223. Telegram From the Mission in Geneva to the Department of State1

9269. For the Secretary from Reinhardt.2 Subj: Rhodesia Conference: Geneva Prospects: Assessment and Recommendations.

Summary: Mugabe and Nkomo remain locked in conference trying to decide if they will accept the latest British statement.3 The prolonged wrangle over the independence date has eroded confidence in the outcome of Geneva and hardened the positions of all participants. My consultations during the past several days have confirmed gloom and un[Page 625]certainty in all quarters. I remain convinced nevertheless that Geneva offers the only viable forum for achieving a Rhodesian settlement. We need to consider acting in London, Africa and here if the participants are to understand how serious the situation is and how strongly we feel a change of style is required. End summary.

Before I proceed to Nairobi this evening, I am attempting here to give an appraisal of Geneva proceedings as gleaned from numerous talks, which are likely to continue until departure time about midnight. I have talked with all of the Geneva luminaries except Chissano and Salim and have no reason to believe that they would subtract much from the pervasive gloom. As my reports on these meetings indicate, gloom and doom and bleakness prevail in Geneva, ranging from the vitriol of Mugabe to the soft unreality of Mogwe, but including the sternness of Chona and the other-worldliness of Van der Byl and Squires.
The problem: The British have thus far presided over an incredibly poor conference, but I am no longer certain that the inept performance has been entirely of their own making. In retrospect one can conceive of certain formulations that may have overcome the date problem, but it now seems probable that no matter what Richard said at the beginning, the nationalists to a man were determined to pin down a date, “an act of faith and trust,” as Chona put it to me. Richard has been the victim of his or someone’s bad decision to allow the date issue to erode confidence and prevent movement; of basic London decisions; of Mozambican intrigue; of Nyerere’s cunning; of the lack of front line cohesiveness; of Nkomo’s seeming impotency; and of an unyielding and influential (in Geneva at least) Mugabe. Whatever the causes, Richard is or soon will be at a Geneva impasse. He has not panicked but is considering inchoate schemes which may only deepen his problems. I do not think that he will adjourn the conference sine die, as he was contemplating yesterday, but he is likely to return from London Monday4 and seek or probably announce a recess for a specific period, barring of course an Nkomo-Mugabe cave-in. A “recess” is far better than an “adjournment,” but it is not at all clear what he hopes to accomplish during a short recess. Still, as he assesses alternatives, he will have no other choice, largely because he cannot continue talking with the Muzorewa and Sithole factions without arousing intolerable suspicions.
Even if the date problem is miraculously overcome, the very prolonged discussion of this issue has created uncontrollable dynamics and dimmed prospects for progress on more substantive matters: the [Page 626] nationalists, particularly the Mugabe crowd, have run wild; all parties are proceeding as if the Rhodesians were not present in Geneva; there’s an unspoken British assumption that somehow, some way Washington in the end will handle Salisbury and Pretoria; it’s difficult to detect any intention on the part of the nationalists to share power, even unequally, during a transitional government; threats of protracted armed struggle are rife; the observers have become a part of the problem rather than a mechanism for seeking solutions; and I have the uneasy feeling that we are heading for a point when we will be asked to put together and sell to Salisbury and Pretoria an Annex D or E or F.
The most reasonably contented contingent in Geneva is the Salisbury group. Their dire prediction has been buttressed: you can’t do business with this crowd. And already Van der Byl and company are pushing hard for their dangerous alternative.5 Muzorewa is looking better and better to them, and later, as they court respectability, perhaps even Sithole may be asked to join other “moderates” to carry out “the Kissinger plan.” It won’t work, of course.
The final element of the problem is the predicted and even projected Nkomo-Mugabe split. No one doubts that eventually, perhaps even at the formation of a transitional government, this split is likely. What is not known is whether a separation becomes a viable alternative or simply another layer of the problem, for there is still a prevailing attitude among Mugabe’s more extreme subordinates that the new Zimbabwe should rise phoenix like from the ashes of Rhodesia to which they set fire. Nyerere’s gyrations help propel along those who wish to travel this bloody trail.
Date war results. I want to repeat: the casualties of the prolonged wrangle over the date of independence are numerous, and the divisions which have emerged will make the next phase of the conference, if there is one, more difficult to negotiate.
To the extent that there was ever external support for the conference, it has diminished. On the Africa-wide scene, the fragile consensus among the front line Presidents and their observers in Geneva has been at least temporarily broken and may not reappear except on the basis of [Page 627] more extreme demands. The Mozambicans first, followed by the Tanzanians, have played separate hands, seemingly never reviewing the bidding, and have forced their colleagues to follow suit. Nigeria, in the person of a clever diplomat operating under Commonwealth cover,6 is now a full-fledged observer of conference business, and its unhelpful influence has already been felt. Chona, as I saw yesterday and as the British confirm in detail, has begun to play his own game with little effective discipline being exercised by Kaunda. Persuaded of ZIPA’s importance, the observers have embraced the more extreme, Mugabe-spouted militant demands. Undercut by unilateral Mozambican and Tanzanian moves, a moderate like Mogwe feels and is powerless.
Equally on the external front, it seems to us from this distance that the South African public support for Geneva may have slipped. The South African press over the past two weeks has regularly highlighted black intransigence, and the shift in South African opinion must limit Vorster’s ability to obtain concessions from Smith.
The British have been bruised and burned by their experience as conference host and chairman. They seem to be more convinced than ever that Geneva under present rules will not produce a settlement and that Britain will be mired in a long, costly and probably inconclusive process. The nationalists’ decision to press Britain at the outset for a clear indication of Britain’s responsibilities has reinforced British fears. The experience of the independence date debate may have taught the more faint hearted among the British that their interests are served by settling to the strongest bidder. Nationalists’ pressures have forced the British to believe that the only way out is through significant concessions to African positions. For the moment they too have all but forgotten that Smith is an actor on the Geneva stage and seem to believe that we can produce Smith and the South Africans on call. They vow that they will die at the altar of Annex C, but they have not convinced me, nor Wisner all along, that their heart is in the fight. Finally, we must remember that since the Pearce Commission, the British have been blacker than the blacks, and there will be no rush to assume pre-Pearce stances.
The nationalists’ position has also deteriorated during the debate. “The wild men” have almost succeeded in deadlocking the conference. They know their power. They are aware that intransigence over time will result in substantial front line and other African support. Nkomo’s alliance with Mugabe has become a clear impediment to progress. As he seeks to build his political position in Rhodesia and [Page 628] avert civil war, Nkomo has been regularly outmaneuvered by his more radical colleagues. Muzorewa has reacted with increasing alarm to the Patriotic Front’s maneuvers. The chancy understanding which seemed to be developing among the nationalists at the beginning of the conference has eroded, and growing public exchanges between Muzorewa and the Patriotic Front portend ill for the future.
Smith could well conclude that he has emerged the victor in this round. His new confidence may mean that he will be more difficult to deal with if negotiations over the interim government commence. Through his restraint in the face of African provocation, Smith probably feels that he has won points with Western and South African opinion. His reported military successes should also serve to increase his confidence. The debate over the independence date has pitted Britain against the nationalists, and Smith may conclude that his leverage with the British is greater than at any time in the past. Van der Byl’s November 18 démarche to Richard,7 reminding him that Salisbury would stand by the “Kissinger package,” was an indication of what Smith has in mind. An earlier date for independence may not bother Smith as much as most Africans think. He cares far more about the power he will exercise in an interim government. In fact, the earlier the date of independence, the more authority he will expect during the transition. Thus, Smith may have concluded that British concessions on the date have played right into his hands.
Recommendations: First, I cannot emphasize too much that even if the date issue is resolved, the future course of the conference is likely to be rocky. Any resolution of this issue will at somepoint be accompanied by or accelerate an Nkomo-Mugabe split. The consequence for the conference and Zimbabwe over the long run will be severe. The following are, in my judgment, minimum USG requirements, some of which resemble biting bullets without teeth:
Until and unless we conclude that our objectives are unobtainable, the Geneva conference must be preserved. When the British speak of “adjourning and repackaging,” to use a Dennis Grennan phrase, they have no plan in mind and some British may really mean abandoning and cutting losses. It will not be possible in the foreseeable future to put together a new conference if Geneva dissolves. Neither we nor the British will be able to convince Machel, Nyerere or the radicals to reconvene on terms of moderation. Smith and the South Africans will be hard to hook again.
Still, we need the British, whatever the leverage we must expend in holding them in a rigorous position. While the nationalists and the [Page 629] front line are now pressing and occasionally vilifying the British, the UK represents their only fall-back instrument in a transitional government. After more emotion is spent in Geneva, the only arbiter during transition is likely to be the UK.
Sweet reasonableness no longer seems to be the appropriate message for Nyerere or even Kaunda. Further talk about irreversible courses and the avoidance of violence will only result in messages similar to the one from Ibadan. I think that you should write to each and in a rather tough tone to Nyerere point out that he seems to have abandoned the consultative process begun last April with the resultant near collapse of Geneva; at least you would have expected him to be in touch before taking actions which were predictably unhelpful. Soften the tone with Kaunda but leave no doubt that he is playing with fire, the fire of civil war that may engulf him as well as Rhodesia. Neither man should be left to doubt that we are unhappy, disappointed but still willing to work with them if we can.8 Each should know that “compromise” is a word that should enter their vocabulary of negotiation. They must understand that intransigence plays into Smith’s hands and sharply reduces our ability, directly or through Pretoria, to apply pressure.
While Geneva is not the best place to make an appraisal, I have tried to point out indications of shifts in South African opinion. If we have not, we should take early steps to measure what Geneva has done to Vorster. We know and have stated what it has done to Smith’s representatives. You might ask Botha to give you a frank account of Pretoria’s thinking.
At some early date we need to get a tough message to the nationalists, especially Nkomo and Muzorewa, that we cannot produce Salisbury if they remain intransigent. We have some sense of what sort of interim government they want, but we see no indication that they make any distinction between power sharing and power grabbing.
We need to work closely with the British in designing next steps.9 We should find some way to contribute to the Crosland-Richard November 22 talks rather than receive announcements and decisions after the meeting.
The moderate Africans need to know that Geneva will fail unless their front line colleagues and the nationalists act with greater responsibility. You might consider letters to Mobutu, Houphouet, and Senghor filling them in on the climate of opinion in Geneva and asking [Page 630] them to use their influence with their African brethren. You might remind them that if a transfer of power is to take place in Rhodesia, a negotiated outcome which involves power sharing during transition is required.
I will await instructions in Nairobi. If these include future Africa/Geneva ventures, I request: (1) as early indication as possible so that I can gauge UNESCO work; (2) and the daily sitreps in order to stay abreast of developments.
  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 14, Switzerland—State Department Telegrams, To SecState—Nodis (18). Secret; Cherokee; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Reinhardt arrived in Geneva on November 17.
  3. See Document 222.
  4. November 22.
  5. In telegram 9210 from Geneva, November 18, Reinhardt reported on his meeting with the Rhodesians. Van der Byl proposed that Smith “should carry out the Kissinger plan on his own, and organize a government of moderate blacks within Rhodesia,” and sought the support of the United States and Britain to back the plan. Reinhardt told them the plan would “meet stiff opposition” and “urged them to continue to consider the problem within the Geneva context and not outside of it.” (Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 14, Switzerland—State Department Telegrams, To SecState—Nodis (18))
  6. Presumably a reference to Eleazar Chukwuemeka Anyaoku, Assistant Secretary General for the Commonwealth Secretariat.
  7. Reported in telegram 9227 from Geneva, November 18. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, P840099–0938)
  8. See Document 228.
  9. See Document 224.