224. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the United Kingdom1

285850. London for Ambassador, Geneva for Wisner. Subject: Consulting British on Rhodesia Conference.

Rhodesia conference chairman Ivor Richard is in London this weekend and will be consulting with Foreign Secretary Crosland, FCO colleagues, and possibly Prime Minister Callaghan on Monday, November 22 prior to returning to Geneva for meeting with Patriotic Front that evening. While his consultation is being described as a routine fortnightly report, it is clear that conference is at impasse over issue of independence date and cannot proceed to other issues until this one is disposed of to the satisfaction of both the British (acting through the chairman) and the Patriotic Front. Divisions within the Front between Nkomo and Mugabe are very great, but there is danger that an effort either to split the two or to carry on negotiations with the other delegations without the Front would risk complete rejection of the process by the important front-line presidents.
In the gloomy atmosphere of Geneva it appeared at one point that some of the British advisors considered the possibility of adjourning the conference, either indefinitely or for a short period, although the latest indication is that the British may be inclined to send [Page 631] Richard back with instructions to soldier on with the independence date issue a while longer.
The British probably have no clear plan for solving the current issue or dealing with the situation that will result if it cannot be solved. While we wish to keep abreast of their thinking and share with them our own thoughts and concerns, we do not want them to feel we are pressing them to adopt a particular position on the independence date, which is an issue affecting the British role and British political sensitivities. Nonetheless, in view of the obvious problem at hand, we believe it important to express our concerns and explore certain questions with them at this time.
Accordingly you are instructed to get in touch with Crosland, Rowlands, or Palliser in the FCO and say you have been asked to seek an appointment if possible to consult jointly with them and Mr. Richard to exchange views on the conference and any steps we should be taking to keep the negotiating process going. In so doing you should use the following talking points.
—We admire the skill and patience with which the chairman has handled the troublesome issue of an independence date.
—It has been our hope that this issue could be bypassed so that the conference could move on to the business of arranging a transitional government which would provide the mechanism by which the transfer of power, establishment of majority rule, and independence would be made effective.
—The approach which the nationalists, particularly the Patriotic Front, have taken on the independence date illustrates the problem of taking one issue at a time and being forced to settle each point before moving on. If the procedure continues to be followed further blow-ups will be inevitable.
—If it is possible, we believe the best strategy is to keep all issues open until nearer the end of the conference, when the time comes to put a final package together. That way one maintains opportunities for negotiating trade-offs between different positions on different issues.
—How can we convey the wisdom of this negotiating approach to the delegations in Geneva?
—We note that the Patriotic Front has mentioned elections in their latest statement about an independence date. This raises the danger of the nationalists opening up another extraneous debate on a single issue before getting to the substance of a transitional government, since the organization of elections, including the franchise, is one of the important and difficult questions that the transitional government is to deal with. We hope the nationalists will not insist on discussing these constitutional questions before agreeing on a transitional government, or there will never be a transition.
—We are concerned, as we know you must be, that the present impasse does not force a break-up or even adjournment of the Geneva conference.
—We believe that adjournment would run the risk of handing initiative over to the more radical front line leaders who will encourage return to the conference table, if at all, only after they have worked out a package of nearly unconditional surrender terms that neither Smith could accept nor the South Africans support. And without some hope of the latter two elements, negotiations become impossible and escalating warfare inevitable.
—In order to keep the conference going we wonder if we should seek to point out to key front line presidents that adjournment over the independence date issue will be more damaging to the African cause than to Smith. In this connection we are prepared to send Ambassador Reinhardt to see Nyerere and Kaunda again, although Nyerere and through him, Machel, may be the most difficult and important to convince.
—Should we not, perhaps, reiterate that Smith accepted Callaghan’s outside time of two years and so did the front line presidents? Within that framework, Smith has already accepted the goal of majority rule, leaving for negotiation only the question of how and exactly when, within the time he accepted, this was to be accomplished.
—Adjournment over the issue of an independence date strikes us as potentially more damaging than over substantive issues involved in reaching agreement on a transitional government.
—We believe that none of the delegation leaders who are currently negotiating in Geneva will have an opportunity to play a role in future Zimbabwean government if the present conference breaks up or adjourns without an early resumption.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Secret; Cherokee; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Schaufele and Edmondson and approved by Kissinger. Repeated to Geneva.