301. Telegram 5297 From the Embassy in Zaire to Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld 1 2

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Eyes only for Secretary Rumsfeld from Ambassador Cutler

For immediate delivery to Secretary Rumsfeld


  • Meeting With President Mobutu

1. Following constitutes memorandum of your conversation with President Mobutu June 18. As discussed, we will report through state channels, with appropriate distribution and comments, as soon as your approval and/or comments are received.

Begin text.

2. Mobutu opened the conversation by expressing great pleasure at Secretary Rumsfeld’s visit, which he viewed as reflecting US concern for Zaire’s current difficulties. The Secretary said President Ford had asked him to come to Zaire, following Secretary Kissinger’s visit in April, in order to consult with Mobutu and other GOZ leaders and to gain a first-hand understanding of developments in this part of Africa. We were indeed concerned by the effect of these developments on the security and welfare of Zaire and our other friends in the area, and we wanted to assure Mobutu that we will continue to help as best we can.

3. Mobutu said he was increasingly concerned by the growing leftist [Page 2] orientation of African states, including a number of Zaire’s immediate neighbors. He attributed this trend primarily to the stepped up efforts of the Soviet Union, particularly in the military assistance field. He said one way Zaire had retained influence with nearby governments was by providing training in Zaire for their military as well as some civilian official personnel. For example, Mobutu had recently agreed to a request by the President of Rwanda to provide commando/paratroop training for some five hundred Rwandan troops. The problem, Mobutu went on, was that because of financial constraints Zaire was now being forced to reduce these activities just at a time when they were of increasing importance from both the security and political points of view. It would serve our common interests, Mobutu proposed, if the US could find ways to assist Zaire to carry on these training programs and thereby offer a moderate option to other African states under increasing radical pressures. Secretary Rumsfeld indicated his interest in this idea and said he would give it careful consideration.

4. Mobutu proceeded to review the current situation in neighboring countries in order to demonstrate why he considered Zaire’s security and economic situation so precarious. He made the following principal points:

A. Congo (Brazzaville): Soviet and Cuban influence in Congo had increased greatly, particularly since the Angolan war. According to Zaire’s intelligence sources there were large stocks of Soviet military equipment in Congo—more than Congo could possibly need for its own defense purposes. Moreover, Congolese President Ngouabi had recently agreed to the transfer of 3,000 Cubans from Angola to Congo for the purpose of training an 18,000-man Congolese force. 3,000 of these would be used specifically for internal security, reflecting the shaky position of Ngouabi’s regime. (Later, during a chat with the Secretary on the deck of the presidential yacht, Mobutu pointed out an island in the Zaire River near Brazzaville where, he said, the Cubans would build one of their bases.)

B. Angola: The threat posed by Angola/Cabinda to Zaire’s narrow access to the sea was of particular concern, the Portuguese had handed over almost all of their ships and other naval equipment to the MPLA. This included important naval and air facilities at San Antonio do Zaire, at the mouth of the Zaire River, which the [Page 3] Soviets and Cubans were now using Zaire’s coastal defense capabilities were meanwhile limited to three motor torpedo boats from North Korea, which lacked adequate communications equipment and spare parts; two Chinese-supplied torpedo boats; and two gun-boats (“escorteurs”) which the Chinese had not yet delivered. Referring to the Benguela railroad, Mobutu expected the line to be re-opened by September as a result of a deal between the owners, Tanganyika concessions, and the Angolan Government.

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C. Uganda: Idi Amin was totally unpredictable and, armed with modern Soviet weapons, he was therefore a continuing source of concern. Because of this unpredictability the Soviets themselves were seeking ways to liquidate him (here Mobutu related in some detail an incident during his visit to Uganda last January, when a helicopter intended for use by the two chiefs of state had crashed; Mobutu suspected this has an aborted sabotage attempt engineered by the Soviets.) A principal Soviet objective in Uganda was to counter Chinese influence in Tanzania. Mobutu’s strategy was to keep lines open to Amin, and to this end he would probably meet again with Amin in the near future.

D. Tanzania: Because of its strategic location controlling important trade routes from Zaire to Indian Ocean ports, and the socialist political orientation of the Nyerere regime, Tanzania was also a source of continuing concern. Whereas relations with Nyerere had been improving and Tanzania, Zambia and Zaire had held periodic summit meetings to effect better cooperation, since the Angolan war Zaire’s relations with Tanzania had been strained. As with Amin, however, Mobutu’s best course was to try to stay in touch with Nyerere and encourage him in directions more compatible with Zaire’s interests. Mobutu’s special envoy had [Page 5] just completed a very successful visit to Dar es Salaam, and arrangements were set for Mobutu to visit Nyerere following the OAU summit next month. Meanwhile, Mobutu had been pleased by evidence that Secretary Kissinger had followed up on his promise to encourage the Chinese to divert some of their assistance from Tanzania to Zaire. For example, Zaire recently received 10,000 tons of Chinese rice which had been originally earmarked for Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda: Soviet influence in Burundi had been growing, particularly during the past two years, and had caused some strains in Burundi-Zairian bilateral relations. Rwanda was also under increasing pressures from the Soviets. Because of their poverty both countries were extremely vulnerable and therefore it was important that they continue to have noncommunist options with respect to foreign assistance.

E. Others: Mobutu acknowledged that the situations in other neighboring states were generally satisfactory. The Central African Republic was Zaire’s surest friend, particularly after Mobutu had assisted in rounding up CAR dissidents who fled to Zaire after their unsuccessful attempt to assassinate President Bokassa earlier in the year. Sudan posed no present problem thanks to the excellent rapport between Mobutu and President Numeiri, although the Soviets were also active in Sudan and there could be trouble when Numeiri goes. Relations with Zambia were quite good, and Mobutu was particularly careful to keep them that way in view of the critical importance of trade routes through Zambia to Zaire’s copper belt. In answer to Secretary Rumsfeld’s query, Mobutu said relations with Kenya were good but, as with Numeiri in Sudan, Mobutu worried about what would happen in Kenya once Kenyatta goes. As for Ethiopia, Zaire’s relations had deteriorated markedly since the Emperor’s departure.

5. Secretary Rumsfeld commented that the upcoming OAU summit meeting could be quite important, particularly from the standpoint of US public and congressional attitudes toward African issues; an excess of radical rhetoric, he observed, would not be helpful to our efforts to extend maximum cooperation. Mobutu said he understood completely and was determined to galvanize African moderates against radical maneuvers at the conference. To this end he was undertaking consultations with key moderates with a view to their caucusing just before the [Page 6] conference on strategy and positions. He said he would focus his efforts un the following: Egypt, Tunisia, Senegal, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Gabon, C.A.R., Rwanda and Kenya. Morocco and Mauritania, he added, would be “kept in reserve.” The Secretary indicated that such efforts would be useful, and reiterated the risk of negative reactions in the US if things got too far out of hand on issues of importance to us.

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6. The conversation then shifted to Zaire’s own military situation. The Secretary asked about the state of Zairian forces’ morale, noting that, to have a responsive fighting force, training and troop well-being could be just as important as adequate equipment. Mobutu agreed, and said this was a problem to which he was devoting a good deal of attention. He said he had made considerable progress in weeding out older soldiers, particularly from the Gendarmerie, and bringing in new blood in the form of younger recruits. For example, those recruited from the new Kamanyola division were all under 22 years of age and were highly motivated. But, Mobutu went on, there was a serious lack of lodging and other facilities for them, and if not resolved this was bound to have an adverse effect on their morale. And on the element of responsiveness the Secretary had mentioned, “a soldier can live in a tent just so long”, he noted.

7. Mobutu then mentioned another problem involving infrastructure—that of bases. He said they were not in good condition, and he was particularly concerned about the Kamina airbase in south-eastern Zaire. He said the French Government had agreed to provide the minimum facilities necessary to accommodate the squadron of Mirage fighters Zaire was buying from France. However, [Page 8] much more needed to be done to renovate and improve other facilities. He recalled that in 1971 the Belgians had offered to do this work in return for use of the base to train their own pilots. Relations were not good with Belgium at that time and Mobutu had turned down the offer. Now, however, Zairian-Belgian relations were much improved and he would like to explore such an arrangement again with Brussels. In this respect, Mobutu asked the Secretary whether he could pave the way by speaking to the Belgians on this point. The Secretary responded that this would not be difficult and agreed to do so.

8. Secretary Rumsfeld raised the question of coordination of military assistance. He noted that Zaire was receiving help from a number of sources and asked what arrangements existed for coordinating this assistance to achieve maximum, rational results. Mobutu said this was another area of interest to him, and he recalled both Foreign Minister Nguza’s efforts last February to enlist European interest in a common effort and Secretary Kissinger’s agreement to speak to his European allies along similar lines. Mobutu said France had expressed to the GOZ its complete readiness to coordinate with other donors. He thought others—Belgium, Germany, England—were also favorable to the idea, although the UK had indicated it wished to limit its involvement to economic assistance. Secretary Rumsfeld said he had discussed Zaire’s needs with the Belgians only a few days before in Brussels. He said that when he returned to Washington he would discuss further the matter of a coordinated effort with Secretary Kissinger.

9. Pursuing the question of foreign assistance, Mobutu said he could not understand why certain politically well-oriented countries, notably certain oil-producing states in the Middle East, seemed inclined to pay more attention to African radicals than to moderates. In this connection he cited reports that Saudi Arabia was talking aid possibilities with Congo (Brazzaville) and that Kuwait was making overtures to Burundi. Ambassador Cutler suggested that Saudi Arabia might in fact be interested in strengthening its relations with key African moderates. Mobutu noted in reply that Zaire had established an Embassy in Saudi Arabia some two years ago but that SAG had so far failed to reciprocate.

10. Mobutu closed the discussion by reiterating his satisfaction [Page 9] that Secretary Rumsfeld had taken the time to travel personally to Zaire; that his visit could not but be interpreted as an encouraging sign that Zaire’s old friend, the United States, would continue to lend support at this time of great need. In this connection he had been very pleased with the work of General Rockwell, for whom he had high regard, and had respected and agreed with Rockwell’s observation that Zaire needed a sufficiently modern defense force to constitute a credible deterrent to potential agressors. Secretary Rumsfeld said General Rockwell was making good progress with his report and he would see that it got to Mobutu as soon as possible.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–79–0049, Zaire, 1976. Secret; Niact Immediate; Eyes Only. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Eugene V. McAuliffe reported to Ambassador Cutler in telegram 5089 to Kinshasa, June 24, that “SecDef has approved without change your draft memorandum of his June 18 conversation with President Mobutu. In accordance with SECDEF’s instructions I am forwarding one copy to Larry Eagleburger for Secretary of State Kissinger. Working through State Department channels, we shall follow through on SecDef’s promise to Mobutu to make contact with Belgians.” (Ibid.)
  2. The Embassy transmitted a memorandum of conversation of Rumsfeld’s June 18 meeting with President Mobutu in which they discussed threats from Soviet and Cuban backed regimes in neighboring countries and U.S. military assistance to Zaire.