225. Telegram From the Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State1

18821. Department pass Geneva for Wisner and Nairobi for Reinhardt. Subject: Meeting with Rowlands and Richard. Reference: State 285850.2

We were unable to arrange for the Ambassador to see Crosland November 22 because of conflicting schedules. Minister and Embassy officer, therefore, called on Ted Rowlands who was joined by Ivor Richard and Philip Mansfield. The three had just emerged from a long session on Rhodesia with the Foreign Secretary.
We made the points in our instructions, emphasizing the dangers we foresee in an adjournment of the conference and saying that Reinhardt is prepared to see Kaunda and Nyerere again. We also stressed the concern that, if the obstacle of the independence date can be surmounted, the conference should proceed to negotiate a package for the transition and that the package should keep distinct those functions which are the responsibility of Geneva from those which are the responsibility of the interim government.
Richard took the lead in responding. He said there were two immediate considerations affecting the British stance on the independence date issue. First, Parliament would simply not accept a formula for Rhodesian independence which did not provide for elections. Second, if Britain is to follow the pattern of previous decolonization processes as the front line presidents are insisting—then the procedure Britain is now following is the traditionally proper course. We asked if the British had considered getting off the independence date issue by instead setting a firm date for elections. Rowlands said they had just discussed this possibility with Crosland and that Richard would be prepared to put forward that idea in Geneva at the right time if necessary.
Richard then described the political considerations which seem to dominate British thinking on the date question. The issue itself, he said, is getting less important than the struggle now going on within the Patriotic Front. A crunch between Mugabe and Nkomo was bound to come sooner or later, and sooner is probably better. It is important that Nkomo win this unfolding showdown with Mugabe, Richard said. Although it is difficult to get “a good feel for this war of nerves,” the [Page 634] British have received signals that their firmness on the issue is helping Nkomo assert his authority within the Front. If Nkomo gives the private impression that he wants the British to remain firm, they will; if relaxing the British stand will benefit Nkomo, Richard is ready to go more in the direction of a definite date, perhaps using a formula which calls for elections by January 1, 1978 leading to independence by March 1. In any event, the British are prepared to play the independence date issue flexibly in whatever manner is most advantageous for Nkomo vis-à-vis Mugabe.
Richard said that he expects to tie up the date question within the next day or two. If he fails to do so, the British will call for a short adjournment of perhaps ten or fourteen days. Asked if adjournment would not in fact work against Nkomo rather than for him, Richard answered somewhat vaguely that Nkomo would use the adjournment to organize people who would then put pressure on Mugabe. Rowlands added that if the conference is bogged down on the date issue, a temporary adjournment would be the only way to break the impasse. He then said that if the issue is resolved by specifying a date for elections, the US might have to put pressure on Smith to accept the agreement or at least note it and move on to other points.
Richard and Rowlands reacted positively to a Reinhardt mission to Lusaka and Dar es Salaam. Both agreed that some “gentle disapproval” expressed by the U.S. to Kaunda and Nyerere “would do no harm”. Richard said he had no good explanation for Nyerere’s about-face on the independence date other than the unhelpful influence of the Nigerians.
Richard said he fully intended to proceed with the remainder of the conference on a package basis. He plans to solicit ideas from each delegation on the whole structure of an interim government. Nkomo, he understands, is already working on detailed proposals. When all plans have been put to the British, Richard will then devote one day to discussions with each of the delegations followed by a plenary session to discuss the basic issues. Ultimately, he said, when all views have been aired, he will table something similar to Annex C.
Rowlands said the UK is entirely conscious of keeping separate those issues which ought to be taken up in Geneva and those which should be left to the interim government. He nevertheless fears that any discussion of elections, even in the context of setting a date of independence, could lead to a discussion of franchise. It will be difficult to prevent the nationalists from introducing one-man, one-vote as a definition of elections, he said. The British will insist, however, that franchise falls within the purview of the interim government.
Comment: Richard is going back to Geneva with his confidence intact and with the immediate tactical goal of playing his cards in what[Page 635]ever manner most supports Joshua Nkomo. He assumes we agree and that we will take what steps we can to strengthen Nkomo’s position. If the date issue cannot be resolved, however, the British have already decided on adjournment as the next best move.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Document 224.