24. Action Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lake) to Secretary of State Vance 1

Topics for Discussion at Cabinet Meetings

Issue for Decision

The President wants two Cabinet members to take 10–15 minutes each at future Cabinet meetings to discuss interesting concepts or functions of their departments—with a preference, according to Jack [Page 94]Watson, for economic issues.2 We need to tell Jack what topics you might suggest.


Your recent and projected trips provide some obvious possibilities.3 There would be substantial interest in your evaluation of Mideast peace prospects or the state of US-Soviet relations.

On the other hand, there may be even more compelling arguments for your treating topics which:

—Stress the connection between US domestic and diplomatic interests—particularly in the so-called “new issue areas”;

—Serve to emphasize State’s role and perspective beyond strictly diplomatic issues; and

—Help stimulate discussion and follow-through on such issues.

We believe that any one of the following topics might serve such functions, and would be pleased to help draft submissions for your review:

1. Economic Issues

a. General—A more conceptually-oriented discussion could revolve around Shared Challenges Before Post-Industrial Society—or how the trilateral partnership hits home. A combination of factors—the President’s campaign stress on working with allied industrial democracies, the problems they have in common (economic recovery, decreased confidence in government, crises of crime and urban decay) and related policy issues (need for more economic policy coordination/planning within and among the developed nations?)—suggest the value of a short, potentially provocative presentation.

b. Specific cases—You might get at some of the same points by using a specific concrete problem—like pending trade challenges on shoes or specialty steel—as a microcosm of problems that affect broader domestic and diplomatic interests. For example, a cutback on shoe imports could both affect US jobs and consumer prices and influence US relations with our Western European Allies, prospects for democratic progress in Southern Europe, prospects for trade liberalization at the Geneva trade talks,4 etc.

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The growing problem of illegal immigration is another example of one specific question which reflects a range of larger issues: bilateral relations with Mexico, Korea, and the Caribbean nations; overall international population policy, and the US job situation.

c. Foreign economic assistance—How effective have US efforts been and what domestic consensus is there for continuing, changing, or expanding present programs?

2. New Global Roster: Since many still associate State with monitoring diplomatic events and bilateral relations abroad, you might spell out the range of new and expanding concerns (energy, food, population, environment, science and technology, North-South dialogue) and upcoming events that will affect them (CIEC, LOS conference, UN Special Session) which demand the Department’s attention.5 Alternatively, concentrate on just one of the above—energy might be most topical—and stress the connection between domestic and international efforts on conservation, diversification of supply, and longer-term research and development.

3. Multilateral Diplomacy: Few organizations may be as badly understood as the UN. The same applies to US use of the UN. A brief tour d’horizon of the scope of UN activities and US problems and opportunities there could generate greater appreciation for multilateral diplomacy and affirm links with domestic concerns.

4. Human Rights: It’s in the headlines—replete with complexity, contradiction, and potential backfire from abroad and at home. A presentation setting forth the outline of our objectives, preferred approaches, and problems we foresee might elicit helpful discussion.

5. Defense Cluster: Non-proliferation/arms control/arms sales. This area, too, is complicated, timely, and probably badly understood—and has obvious domestic economic spinoffs.

Recommendation for Action

That you sign the attached memo to Watson 6 with the list of topics noted.



Let’s discuss7

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Policy and Planning Staff—Office of the Director, Records of Anthony Lake, 1977–1981: Lot 82D298, Box 2, TL 2/16–28/77. Unclassified. Drafted by Vogelgesang. There is no indication that Vance saw the memorandum.
  2. Attached but not printed at Tab B is a February 16 handwritten note from the President to Watson instructing Watson to give him by Thursday of each week a “short list of topics from which I can select one for major emphasis” in advance of the next week’s Cabinet meeting.
  3. In addition to his just-completed trip to the Middle East, Vance was scheduled to visit Moscow. See footnote 5, Document 19 and Document 31.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 6.
  5. The CIEC was scheduled to hold a final ministerial meeting in Paris May 30–June 3. The sixth meeting of the Third UN Law of the Sea Conference (1973–1982) was scheduled to take place in New York beginning May 23. The tenth UN Special Session on Disarmament (SSOD) was scheduled to take place in New York May 23–June 30, 1978.
  6. Attached but not printed at Tab A is an undated memorandum from Vance to Watson listing seven possible topics for discussion.
  7. Vance neither approved nor disapproved any of the recommendations.