320. Memorandum of Conversations1

January 27 Meeting Between the President and Prime Minister Wilson.

Wilson began the conversation with a discussion of the Nigerian problem making an all-out defense of the Lagos Government.2 He said [Page 971] that the Nigerians don’t want to be pushed around. The Russians have taken an anti-tribal line, and have therefore scored many points in Nigeria. Military discipline is being restored so that there was no danger of unusual massacres in the eastern province. The Western report indicated that most of the starvation in the enclave antedated the occupation by the Nigerians. It proves that starvation was even then endemic. Of course, he concluded, the press takes dirty and slushy pictures. But if one takes a panoramic view, one recognizes that things are as well as they could be, and that many of the reports of starvation are self-serving.

The President asked whether more supplies could be sent in. Mr. Wilson said that the important thing was to get tents for the Federal troops in the Eastern Region so they would not have to live off the population. The President said it was essential that we keep our humanitarian concern front and center in order not to be vulnerable to public opinion. The Prime Minister replied, “Let’s make sure that we don’t push Lagos into the arms of the Soviets; we have to keep close together. Another week or ten days is likely to get us out of the woods.” The President repeated that we should defuse the issue by making clear that our concern is primarily humanitarian.

The President then asked Wilson about his estimate of the European situation. Wilson said that Pompidou was solid but unimaginative and lacked de Gaulle’s flair. If British entry into the Common Market was the price that was necessary to get his agricultural policy accepted, Pompidou would be willing to pay it though he would prefer not to. Pompidou does not have de Gaulle’s complexes.

The Prime Minister said that talks on British entry will start in the first half of this year. The British strategy will be to concentrate on four or five key issues. The change in the German Government was very fa [Page 972] vorable. Brandt was honest and subtle and much less tricky than Kiesinger. Brandt, he said, may hold the pistol of agriculture policy to the French head. The French are frightened of Germany and are looking to Britain; Britain may thus be back to its historic role of being solicited by the second strongest country on the Continent as a counterweight against the strongest one.

The President asked if Brandt is capable of managing a détente. Wilson said there is no doubt that he can. He’s unfrozen the situation; he’s gotten the troops out of the trenches; he’s done away with stale, cold-war rhetoric.

The President remarked that, “We are in favor of Britain’s entry into Europe, though we don’t speak of it publicly. Is that agreeable to Britain?” Wilson said, “Yes, the political dividend of a united Europe must compensate the United States for the economic price of European economic unity. The Europeans must accept a larger responsibility. This is true in every field except defense, where it would be dangerous.” Britain would not agree to a separate European defense entity—you can’t have an alliance within an alliance. NATO cannot be a negative force; it must have some positive programs also.

The President asked about the “prospect of a visit by the Prime Minister to Moscow.” Wilson replied that he did not want to go hurrying off on a quick trip and give the impression that he was carrying a message from the President. He is planning to go in the late spring or early summer. The big question is whether there will be an offensive similar to Tet of 1967 or 1968 in the spring and whether this would affect his trip. The President gave him an evaluation of the situation in Vietnam. He said the situation in the countryside has improved, and that we must expect a blow because the enemy will feel it must do something. But their target may well be the South Vietnamese rather than the American forces.

The biggest blow we have struck, the President continued, is the muting of American dissent. The key question now is whether the South Vietnamese are able to do the job. The reports are fairly good. We are not approaching the Russians on Vietnam. To do so is an exercise in futility. They can’t afford to appear not to support Hanoi. We are confident that we can end the war by Vietnamization or by negotiations. This does not require our making a new proposal now, because Hanoi has demonstrated that whenever it is ready to negotiate it will certainly let us know.

The President then turned to the discussions with the Chinese. He said the talks have been very forthcoming. We are taking the line that we cannot have one billion Chinese sitting outside the international community. Dobrynin says this is a dirty trick, but we will move at our pace and in our direction. Some of the Kremlinologists believe we [Page 973] should stonewall the Chinese lest we irritate the Russians, but the SALT talks prove we can talk to the Russians and to the Chinese simultaneously.

The President then turned to a discussion of ABM and MIRV. “You know and I know,” he said, “that it is essential that we don’t have a nuclear blowup. You recognize that better than any other world leader.” The Prime Minister said that the Soviet military leaders have more power than the military in our own countries. The President said our line at the talks is this: First, we want agreement; we want to be forthcoming. Second, we won’t give up any cards in advance. On Vietnam, he said, our best position is to accept Russian help, but not to ask for it. They won’t help us because we ask them; they will help us because they will face the necessity.

Returning to SALT, the President said that before talks began he had had very little optimism. Now he thinks there’s a chance they may need a control on arms because of their problem with the Chinese. A situation may be arising where self-interest requires give and take.

Wilson said he agreed with everything the President had said, and added that it is harder for the Soviet Union to swallow their words on Germany than on ABM or Vietnam. We have told Kosygin, Wilson continued, that the Common Market may be a good way to contain Germany. Wilson said he had the impression that the President, through his very subtle China policy, was trying to use China to ruffle the back hair of the Soviets. The President said we just don’t want them to take us for granted.

Wilson said that on Vietnam there are one or two hopeful factors. One was the general acceptance of the November 3 and December 15 statements.3 We are still on a long road, but it now has a goal. Also the British were reassured by Robert Thompson’s more optimistic account. It is interesting that a man of his experience agrees with the American assessment. He had also asked the Romanian Prime Minister Maurer what he thought of Vietnam.4 Maurer had said to him, “If I were the President, I would do exactly what he is doing.”

The President said Abrams is a more effective commander than we’ve had there before. Infiltration is not heavy enough to permit the other side to build up its forces. But they haven’t fought for 25 years to [Page 974] play dead now. Still, if they launch an offensive that jeopardizes our forces, we will do something.

Wilson said he had one thing to say on SALT. “We appreciate the private briefings we have received and we have acquaintance with nuclear questions that can be helpful.” He recognized, however, that the problem was difficult inside the Soviet Union, too.

This ended the conversation in the oval office. It was continued in the Cabinet Room in the presence of advisors, and is reported elsewhere.5

January 28 Meeting Between the President and Prime Minister Wilson.

The President began the conversation with a rather strong statement on Nigeria. He said he is not concerned with who caused the suffering: I don’t want to hear “who killed John?” We don’t blame the Federals. The fact is that the suffering exists. Quakers and Jewish people in particular are concerned, and the President himself has a Quaker background. Because people are concerned, everyone should help now. We should all try to get Gowon’s6 cooperation to respond to Nigerian need. We should at least agree on a common factual basis.

Wilson said we should remember Gone With the Wind’s 700 pages on the situation after the Civil War and that there was always a lot of suffering in such cases. The President said yes, and we don’t want a nationalist-socialist combination in Nigeria, but still we have to do what we can.

Wilson turned to Rhodesia and said, “we have an interest in Rhodesia and can only tell you that if you showed any tolerance toward the white regime there you will pay a heavy price in all of black Africa.” Commonwealth countries feel very strongly about this, he said, and the issue is used by the Russians and Chinese. The President said he had just sent out a policy directive the other day. We have vocal and articulate defenders of Rhodesia in this country. The policy directive ordered no change in our position until Rhodesia proclaims itself a republic. Then we’ll review the situation.

Wilson made a pro forma appeal on the textile issue and asked whether he could send a note. We have suffered, he said, as much or more than anyone else. The President agreed, but noted that it is also a tough political problem.

[Page 975]

The President stressed the imperative need of sticking together on the Middle East. Wilson said that it is not their position to outflank the U.S. with concessions. Britain may have to restate its view in slightly different language, but since Israel has already described the U.S. plan as a sellout, there’s no sense in going further.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1023, Presidential/HAK MemCons. Secret; Sensitive; Nodis. A memorandum from Haig to Kissinger indicates that copies were sent to the Secretaries of State and Defense. (Ibid.) According to the President’s Daily Diary, on January 27, Nixon and Wilson, accompanied by Kissinger and Sir Burke Trend, met in the Oval Office from 10:56 a.m. until 12:37 p.m., when they joined their advisers in the Cabinet Room. On January 28, Nixon and Wilson met in the Oval Office from 11:58 a.m. (joined by Kissinger and Trend at 12:05 p.m.) until 12:38 p.m., immediately after the NSC meeting (see Document 319). (National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, White House Central Files)A separate and somewhat fuller memorandum of conversation covering Nixon’s January 27 meeting with Wilson is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 63, Memoranda of Conversations, Presidential File, 1970. That memorandum includes a sentence that reads: “Throughout he [Wilson] conducted himself like a clever, small-town banker who, if he was lucky enough to be persuasive, might just succeed in maneuvering the senior partner into a position of carrying out his wishes by making him believe that they were his own.” Kissinger discussed the Nixon-Wilson meeting in White House Years, pp. 416–417.
  2. Reference to the attempted secession of the province of Biafra from Nigeria. Documentation on U.S. policy during the Nigerian secession crisis and civil war is published in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume E–5, part 1, Documents on Sub-Saharan Africa, 1969–1972.
  3. In his speech on November 3, 1969, Nixon discussed his plan to achieve peace in Vietnam through negotiations and Vietnamization of the conflict. On December 15, he provided a progress report to the American people on the plan. See Public Papers: Nixon, 1969, pp. 901–909, 1025–1028.
  4. Apparently during Maurer’s November 24–29, 1969, visit to the United Kingdom. For a summary of the communiqué of this visit, see Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1969–1970, p. 23801.
  5. A memorandum of conversation is in the National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL UK–US. During this meeting, Wilson and the President reviewed their private discussion for their foreign affairs advisers.
  6. Major General Yakubu Gowon, Chairman of the Supreme Military Council of Nigeria.