recognition and cooperation. We need a few days, however, to launch a new policy, which we believe will be much more effective than any “sauve qui peut” policy of hasty recognition, at least in limiting the damage inflicted on the Western position in Africa and around the world by our evident loss of will to stand up to a blatant Soviet-Cuban power play.
If it seems clear to you that there is no way to postpone recognition in any meaningful fashion, then the main thrust of your “more in sorrow . . .” remarks should be on the need for close consultation in the future, and cooperation in bolstering the shaky position of our remaining African friends.
Begin text: Dear Jean:

Your letter announcing France’s intention to recognize the Luanda regime reached me at a time when Angolan circumstances have filled me with deep concern and regret. I can only agree with you that we draw quite different conclusions from rather similar analyses of the situation.

The instant response of your government to the military victories secured on behalf of a minority regime by a Cuban expeditionary force, encouraged and equipped by Moscow, will, I fear, only help to drive home the lesson we have sought to avoid—that Communist intervention on behalf of Marxist allies in conflicts in the developing world is a paying proposition.

It has seemed to me that we could create a scenario, including aid to the neighboring states of Zaire and Zambia, which would have allowed the West to bargain its recognition and cooperation in exchange for concrete concessions in the area of Soviet and Cuban withdrawal and the establishment of some more representative government. But if we recognize first, and then ask for concessions, we are in the weak position of being a “demandeur” intervening in the internal affairs of a state we already recognize. And, as you imply very correctly in your letter, separate acts of recognition only serve to weaken the impact we might hope to achieve with such recognition through a more coordinated and hard-bargaining posture.

[Page 445]

In our intense dialogue about Angola with many African leaders, some of them very close to France, we have found a strong desire to do something constructive to strengthen the forces opposed to the MPLA, and to protect moderate states from the sort of radical interference in their internal affairs exemplified by Angola. I am afraid that your action will not seem responsive to their concerns. But ultimately, of course, I recognize France must do what it considers to be in its best long-term interest.

I can agree with you that continued insurgency will tend to prolong a Soviet and Cuban presence in Angola. If you feel that French interests require such rapid recognition then I can only urge you not to throw away your influence by recognizing first—and then negotiating with empty hands. Could you not at least probe to see what concrete assurances you can elicit regarding the withdrawal of the Soviet-Cuban expeditionary force and steps toward a government of national reconciliation?

I need hardly tell you that Western credibility has suffered grievously as a result of US inability to come to the aid of moderate forces in Angola, and general Western European reluctance to get involved. I would like at least to thank France for having done more than any other European country to prevent what we see now happening. It seems to me that, if we are to contain the damage caused by what amounts to a Western defeat, then we must make early and serious moves to provide additional economic and military aid to the countries neighboring Angola, who remain our friends for the time being and which have been made so vulnerable by the MPLA victory. We will still wish to discuss this containment aspect of our Angolan policy with you.

In the meantime, we are working out a policy which we believe will provide us with more bargaining power in dealing with the MPLA than one of simple acquiescence in a Soviet/Cuban victory. I would sincerely hope that your government might find its way clear to postpone any final decision on recognition for about a week, giving us time to consult with our friends and allies and develop a more coherent regional containment strategy.

Whatever your final decision, thank you for allowing me the opportunity to comment on your forthcoming decision. I hope that we can remain in close touch on the Angolan question, even if our policies should now diverge.

Nancy is better and joins me in sending warm regards. Henry. End text.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840086–1506. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Repeated to the Department. The Secretary was in Boston while his wife had surgery.
  2. Not found.