179. Memorandum of Conversation1 2


  • The President
  • Prime Minister Wilson
  • Sir Burke Trend
  • Henry A. Kissinger

Wilson initiated the conversation. He began with a discussion of the Nigerian problem making an all-out defense of the Lagos Government. He said that the Nigerians donʼt 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. Kissinger observed that most of the difficulty was not in getting food into Nigeria, but in getting it from the entrance port to the Eastern Region. 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, “Letʼs make sure that we donʼt 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. We and the British have to work together for common humanitarian concerns. We have to try to make clear that we are on top of the situation and that we are doing what we can.

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Wilson then challenged the figure that 2,000 tons a week had gone into Biafra in the last weeks. He said that only 1,000 tons went in and that a maximum of 6,000 tons were needed now. We agreed that we would try to achieve a joint estimate of the situation.

[Omitted here is discussion of unrelated issues.]

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January 28 Meeting Between the President, Prime Minister Wilson, Sir Burke Trent and Mr. Henry Kissinger in the Oval Office.

The President began the conversation with a rather strong statement on Nigeria. He said he is not concerned with who caused the suffering; I donʼt want to hear “who killed John?” We donʼt 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 Gowonʼs cooperation to respond to Nigerian need. We should at least agree on a common factual basis.

Wilson said we should remember Gone with the Windʼs 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 donʼt want a nationalist-socialist combination in Nigeria, but still we have to do what we can.

[Omitted here is discussion of unrelated issues.]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 1023, Presidential/Henry A. Kissinger Memcons, Memcon Nixon/Prime Minister Wilson, January 27–28, 1970. Top Secret; Sensitive; NODIS. The meeting took place in the Oval Office. Haig forwarded the memorandum of conversation to Kissinger under cover of a March 3 memorandum in which he referred to the attachment as an “edited version” of the Presidentʼs conversations with Wilson on January 27 and 28 which had been “further modified to remove any comments you made during the first day and cut down the first day somewhat.” An unedited version of this memorandum of conversation is in the Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box TS 63, Memoranda of Conversations, Presidential File, 1970.
  2. In his meeting with the President, Prime Minister Wilson defended the Lagos government and noted that Nigerians did not like to be coerced. He believed reports of starvation were self-serving. Nixon stated that there was considerable suffering and emphasized that the U.S. concern was humanitarian.