72. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • The Horn of Africa Part II of III


  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Marshall D. Shulman, S/MS
  • USSR
  • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin

The Secretary noted that he had received the Soviet message on this point,2 but he had noted with concern that aircraft were flying over Somalia and were conducting operations in Somalia, contrary to the Ethiopian pledge conveyed by the USSR. The Secretary said he would appreciate the assurances of the Soviet Union that there would be no combat role for the Soviet personnel and he urged that the same assurance be given regarding the Cubans present. He noted that we were not supplying arms to either side, and were seeking a negotiated solution. He handed Dobrynin an oral statement embodying these points (attached).

Dobrynin asked why there had not been a clear statement from the US condemning the clear act of aggression by the Somalis against the territory of another state, and calling for the beginning of negotiations. The Secretary replied that we have stated repeatedly that we support Ethiopian territorial integrity. Dobrynin objected that we had done so in “such a whisper.” He noted that Western countries—Iran, etc.—by proxy, were supporting the violation of the territory of Ethiopia.

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The Secretary responded that it was important to stop fighting and get a peace settlement. He thought this was a common objective. He said the situation was increasing in importance and in public attention and it would have a bad effect on our bilateral relations. Therefore, he said, there should be a diplomatic initiative by both countries to try to resolve the issues. Dobrynin asked if we had any suggestions. The Secretary replied that we had been working on it and would make specific proposals. He said that we would sit down with the USSR and talk them out when this was done, and he asked Dobrynin to think about what suggestions the Soviet side might also make. The Secretary said, for example, that it might be possible to resolve the problem between Kenya and Somalia, which might lead to a treaty of peace and friendship between the two countries. This would then leave the problem of getting a ceasefire in the Ogaden. Dobrynin said this was the Soviet position, too, to try to get a ceasefire, but it would be possible only if the Somalis would withdraw their troops. He stressed that the Ethiopians would only accept a ceasefire if the Somalis withdrew.

The Secretary said that meanwhile there were very heavy Soviet shipments, military advisers, and Cubans already in a military role, and this was having a bad effect and should stop. Dobrynin said that it is not right to assume that the Cubans are doing what the USSR tells them to do.

In closing, the Secretary said there was already so much of a military presence in Ethiopia that it was going to sink the place. Dobrynin acknowledged that they had enough, in his personal opinion, and he added some personal remarks to the effect that some American officials seem to be saying that the USSR is starting this conflict, and is responsible for it, but he exempted the Secretary from this charge.


Oral Statement From the U.S. Leadership to the Soviet Leadership3

We appreciate your statement on December 284 of the pledge by Ethiopia not to use Soviet military supplies outside its own territory.

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We would appreciate receiving assurances that there will be no Soviet involvement in combat, and we would urge the USSR to discourage Cuba from any such combat role.

US spokesmen have repeatedly stated publicly, as did the President in his January 12 press conference,5 that we are not supplying arms to either side or injecting ourselves into the Ogaden conflict. This self-imposed prohibition specifically applies to both direct and indirect supplies of US arms. We find it thoroughly unhelpful, therefore, for the official Soviet news agency to make the charge, which the Soviet government must know to be false, that Middle Eastern countries are delivering American arms to Somalia “in unmarked crates.”

We have also repeatedly stated that we support Ethiopia’s territorial integrity, which is also true of Somalia’s.

Our objection to the Soviet supply of arms on a massive scale to Ethiopia stems from our conviction that no lasting solution to the Ogaden problem can come from military means, but can only come from negotiation. The supply of arms encourages continued recourse to armed conflict and therefore undermines efforts to secure a negotiated settlement.

Given the obvious importance the USSR attaches to its position in Ethiopia, it seems to us that it is very much in the Soviet interest to have a peaceful settlement and that therefore the Soviet Union should be prepared to take steps which will facilitate a settlement.

For our part, we have approached the Somalis and urged them to start thinking of the compromises they would have to make for negotiations to lead to a settlement. We urge the Soviet Union to make a similar approach to the Ethiopians.

We would hope to hear if the USSR is prepared to make the effort to persuade the Ethiopians to proceed to negotiations without preconditions as we have with the Somalis.

Meanwhile, we would hope to see some evidence that the Soviet Union is prepared to exercise restraint in order to promote a negotiating atmosphere rather than further recourse to armed conflict.

The US does not have the same leverage with Somalia that the USSR has with Ethiopia, but we would be prepared to work with Somalia and her friends to develop a negotiating atmosphere.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 3, CV–Dobrynin, 1/14/78. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Shulman on January 16; approved by Anderson on January 26. The meeting took place in the Department of State. Parts I and III are Documents 71 and 73.
  2. See Document 70.
  3. No classification marking.
  4. Vance and Shulman met with Dobrynin on December 28, 1977. Shulman’s memorandum for the files is in Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 3, CV–Dobrynin, 12/28/77.
  5. For the text of Carter’s January 12 news conference, see Department of State Bulletin, February 1978, pp. 21–22.