285. Memorandum of Conversation1 2

[Page 1]


  • Detente in the Horn and Somali Shipping Problem


  • H.E. Yusuf O. Azhari, Ambassador of the Somali Democratic Republic
  • The Secretary
  • Edward W. Holmes, Acting Director, AF/E

Ambassador Azhari called on the Secretary at his request to say farewell in view of his imminent departure for Mogadiscio on transfer. He spoke in glowing terms of his 3-1/2 years in the United States and was most complimentary concerning the assistance and understanding consistently given him by State Department officials.

In response to a question by the Secretary concerning prospects for a continuation of the detente in the Horn, Ambassador Azhari stated he was most pleased that the detente initiated by Prime Minister Egal in 1967 was being fully upheld by the present Somali Government. He stated his belief that the idea of detente with Somaliaʼs neighbors had taken root among the Somali people far more deeply than generally realized and that it would continue to be a fundamental basis of Somali foreign policy. He was delighted at this prospect and was convinced it was of utmost importance not only to his own country but to Ethiopia and Kenya as well.

Ambassador Azhari then said he hoped the Secretary would not mind his raising a problem of great concern to him personally and to the future of U.S.-Somali relations, namely, the involvement of Somali flag vessels in trade with North Vietnam. The Ambassador reviewed the problem in some detail, pointing out that the previous government had fully realized the importance of the issue and had undertaken firm steps to bring the trade to an end. Most unfortunately, the new government which came into power last October had not continued that policy. The Ambassador explained that in his view General Siadʼs (President of the Supreme Revolutionary Council—SRC) hands were tied by the preponderance on the SRC of young, ultra-nationalistic and [Page 2] inexperienced military officers who had no appreciation of the complexities of the issue and its importance to U.S.-Somali relations. They were, moreover, considerably influenced by Soviet advisors. Unfortunately, any formal approach to General Siad on the issue by the USG would, in his view, produce a negative reply. In fact, he greatly feared that any direct confrontation on this issue might well result in a rupture of diplomatic relations. The Ambassador pleaded for forbearance on the part of the USG, pointing out that a rupture of relations would leave the field wide open for the further growth of Soviet influence in his country. The Soviets were already making serious inroads; the removal of the U.S. presence could only further strengthen this deplorable trend. He shuddered to think of what effects this would have on Somaliaʼs current policy of detente and on the future peace in the Horn.

The Somali people, the Ambassador insisted, were basically friendly to the West. By tradition they were strongly independent minded and individualistic. The present government did not represent their feelings, and dissatisfaction with the regime was clearly growing. He believed that changes in the government were inevitable. The new government, he hoped, would more clearly reflect the friendliness of the population towards the West and would likely be more amenable to a satisfactory solution of the shipping problem. If only the United States could defer action on the problem until that time, it would be in the best long-range interests of both countries.

The Secretary stated that we were concerned by the recent reappearance of Somali flag vessels in the North Vietnam trade. The USG was eager to maintain good relations with Somalia. Nevertheless, the Congress had laid down very explicit instructions with regard to aid to countries whose ships were engaged in such trade and the State Department was obliged to follow the law. He asked the Ambassador what benefits accrued to the Somali Government by permitting its flag vessels to engage in such trade.

The Ambassador replied that the monetary return to his government was negligible. He pointed out that the principal benefit accrued to a French firm, which had secured the contract some years ago. But the issue was considered a matter of national sovereignty and prestige. The SRC, and particularly its younger members, would clearly resent any dictation by an outside power as to where Somali flag vessels could or could not travel. That is why he so feared a direct confrontation on the issue at this time.

The Secretary concluded by stating it seemed a pity that Somalia had permitted itself to get caught in a situation of so little tangible benefit to it. He reiterated that we would carefully consider all aspects of the matter during the review of the problem which was now under way.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL ETH-Somali. Secret; Noforn. Drafted by Edward Holmes (AF/E).
  2. Ambassador Azhari, in a farewell visit with Secretary Rogers, stated that ditente would continue as would Somali flag vessels trading with North Vietnam. While the financial benefits of the latter were negligible, the trade continued as a matter of national sovereignty and prestige. The Secretary noted that Congress had laid down very explicit instructions with regard to aid to countries engaged in such trade.