27. Memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon1


  • Status of U.S. Consulate General, Salisbury, Rhodesia


The Smith regime has announced that the new Rhodesian Republican Constitution came into force on March 2, 1970, and that the present Parliament will be dissolved March 3. The dissolution represents the final and formal break with Britain as the new Constitution provides for an Acting President who replaces the British Crown as [Page 74] head of State. Although the Rhodesians have made no formal announcement that the Republic came into existence on March 2—and indications are that no announcement will be made—Ian Smith has earlier stated this would be the case on the dissolution of Parliament, and the British have informed us they, too, consider the Republic to have been established. The press is treating the dissolution in this way, and we believe the terms of the Constitution support this interpretation.

General elections under provisions of the new Constitution will be held on April 10. The new Parliament will sit and choose Rhodesia’s first President. At this point the various steps involved in setting up the institutions of the new Republic will have been completed.

The UN Secretary General has suggested that the Security Council meet urgently to consider the Rhodesian situation. Although it is not clear just what course the Council’s deliberations may take, we can foresee two possibilities. There may be strong pressures for extreme measures such as the use of force or closure of the gaps in the Rhodesian sanctions program by its extension to South Africa and Mozambique. Alternatively, there may be a general condemnatory resolution which would also require the withdrawal of all consular missions in Salisbury. Such a resolution would certainly be supported by sufficient members, including the United Kingdom, to ensure passage unless vetoed by a permanent member.

Quite apart from possible Security Council action, we can expect strong condemnatory statements from black African states if we do not act now to close our Consulate. The OAU is in the process of adopting a special resolution which, among other things, will criticize those countries which still maintain consulates in Salisbury. The Ethiopian Foreign Minister has indicated that even moderate African states will have to condemn the failure of the U.S. to close the Consulate and the Zambian Ambassador has expressed his Government’s “grave concern.”

We have publicly and privately assured the British Government on various occasions that we regarded it as the sovereign power in Rhodesia and that we have no intention of recognizing the illegal regime in Salisbury.2 On February 28, the British delivered an urgent démarche asking that the U.S. quickly reach a decision to close the American Consulate General in Salisbury.3 The British informed us that they do not believe the question can remain under review any longer without creating an awkward situation for both the United States and the United Kingdom.

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By bringing into force the new Constitution, the Rhodesians have, in effect, brought about a situation in which the continued maintenance of our Consulate in Salisbury will be looked upon by the British, the Africans and most of the international community as acceptance and approval of the Smith regime. The continued presence of our Consular office would become increasingly difficult to explain.

In light of the British request for an early decision to close, our failure to heed the desires of the sovereign power could be interpreted by the British and others as an affront to British sovereignty and acceptance of the Rhodesian regime and Rhodesian statehood, even though we may expressly deny we either approve or recognize the Smith regime. It would be inconsistent for the United States to maintain that we do not recognize either a state of Rhodesia or the Smith regime, but rather consider Southern Rhodesia to be a non-self-governing territory with the United Kingdom as the recognized sovereign, and yet continue to have a consular mission in that territory against the expressed wishes of the recognized sovereign.

In any UN consideration of the Rhodesian question, the credibility and goodwill which we would gain by having announced our intention to withdraw would enable us better to resist pressures for extreme measures or to organize sufficient abstensions to prevent passage of a resolution embodying them. Should we be faced with a resolution requiring withdrawal of consular missions from Salisbury, we would be spared the unpalatable choices of (1) appearing to have been forced out of Salisbury; (2) maintaining a Consulate in violation of a mandatory Security Council resolution; or (3) casting the first U.S. veto.

The consular service and assistance requirements of American citizens in Rhodesia can be adequately covered by our Consulate General in Johannesburg. Maintenance of the office in Salisbury would offer no material or other advantages comparable to the disadvantages involved.

Closure of our office would give concrete meaning to our statements that the United States neither condones nor approves of the discriminatory racial policies of the minority regimes in southern Africa. It would also remove an issue in our relations with the UK and would save us from the political liabilities we would encounter in Africa should we maintain the office.

In light of the coming into force of the Republican Constitution cutting the last formal tie with the British Crown and of the British request that we close the office, I believe we need to review the status of our Consulate in Salisbury.

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In light of the above, I believe we should close our Consulate in Salisbury and announce our intention to do so immediately. I would appreciate your approval of this course of action and of the proposed press statement announcing our action.4

William P. Rogers 5
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 16 RHOD. Confidential. Drafted by Bruce on February 28; cleared in AF, AF/S, and EUR; cleared in draft in EUR/BMI, IO, IO/UNP, SCA, and L/AF; cleared in substance in L. A typed notation on the first page reads: “Approved. See NSDM 47.” A handwritten notation beneath it reads: “AF notified March 9.” NSDM 47 is Document 28.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 25 and footnote 4 below.
  3. Document 26.
  4. The press statement is attached but not printed. Nixon did not indicate his approval or disapproval of the recommendation. Rogers issued a statement on March 9, which included this text: “On March 2, 1970, the Rhodesian regime implemented a new constitution and a Rhodesian President is substituted for the British Crown as head of state. This constitutes the final and formal break with the United Kingdom. The United States has regarded and continues to regard the United Kingdom as the lawful sovereign.” (Department of State Bulletin, March 30, 1970, p. 412)
  5. Rogers initialed “WPR” above his typed signature.