290. Memorandum From Michael Armacost of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • PL–480, Title I: Shipments to Human Rights “Violators”

PL–480, Title I shipments to a number of countries are being held up as a result of monumental confusion in our purposes, exaggerated interpretations of the Congressional intent, and bureaucratic mis-steps by the Christopher Committee. The salient facts in this case are these:

—Section 112–A of the legislation governing PL–480 Title I programs specifies that shipments of commodities should not go to countries that are “gross and consistent violators of human rights”, except when the President determines that any commodities going to such countries will be channeled to the needy.

—There are 29 recipients of PL–480 Title I shipments. So far as we are aware, none has ever been determined to be a “gross and consistent violator of human rights”.2 Thus we are not legally required to withhold shipments to the intended recipients (evidently Chile has been judged a “gross and consistent violator”, but none of the shipments are planned for Chile anyway). The Christopher Committee has decided that 14 of the 29 recipients have engaged in questionable human rights practices, and the Committee has decided that our PL–480 contracts with these countries be amended to provide for additional reporting on human rights matters.3 Our Ambassadors to these countries have been instructed to seek host government concurrence in such amendments.

—This effort has not been crowned with great success. The Indonesian Government bristled at our suggestion and refused. Our Ambassadors in South Korea and Bangladesh have refused thus far to raise it with the host government.

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—Evidently new contracts must be signed next Monday.4 Thus we must either press ahead to secure these amendments in the contracts, thereby risking a repetition of our experience with Indonesia in other countries, or seek less offensive new reporting requirements, or drop for at least this round of PL–480 shipments any effort to change the contracts with recipient governments.

—This effort—which Agriculture leaked to the Washington Post last week5—has encountered a frosty reception from the Hill. Senator Inouye is livid about it and has indicated his belief that the Executive Branch is over-interpreting the Congressional intent embodied in Section 112–A. Senator Humphrey, we are told, is disturbed that the enormous effort that he put into the development of the PL–480 program over the years may be jeopardized by this ill-considered move. Twelve Senators have written to express their dismay that the United States would withhold food from less developed countries as a lever on human rights.6

Bob Bergland evidently is eager to repeal Section 112–A of the law. But that will take time and will not resolve our immediate problem.

—The continued delays in shipments that have resulted from this confusion are costly to the recipients. For example, in the seven weeks shipments have been held up, the cost of commodities desired by Indonesia has increased by $17 million.

A reasonable interpretation of the law does not require us to withhold shipments from any of the intended recipients. We believe it would be desirable to expedite early dispatch of the commodities. Since this has become a public issue, however, it would be prudent to consult with the Congressional leadership and secure their understanding that for this round of shipments we will not attempt to add new amendments to PL–480 contracts, while leaving open the future of Section 112–A and how it should be interpreted by the Executive Branch. This [Page 908] would allow us to move the commodities, escape from a politically embarrassing position, elude a confrontation with the Hill, and avoid the establishment of what can only be viewed as a “hit list” (the 14 countries required to send in new human rights reports as a pre-condition for obtaining PL–480, Title I assistance.)7


That you call Vance and discuss this matter with him, urging a resolution of the immediate problems along the lines suggested above.8

Henry Owen concurs.9

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 49, PL 480: 11/77–1/80. Confidential. Sent for action. At the top of the page, Inderfurth wrote: “See last paragraph first for explanation of urgency. Rick.” Brzezinski wrote: “MA, good—OK—talked. 4 countries only [illegible] only. ZB.” Attached to the memorandum is an undated handwritten note by Brzezinski listing the four countries (Guinea, Bangladesh, Korea, and Indonesia) with the comment “all we ask for answers & for information.”
  2. Brzezinski highlighted the second sentence of the paragraph.
  3. Brzezinski underlined a portion of the word “questionable” in this sentence. Regarding the decision by the Christopher Committee, see Document 289.
  4. December 5. Inderfurth underlined the words “contracts must be signed next Monday.”
  5. See footnote 8, Document 289.
  6. Brzezinski highlighted the portion of this paragraph that begins with “effort that he put into the development” and ends with “as a lever on human rights.” Fourteen Senators signed the November 16 letter to Talmadge; see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. II, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, footnote 5, Document 92. Senator Robert Dole (D–Kansas) sent a copy of the letter to Carter under cover of a November 17 memorandum requesting that he personally intervene in the matter. (Carter Library, White House Central Files, Subject File, Peace, Box PC–1, Executive, 1/20/77–1/20/81) Talmadge sent a copy of the letter to Vance and Christopher under cover of a November 18 memorandum. (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of the Office of the Deputy Secretary, Warren Christopher, Lot 81D113, Box 18, Human Rights—PL 480)
  7. Such a list would have the most pernicious consequences for not only will it complicate our relations with nearly a score of countries, many of which are good friends, but will undoubtedly acquire some bureaucratic standing and legitimacy and serve as an excuse for withholding other support from these governments, whether military or economic assistance. When that occurs, the conclusion for many countries will be inescapable: the U.S. is using human rights concerns in order to justify reductions in its assistance efforts. Guy Erb agrees that PL–480 shipments should not be held up but does not have enough information on the human rights dimension of the PL–480 program. Jessica has seen a copy of this memo, but has not had a chance to react to it. There is some urgency to this matter inasmuch as instructions are going out this afternoon to our Ambassadors in the 14 countries instructing them to negotiate changes in the contracts. At a minimum, I believe you should call Warren Christopher and ask him to hold up outgoing cables on this subject until the NSC can review it.” [Footnote in the original. Brzezinski underlined the words “Guy Erb,” “Jessica,” and “has not had a chance to react to it.” He also highlighted the portion of the footnote that begins with “should call Warren Christopher” to the end of the sentence.]
  8. Inderfurth placed a vertical line in the margin and Brzezinski underlined “you call Vance” and highlighted the recommendation in the margin. He did not indicate his preference with respect to the recommendation; however, he did speak to Vance that afternoon, according to a November 30 note from Christopher to Brzezinski. (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Records of the Office of the Deputy Secretary, Warren Christopher, Lot 81D113, Box 7, WC—Memos to the White House—1977) Brzezinski spoke to Christopher that afternoon, according to a November 30 note Christopher sent to Brzezinski transmitting copies of his letter to Talmadge and the simplified form of assurance. ( Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. II, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, footnotes 3 and 4, Document 92) On December 17, The Washington Post reported that the Department had reached agreement in principle regarding P.L.–480 Title I shipments with South Korea, Guinea, Zaire, Bangladesh, and Indonesia. (“‘Agreements’ Said Reached On Food Aid,” The Washington Post, December 17, 1977, p. A16) See also Seth S. King, “Link to Food-Aid Program Helping Carter’s Human Rights Campaign,” The New York Times, December 18, 1977, p. A3.
  9. Brzezinski underlined this sentence.