15. Memorandum of Conversation1 2

Subject:

  • Talks between President Ford and President Echeverria

PARTICIPANTS:

  • U.S. Participants:
    • President Ford
    • Secretary Kissinger
    • Anthony Hervas, Interpreter
  • Mexican Participants:
    • President Luis Echeverria
    • Foreign Minister Rabasa
    • Mrs. Italia Morayta, Interpreter

After an initial exchange during which President Ford expressed his appreciation for the fine reception extended by the people of Nogales and of Magdalena, and the hope that he would be able to reciprocate the high standard set by his host later on during the visit to Tubac, Arizona, President Echeverria suggested that it would be an appropriate moment to discuss matters of common interest.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Law of the Sea.]

[Page 2]

Secretary Rabasa:

Turning to another area, current discussions relating to the Law of the Sea are at present subject to two conventions, the 1958 Convention and 1960 Convention. These documents regulate such matters as territorial waters, adjacent zones, the continental shelf, pollution contamination, etc. The Caracas conference on the Law of the Sea was not quite a success, though it was not a complete failure either. One trend apparent in the conference pointed to the concept of the “patrimonial sea,” as opposed to the traditional concept [Page 3]of the “territorial sea.” Mexico and 94 other countries have traditionally subscribed to the 12 mile territorial sea concept. However, certain countries—Ecuador and Peru—have recently posed problems by their claims to territorial seas extending two hundred miles from their shores. A new “in between” theory, gaining support, is the one of the “patrimonial sea” or “economic zone.” The concept of patrimonial sea does not proclaim sovereignty over the sea, but does claim ownership of its resources, such as fishing, mining, flora, fauna, etc. I am under the impression that Secretary Kissinger appeared to support this concept. However some Senators from the New England states were raising objections.

President Ford:

It is not only the Senators from New England but also those from the West Coast.

Secretary Kissinger:

We are basically in agreement with the concept of the patrimonial sea. However, two specific problems remain. The first refers to its application to the Mar de Cortes, or Gulf of California. Secondly, we oppose a unilateral declaration by Mexico without waiting for the conclusion of the Law of the Sea Conference. If Mexico were to make a unilateral declaration, other countries might feel encouraged to follow suit and the results lead to insoluble problems such as those involving the archipelago as well as the right of transit through straights. What for some countries is a “patrimonial sea” for others is a “territorial sea.” If we can get you to stop from making a unilateral declaration on the matter, and if you can get a number of countries to go along with your proposal, I believe we could support the Mexican position.

[Page 4]

President Echeverria:

We could cooperate at the next international conference on the Law of the Sea to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, next March, April and May. If President Ford agrees, both delegations could join forces to support the concept of patrimonial sea. Mexico is not presently contemplating a unilateral declaration. However because of the conflicting theories being proposed at the conference, it would be advisable to reach some kind of agreement regarding waters that are adjacent to the territorial sea. Let us try for an internationally reached agreement. After that each country would try to solve specific problems with its neighbors on a bilateral basis.

Secretary Kissinger:

I think that we could go along with such a proposal but we would like to check it with our lawyers. Our basic position is that in principle we see no incompatibility between our positions and I feel certain we can cooperate with the Mexican concept as long as Mexico does not proceed to make a unilateral declaration. Unilateral declarations by a number of countries such as Persian Gulf countries or Spain could result in denying entry through international waterways.

Secretary Rabasa:

I feel we are substantially in agreement on the matter and whatever name used, whether patrimonial sea, economic zone, or international sea, this is not of great significance. It is important to work out legislation at the Geneva Conference and Mexico will not proceed with a unilateral declaration.

President Ford:

How many countries support the concept?

Secretary Rabasa:

Among others, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay have made claims to a large territorial sea and, in fact, the U.S. and Brazil have signed an agreement regarding shrimp fishing rights in an area of two hundred miles of ocean along the Brazilian coast.

[Page 5]

Secretary Kissinger:

We have a convention with Brazil and this is a concept we can live with. It requires further study in order to arrive at a proposal that would meet with the approval of the Law of the Sea Conference. Would you like to have Mr. Maw come to discuss the matter further with you?

President Echeverria:

Could we have a map of the Caribbean Sea and adjoining areas?

Secretary Kissinger:

The area we will have difficulties with is what you call Sea of Cortes.

Secretary Rabasa:

We should have a conference of the countries in and around the Caribbean, with a view to applying the concept of the patrimonial sea to the area.

Secretary Kissinger:

If the 200 mile territorial sea applied we would close off the Caribbean to all navigation, because no area is mere than two hundred miles away from any other.

Secretary Rabasa:

It is our desire to apply the patrimonial sea concept. Not a restrictive interpretation of the territorial sea. The idea we are suggesting is of a community of Caribbean nations which would include Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and the Caribbean Islands. All states would retain their fishing rights within certain limits. The U.S. would see its interests represented by the presence of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the area. I have already spoken with the Foreign Ministers of Jamaica and Cuba and they have expressed their agreement in principle with the concept of a community of the Caribbean Sea. If the concept of the territorial sea was strictly applied, three countries, the U.S., Mexico and Cuba would divide up the area.

[Page 6]

President Echeverria:

If the concept of the patrimonial sea prevails, this will be important for us, because Mexico has recently discovered large oil reserves on the continental shelf in an area north of the Yucatan peninsula. The U.S. also has large oil fields in the Gulf south of Louisiana and Texas. For these reasons solution to the question of the rights of the riparian states will become increasingly urgent. Within the next few months, the interested parties should attempt to devise the manner in which the Law of the Sea would deal with such matters.

Secretary Kissinger:

It is necessary to deal with two separate matters. First, with the question of the patrimonial sea and how it would apply to the Caribbean nations. Secondly, whether all Caribbean Islands would be considered together as a unit or whether all states would assert their separate claims.

Secretary Rabasa: All islands would be considered as a unit, and within that unit, the U.S. would have its interests represented by the presence of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. One practical consequence will be the exclusion of all other countries from the Caribbean.

Secretary Kissinger:

This second proposal has not been studied in detail by U.S. Government officials.

President Echeverria:

I propose that such a study be undertaken in order to determine the respective interests of all countries involved.

President Ford:

Are there any colonial claims which would interfere with the suggested proposal?

[Page 7]

Secretary Rabasa:

Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Jamaica are trying to establish a common market, together with Belize, but their claims would have to be studied considering all the Caribbean Islands a single unit.

Secretary Kissinger: We have not studied the future implications of the “patrimonial sea” but in principle we could go along with the concept, provided Mexico does not proceed to a unilateral declaration.

Secretary Rabasa:

The matter can not wait forever.

President Echeverria:

A few months are still available to study the alternatives and determine the extent with which any norms would have world-wide application. I have already held talks on the subject with Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez, with Jamaican Prime Minister Manley, and with Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro. All agreed that the matter must be studied soon because of existing problems and of others that might arise in the near future. This idea originated with the Prime Minister of Jamaica. We have become very concerned with seeking a solution. One possible problem might arise if a country had oil within its patrimonial sea and was not technically equipped to exploit it. Such countries would be free to contract with foreign companies to assist in the exploitation of these resources.

President Ford:

How did the countries in the North Sea area solve the problem of sovereignty over the oil?

[Page 8]

Secretary Kissinger:

They used as a basis the continental shelf and Norway and the United Kingdom drew a line at the continental shelf and divided the rest of the area. Some potential problems could rise applying this measure because some countries such as Argentina it extends 600 miles into the ocean. It would also give origin to disputes between Korea, China and Japan, especially if different criteria were applied.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Law of the Sea.]

  1. Source: Ford Library, National Security Adviser, Memoranda of Conversations, Box 6, October 21, 1974–Ford, Kissinger, Mexican President Luis Echeverría. Secret; Exdis. An attached November 2 covering memorandum from Springsteen to Scowcroft indicates the location of the meeting. On October 21 Ford and Echeverría held a series of meetings at sites on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border to discuss a variety of bilateral issues, see Department of State Bulletin, November 18, 1974, pp. 661–667.
  2. Ford and Echeverría discussed Law of the Sea matters, with particular emphasis on the patrimonial sea concept.