177. Telegram From the Embassy in France to the Department of State1

4652. For the Secretary from the Ambassador. Subject: France Plans to Recognize MPLA. Ref: Secto 03022.2

Summary: Sauvagnargues received me at noon February 16 for review of Angola situation. I argued that it is important that we not give up our trump of diplomatic recognition precipitously before seeking to exercise maximum leverage on MPLA. At least we should wait a minimum time to develop a joint approach to the problem of the Soviet-Cuban presence. Sauvagnargues agreed that our objective in Angola is the same—stimulate Africa’s natural tendency to reject foreign domination. But Sauvagnargues disagreed with our analysis of how to do it. Recognition of reality of MPLA victory, Sauvagnargues feels, gives us opportunity to begin working with MPLA to encourage their taking distance from Soviets. Refusal to recognize only keeps the MPLA locked into Soviet-Cuban embrace. In addition, Giscard has already made commitment to African moderates that France will recognize MPLA so as not to leave Houphouet and Ahidjo among others all alone and unsupported. Sauvagnargues agreed that while we disagree on recognition tactics, we must continue coordinating our efforts to bolster Zambia and Zaire, to keep moderates on our side, and to encourage African nationalism and moderation within the MPLA. End summary.

Sauvagnargues began by reading your letter (reftel). I followed that up with the argument that we must maintain maximum pressure on MPLA by holding back recognition until we can prepare an appropriate program of containment for the Angola area. By conceding recognition first, we weaken our position and give the MPLA every incentive to maintain their solidarity with the Cubans. If we withhold recognition, we give the MPLA a reason to begin separating themselves from the Cubans and Soviets, and give the moderate Africans and Europeans time to work out a plan designed to weaken the Soviet position.
Sauvagnargues replied that the situation is both delicate and complicated. Like the USG, France is not anxious to recognize a fait ac[Page 447]compli in Angola. But from that point, the French analysis differs from ours. The MPLA victory is a reality. Western options are limited. Support for a guerilla war is out of the question. It would only prolong the fighting and deepen the Soviet involvement by maintaining MPLA dependence. Essentially, we have a choice between recognizing the MPLA first and bargaining afterward, or bargaining first and recognizing afterward. Sauvagnargues said that if we attempt to bargain first, we really do not have the leverage we think we do. We worked against the MPLA, and the MPLA knows that we worked against them. Our refusal to recognize the MPLA will have absolutely no effect beyond driving them more deeply into Soviet dependency.
Even more central than the previous arguments, Sauvagnargues emphasized, is the position of the African moderates. Earlier, we asked the moderates to be hard on the MPLA, and they responded positively. Now the Ivory Coast and Cameroon have recognized. Even Mobutu told Giscard in a recent message that he has no objection to France recognizing the MPLA. All Mobutu asks is a guarantee that the MPLA not unleash the Katangese gendarmes. The African moderates supported us when we needed them. We cannot let them down now. We must stay with them. In fact, Giscard wanted to announce recognition of the MPLA on Saturday, but agreed to consult first with the US, UK and the FRG. In effect, Giscard has made a commitment to Houphouet to join in the recognition of the MPLA.
Finally, Sauvagnargues said that if there is any chance that Neto and the moderates in the MPLA will distance themselves from the Soviets, it is important that we start working to stimulate this natural African reflex right away. This can only be done through recognition and communications with the MPLA.
I told Sauvagnargues that it is clear we agree on fundamental objectives. We just differ on the potential effect of recognition. I suggested that the GOF take some time to reflect and allow us time to come up with a broad plan of action that would protect our position with our African friends.
Sauvagnargues then argued that the act of recognition is not all that significant. We must separate the act of recognition from the real leverage we can exercise on the MPLA which will come from their need for a Western economic presence. I countered by pointing out that quick recognition will only give the MPLA the feeling they can get what they want from the West without ejecting the Soviets. Sauvagnargues argued back that the use of recognition as a bargaining lever has never worked, especially when the object of the exercise has just won a military victory to come to power. When Angola was dis[Page 448]cussed by the Big Four Foreign Ministers in Brussels,3 Sauvagnargues said, a prolonged armed resistance was expected. This did not come about, and the issue of recognition is no longer relevant. Moreover, Giscard has made a commitment to Houphouet, and GOF recognition really cannot wait. Sauvagnargues said he was impressed by the Brazilians who told him that the MPLA will quickly understand that Soviet assistance is cumbersome, and will be looking for a way out through contacts with the West.
In conclusion, I argued that the GOF should give Washington at least a week’s leeway to develop a plan that will help us pursue our common objective in Angola. Sauvagnargues said he would transmit our request and arguments to Giscard, but did not feel that the President would reverse his decision. He stressed, however, his complete agreement with the need to develop a coordinated approach to an MPLA-ruled Angola, especially the requirement that Zambia and Zaire be bolstered both economically and militarily.
Comment: I do not see much hope that Giscard will reverse his decision to recognize the MPLA within the next day or so. Apart from his disagreement with us on the impact of recognition, Giscard’s commitment to the moderate Africans is crucial to this decision. I feel, however, that we can continue to work closely and effectively with the French on efforts to encourage the MPLA regime to separate themselves from the Cubans and Soviets.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840090–1675. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Document 176.
  3. See footnote 5, Document 147.