61. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon1


  • Rhodesia: British Seem Close to an Agreement

Alec Douglas-Home announced to the House of Commons today that he will go to Rhodesia on November 14 to attempt to reach an agreement with Ian Smith.

The British have informed our Embassy in London2 that there are still two elements in dispute between Britain and the Rhodesians. The first concerns the British insistence on the rollback of racially discriminatory laws enacted by the Ian Smith regime since the declaration of independence. The second concerns the politically sensitive British need to establish that they have independently examined and ascertained the public attitudes of Rhodesians toward the settlement.

Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely that Sir Alec would be going to Rhodesia if he were not confident that a settlement will result from his visit. The British, in fact, have already worked out a scenario by which the initial agreement would be followed by a two or three month period during which the British will, somehow, discharge their commitment to “examine” the attitude of the Rhodesian people. The British consider that this will be a period of particular sensitivity, and they will be sending a senior official (Lord Godber) to Washington to explain to us the mechanics they have in mind and to underline their need for a moratorium on criticism during this two to three month period. The British will then report to the President of the Security Council that an agreement has been reached and that, therefore, the UN sanctions on Rhodesia are no longer necessary. Only at that point, will the British themselves terminate their sanctions program.

Clearly, the British are hoping to avoid a Security Council meeting on the termination of sanctions. I would judge that hope to be extremely naive. No agreement that the British can make with Ian Smith is at all likely to be satisfactory to a majority of UN nations or, indeed, a majority of Security Council members. The Rhodesian issue will proba[Page 155]bly be seized upon by the Chinese representatives as an opportunity for them to assert leadership among non-white countries. The Soviets can also be counted upon to be super-virtuous in supporting African denunciations of the British “sellout”.

Assuming that the British go ahead with their present plans, our problem will be to walk a narrow line between making the British position more difficult, and taking positions in which we, ourselves, become the villain of the piece and pay the political costs for the British initiative.

The British have taken their initiative without consultation with us and played a distinctly unhelpful role on the recent Chinese representation matter. They, therefore, have no particular claim on us in connection with this problem.

We are issuing a NSSM3 on this matter, and will be coming to you with recommendations on the posture which will minimize our political costs while not undercutting the British attempt to terminate the Rhodesian sanctions.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box H–188, National Security Study Memoranda, NSSM 142. Confidential. Sent for information. A stamped notation indicates the President saw it. The document is incorrectly dated November 17. Douglas-Home made his announcement on November 9. (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1971–1972, p. 24982)
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Document 64.