11. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Rep. Donald Fraser (D-Minn)
  • Lucy Wilson Benson—T
  • Robert Boettcher, Fraser’s Staff
  • John Salzberg, Fraser’s Staff
  • Ann Swift—H


  • Human Rights and Security Assistance

Mrs. Benson called on Rep. Donald Fraser at his request to discuss the security assistance program and human rights. After a brief discussion of Mrs. Benson’s new responsibilities, the conversation turned to the Carter Administration’s ongoing consideration of security assistance levels.

Rep. Fraser agreed that the Administration was making a good start in the human rights field; but voiced his concern that unless human rights concerns are somehow institutionalized into the system, the initial momentum of the new Administration will be lost and the bureaucracy will return to its old habits.2 It is easy to talk about human rights, but many of the decisions stemming from human rights concerns, such as program level cuts, are very hard to make. Officers at the lower levels of the Department must be willing to push human rights.3

Rep. Fraser said he would like to see the Administration take a zero-base-budget type of approach to the security assistance levels. He suggested that since country figures submitted in the CPD are not firm anyway, that a CPD could be submitted with only an overall request and a statement that the new Administration was reviewing the security assistance program levels with several considerations in mind, including human rights, and that country levels would be set after these determinations had been made.

Mrs. Benson discussed generally the Administration’s commitment to human rights and said she would like to see the development [Page 38] of an overall consistent strategy. She would like to see some sort of rational criteria developed which could be applied across the board so you were not faced with situations where we cut aid to Argentina with one hand, and did nothing to Iran with the other. Mrs. Benson said she realized that development of a broad human rights policy would be difficult, but that the Secretary was serious and would make certain the word reached both our Ambassadors and our people at all levels at State. We were no longer faced with a situation where the Secretary of State was unresponsive on human rights matters.

Turning to specific actions on the security assistance program, Rep. Fraser asked what would be happening in specific areas, such as Argentina. Mrs. Benson replied that the study was still going on but that State had recommended cuts in certain countries such as Uruguay, Argentina, Ethiopia, and of course Chile. We had not cut Indonesia and Thailand since EA had argued persuasively against this and since grant aid was scheduled to be cut out of both these programs in 1979.

Rep. Fraser at this point indicated some unhappiness with the slow speed of the Indonesian prisoner release program4 and stated firmly that he would object if the Thai program included increases in either grant or FMS. He said he felt that one of the motivations behind the Thai military takeover from the democratic government was the military’s feeling that this way they would get more aid. They certainly should not be rewarded. Fraser said he knew the Korean situation was very complicated and he was glad to hear that it was under review, as a thorough study of all aspects of the situation was needed.

Bob Boettcher, following on from Rep. Fraser’s agreement that military assistance cuts were not a very effective human rights weapon, said that there was a whole range of alternatives between “quiet diplomacy” and aid cuts which can be more profitably used to encourage human rights. Secretary Kissinger, however, had always insisted there were only two alternatives: “quiet diplomacy” or cuts. Rep. Fraser added that quiet diplomacy had proved ineffective (if it had ever been used), and no cuts had ever been made except at the Congress’ insistence.

As an amplification of Rep. Fraser’s zero-based-budgetting approach, Boettcher suggested the Administration consider putting for[Page 39]ward its figures to Congress with a statement that it had not had time to make a thorough study of levels, and that it would be reviewing all levels and would consider withholding aid from countries on various grounds, including human rights. This would give the Administration time to work with various governments to get them to improve their human rights records before putting any assistance cuts into effect.

  1. Source: Department of State, Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, 1976–1977 Human Rights Subject Files and Country Files, Lot 80D177, PGOV—Congressional. No classification marking. Drafted by Swift on February 10. The meeting took place in Fraser’s office in the Rayburn House Office Building.
  2. An unknown hand underlined the portion of this sentence that begins with “of the new Administration” and wrote in the margin: “I resent!”
  3. An unknown hand underlined this sentence.
  4. In the NSC Global Issues Cluster’s February 7 evening report to Brzezinski, Tuchman noted that the Carter administration’s emphasis on human rights had apparently prompted Suharto to comment that “in view of the emphasis on human rights in Carter’s inaugural and other statements, that the GOI’s program to resolve its political detainee problem must be accelerated.” Tuchman concluded, “Thus, even a non-program human rights program can have an impact.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Global Issues—Oplinger/Bloomfield Subject File, Box 36, Evening Reports: 2–4/77)