171. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Talks Between President Carter and the US Delegation, and Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo and the Nigerian Delegation: First Session


  • The President
  • Vice President Mondale
  • The Secretary of State
  • Dr. Brzezinski
  • Ambassador Andrew Young
  • Ambassador Donald Easum
  • Ambassador Donald McHenry
  • Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Richard Moose
  • Henry Richardson, NSC Staff (notetaker)


  • Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo
  • Commissioner Joseph Nanven Garba
  • General Martin Adamu
  • Ambassador Olujimi Jolaoso
  • Mr. J.A. Oladel Akadiri
  • Mr. Haruna Bin Musa
  • Mr. M. Arzika

(The President and General Obasanjo held one-half hour private conversation prior to the discussion. The discussion commenced at 11:30.) (The press opportunity ended.)

The President: We are pleased to have General Obasanjo and the Nigerian delegation here today, and we are grateful for the improvement in relations between our two countries, and for our friendship. In the past, the United States’ perception of Africa was not well informed, nor was it accurate. We value the visit of Nigeria because we value its advice and counsel, and because we feel that we can go forward on this basis for the benefit of the peace and prosperity of Africa.

I have great admiration for General Obasanjo, whose country is in the process of showing democracy can work, and who has contributed much of benefit to his people. We have also noted the debate process [Page 495] on your constituent assembly, and the progress towards a constitution, which we admire.

We have looked forward to your visit, not only to strengthen the strong bonds which tie us at present, but to work towards an improved relationship for the future.

Today, if there is no objection, I would like to suggest that we discuss international affairs. Should we wish to do so, tomorrow we can consider bilateral issues.2

I am grateful for our common efforts towards a negotiated settlement for Zimbabwe. As you know, that is a very difficult situation, and I would appreciate hearing your position.

Obasanjo: My delegation and I are grateful for this opportunity to exchange views on international and bilateral issues. We must note that this opportunity would not have been possible without your will and determination, and the policies of your government that enabled it to occur.

In the past, the policies of US administrations have left Africa disappointed. I wish you to understand, with respect to any reaction you may get from Africans which is less than enthusiastic, that the taste of disappointment needs time to disappear under the influence of the sweet taste of action. Therefore, if you are met with doubts in spite of your good intentions, you should understand this residue of distrust. We have concluded that, unlike past American administrations, your Administration has a distinct feature: it has had a definite African policy from its conception. We appreciate this change, although sometimes distortions appear in the press which hide the truth.

On Rhodesia, there are two ways that people have looked at the possibilities for a solution. One: it is not a question of negotiation, but of guns. Two: the guns should now be silenced and negotiations are most appropriate.

We believe where there is sufficient goodwill, relative to the option of negotiations, there is some hope for progress. But you must remember that negotiations have been occurring in Rhodesia already for 12 years. It is for this reason that we support the groups who are waging the armed struggle there. But, maybe at this stage, we can perhaps find a solution to that problem which builds the requisite confidence among the different racial and ethnic groups in that territory. We must emphasize our unflinching support for the freedom-fighters. But your proposal,3 we feel, has sufficient in it to make it work, pending the working out of details.

[Page 496]

Therefore, we can say that on the two fronts above, things are going fairly well. When things have advanced sufficiently and all “thinkables” have been worked out, the armed struggle can end. For now, the armed struggle should be continued. If my recent experiences in three African countries which are bearing the brunt of this struggle are any indication, their will to continue that struggle is steadfast.

We have cooperated on the Anglo-American proposals so far; there is merit in what has been put forward. There is a basis on which we may now move in a specific direction. Prem Chand has been appointed by the Secretary-General under the Security Council resolution. The question is, where do we go from here? Our understanding is that Lord Carver and Prem Chand will go around to various parties, including us, the Front Line States, Smith—we might question the relevance of this, and Vorster. The efforts will hopefully produce a detailed program for implementation.

However, there is an area which is beclouded: how to remove Ian Smith. This is the crux of the matter: until Smith leaves, our (sic) support for the Anglo-American proposal will still be, in a way, half-hearted. How Smith will leave is still unclear. Only you, Mr. President, can tell us in a believable fashion how this will happen. The British cannot do so because they lack the capacity. Can we get to this question before we move on?

The President: I cannot now spell out exactly how Ian Smith will depart. I consider it encouraging that Smith has not yet rejected the Anglo-American proposal.4 As the weeks go by, the progress of this proposal through the UN conferences and the transition period can be assessed. Vorster knows how deeply we feel about this matter, and we have made that clear to him. I think we can assume that Smith is feeling substantial pressure. But I cannot now predict his actions.

If Smith chooses to fight and cause more bloodshed, we cannot control his actions. I can think of no other choices except the two that you have outlined, and I think that if Smith sees that he has only these two choices, he will see the inevitability of losing. I cannot now spell out to you exactly what we would do under what set of circumstances, should he continue to fight; these are all contingencies, and I am not clear in my own mind on our exact course of action. But if we see that we are not making progress on the proposal, then I will consult with you before we decide on any next steps.

[Page 497]

Obasanjo: This is good enough for us but not for some of our colleagues.

The President: Which ones?

Obasanjo: I went around to several African countries, and some expressed doubts. I said, this is the first time that the US Government is putting its full weight behind a Rhodesian proposal; things are being worked out that will lead to direct or indirect pressures on South Africa, including sanctions and oil sanctions.5 Now, it is necessary for us to know that no stone will be left unturned when the time comes, though we do not necessarily need to know all the details. In our opinion, it is presumptuous to think that Smith will cooperate. We do not expect this. He will have to give up. And if you use the word “cooperate”, in this respect, it will sound hollow to some of our colleagues.

In addition, we do not know the details of the recent meeting between Smith and Kaunda in Lusaka.6 According to the information we have, Kaunda said that we are “back to square one.” This is an important element in our considerations. We might not be able to know the details of such a meeting, but we are concerned.

The President: I understand your concern. We have had extensive discussions with Vorster and Botha. It is obvious that Smith is looking for an internal solution. We hope that by now events have blocked the possibility of his making an agreement with Sithole or Muzorewa to this effect. We have made it clear to South Africa that sanctions will be applied, including those against South Africa, if progress is not made. But we believe that it is easier for Smith and South Africa to cooperate if the pressure applied to them is done in private. Smith has now had ample opportunity to reject the proposal if he wanted to; it is significant that he has not.

I see no choices other than either a violent solution or a negotiated settlement. Smith indeed has endorsed the principle of one man-one vote. We intend to proceed with determination; we will apply sanctions if necessary.

Obasanjo: It is important to us to know whether you have absolutely rejected an internal solution in Rhodesia. For us, this is no solution.

The President: An internal solution is not what we would prefer. But in this area, you and the Front Line States have more influence [Page 498] than we do. We do not know the attitudes of the Rhodesian people, and whether there are any circumstances under which they might accept an internal solution. You have influence in these matters.

Obasanjo: My sounding from the Front Line States is that an internal solution is no solution.

The President: I agree. The earlier we rule out an internal solution, and exert all our efforts for an internationally acceptable solution, the better. I understand that Mugabe, Sithole, Muzorewa and Nkomo all have not opposed an internal solution, because they do not want to be put in a position where they are admitting they might not be able to win a free election. The Smith-Kaunda meeting may well have closed the door on an internal solution. But I do not want to publicly respond in some final manner to that situation, because this is rightly an African question. We have no other goals in Zimbabwe except to pursue the successful implementation of the Anglo-American proposal.

Young: At the Security Council, we have agreed that the UN representative will talk with Lord Carver. The question is: what are Nigeria’s expectations of the United States’ role in those negotiations? Should the United States participate in some way in those talks?

Obasanjo: We consider that the credibility of the present Anglo-American proposal stems from US participation. We respect Lord Carver, but the facts of credibility might be somewhat different. We understand, however, that the British may have to do most of the talking, and the United States do the listening, in its current diplomatic role, just as was the case when Andy visited Lagos. This is the Front Line position: if that posture is necessary to facilitate the US backing the Anglo-American proposal, then fine.

The President: By taking this action, the United Nations lends authenticity to our presence in Rhodesia, since we have no other interests there.

Obasanjo: This is why we supported the UN action, since the United States has no colonial responsibilities in the situation, such as does Britain. At first the British wanted the Commonwealth to be the organization to take action, but we opposed this because the Commonwealth has no teeth.

The President: We hope, in this connection, that Nigeria will provide substantial forces for the UN Peacekeeping Force envisaged for Zimbabwe. Nigeria has the trust of most if not all of the parties (except for Smith), and you have our trust.

Obasanjo: You’re right that during the transition period, the question of UN troops is important. However, more important is the period after the transition. Our position is that a national Zimbabwe army must be built and trained which is loyal to the country of Zimbabwe.

[Page 499]

The President: We agree.

Obasanjo: After the transition, the United Nations will withdraw. The United States and Britain will also withdraw. We do not want trouble in Zimbabwe after you withdraw.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Southern Africa.]

The President: I was thinking about Angola as an issue we might discuss. General Obasanjo and I discussed this subject before the meeting this morning.7 We have a serious problem with the Cubans being in Angola, and I want the Cubans out. I think that you agree in principle, but I understand your position to be that so long as Savimbi continues to be allied with South Africa, Neto must retain the Cubans for protection against South Africa. We have no preference as to who should lead Angola, and want nothing there. Our hope is that Savimbi and Neto will negotiate a solution. At the moment, we are uncertain how much aid South Africa is still providing Savimbi. We have some information that other governments are providing him aid. We have no connection with him. We are not pushing for any solution, and we believe that Cuba in this situation is largely an agent of the Soviets. We are concerned, but we are in no hurry to take any action. We could hope for a Soviet assurance that if South Africa withdraws from Namibia, then the Cubans will leave because Neto will no longer have any need for them. In this connection, I believe that Savimbi has substantial indigenous support in Angola. I would like your views on this.

Obasanjo: Thank you. As I said earlier, I do not believe any African leader is happy about the presence of any foreign troops in Africa. We want the Cubans out, but only when some kind of accommodation is reached about Savimbi and his external supporters. From considering the history of Angola, Savimbi must be receiving aid from South Africa. We know that the previous US Administration knew this.

The President: Originally, [sic] we were working more closely with Neto.

Obasanjo: When I met Neto last year, he had a group of ultra-lefts in his camp which he didn’t know what to do with. This situation I believe led to the aborted coup against him last May, and this I hope is the worst that he will suffer. Indications are that he is now more a master of his own house. Before the Cubans leave, Angola needs a period of security in both the North and the South for its borders, during which Neto will have time to build up the confidence to ask the Cubans to leave. There has been some dispute about the number of Cuban troops in Angola; they have fluctuated up and down. If our intelligence is accurate, we may now have the true position on that [Page 500] point. I think we can get Neto agree to withdraw the Cubans after the security of Angola’s borders is assured. In this respect, we would hope that the South Africans would soon withdraw from Namibia. We want to keep in touch with you on this. Angola must resolve its own internal contradictions, and when this happens, the occupation of Cuban troops can be ended.

The President: We have no intention to intervene in Angola, politically or otherwise. Such an assurance by Neto about the withdrawal of Cuban troops will be helpful.

Obasanjo: We will try to do this. Neto also has a problem with his own army; it is largely a guerrilla army which needs to be retrained and disciplined into a regular army.

[The President then asked Ambassador McHenry to bring the discussion up-to-date on the question of Namibia.]

McHenry: In our meeting in Lagos, South African troop withdrawal was not discussed in detail.8 Two weeks ago, the last round of discussions between South Africa and the Contact Group touched on the question of South African troop withdrawal and Cubans in Angola.9 The South Africans argued that one reason for maintaining their bases along Namibia’s northern border was the Cubans in Angola which pose a threat to Namibia and South Africa. It was a difficult round of discussions. We have a long way to go. We have encouraged them on the issue of withdrawal. Our posture is that we are now considering a South African proposal which clearly has faults. It says that under UN observation, the South Africans would reduce their troop strength from 23,000 down to 4,000 in two months. Of the 4,000, South Africa wants approximately 1,400 (two batallions) to remain as combat forces stationed at an isolated base in Achibello. They wish to retain their eight bases on the northern border with a platoon (30 men), “so they can be turned over intact to the new government.” The physical conditions of northern Namibia mandate a certain amount of logistic support to supply the basics. Therefore, to the 1,400 combat troops plus the approximate 270 men at the bases, the remainder would be troops providing logistical support. South Africa has also offered this logistical support for the UN forces, and they have agreed to restrict their military forces to base, with UN observation on this point.

[Page 501]

The President: What is wrong with the South African proposal?

Obasanjo: May I answer that question? The problem with Namibia is one of confidence. We recognize that there are both white and black Namibians to whom this applies. It must be recognized that black Namibians cannot trust South African troops for anything.

The President: What is the percentage of black and white troops involved?

McHenry: The South African troops involved are largely white. There is a catch. There are approximately 1,600 other black troops trained as an ethnic army; they are used mainly to guard public facilities and for a limited amount of patrolling.

Obasanjo: South Africa’s primary concern would seem to be the Cunene Dam. I understand that most of this project lies in Angola. If Angola agrees to maintain and service this dam, I do not see why South Africa would worry. As we said in Lagos, anything short of total troop withdrawal by South Africa is unacceptable. Also, there is again the question of confidence. Could we say that we could not also do without a UN troop presence to inspire this confidence?

Young: Would the UN troops actually confine the South African troops to base?

Obasanjo: Why is this important?

The President: By bringing Angola into the discussion, the South Africans seem to be trying to justify their own presence.

Obasanjo: South Africa does not want to lose Namibia.

The President: Thirty-five people in each of these bases would not seem excessive. What is your opinion on the UN force?

McHenry: We must remember that the South Africans distrust the UN and UN forces. Normally we think of the UN as a neutral presence, but this is not the South African view. One of the objections that we raise to the South African plan agrees with that raised by General Obasanjo. Why could not civilians maintain each of those bases?

The President: I have not kept informed on all details of the situation. We have had difficulty in finding Sam Nujoma. I do not want to speak for South Africa here, but they have come a long way in these negotiations. Are the South Africans willing to consider a counter-proposal?

McHenry: Yes. But we need help in pinning down SWAPO to talk seriously and to take a political view of the situation. The proposal that the South Africans could retain one base to save face has previously arisen, and SWAPO rejected it then. There is, however, a catch in the situation. South Africa proposes to keep their troops precisely in the middle of Ovambo, which is a SWAPO stronghold.

[Page 502]

Obasanjo: If pinning down Sam Nujoma is the issue, that is no problem. It is unacceptable for the South Africans to maintain a string of bases. However, a proposal whereby one base in the south of Namibia is retained, from which the South Africans would withdraw before the election, is possible; we could help sell this to SWAPO. The South Africans are not innocent, as we all know.

Young: I was afraid that the last round of talks with the Contact Group in South Africa were going to break down.10 The Contact Group was there at the time that the Biko case was breaking.11 I consider that getting them to talk about troop withdrawal in that atmosphere is progress. But we must be aware of the games that the South Africans play.

Obasanjo: You have talked to the South Africans, and we have not. If you say this is progress, we will accept from you that this is progress.

McHenry: Yes, I believe that this is progress. It is the first time that we have engaged the South Africans on specifics, facts and figures. It is a first step. We must now talk to SWAPO in New York.

The President: What is the question about elections? South Africa wants elections in March? We want elections in June?

McHenry: Yes. But in March many troops will still be present to intimidate SWAPO. We prefer June in order to give SWAPO time to reestablish itself. This is an important element of fairness. SWAPO did propose that South African troops be confined to a single base away on the southern tip of Namibia. There is no face-saving element for Vorster. And giving Vorster a way out has been the key to our progress so far.

Vance: What is the Contact Group’s view relative to concrete proposals to be made after the meeting with SWAPO?

McHenry: We will meet with SWAPO this Friday,12 and then there will be another round of Contact Group discussions with South Africa. We hope to take to South Africa proposals on the basis of which we can propose an overall position for a fair settlement. Then we will undertake to convince SWAPO to go along.

Obasanjo: This is okay, but there must be a period of non-interference in Namibia by South African troops. Either they must withdraw completely, or be completely [sic] garrisoned. If the latter, we need some kind of force in order to prevent their very presence from being intimidating. And SWAPO’s army must be retrained into a proper army for Namibia as soon as possible.

[Page 503]

[The President repeated the essential points of our position on Namibia as previously discussed by Ambassador McHenry.]

Vance: It is necessary for us to maintain the momentum in these negotiations.

Young: I hope that you can meet with Sam Nujoma in New York.

Obasanjo: If I can, I will.

The President: I understand that you have other points that you wish to raise?

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Southern Africa.]

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 35, Memcons: President: 10/6–31/77. Secret; Sensitive. Brackets are in the original except where inserted to indicate omitted material. The meeting took place in the White House Cabinet Room and adjourned at 1:12 p.m.
  2. Carter met with Obasanjo on October 12, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:05 p.m.
  3. Reference is to the Anglo-American proposals, released by the British on September 1. See footnote 3, Document 182.
  4. At a September 2 press conference, Smith voiced concerns over specific elements of the proposals, but did not reject them. On September 28, Smith told the Rhodesian House of Assembly that the proposals would be voted on by the white electorate and a rejection by them would negate the settlement. (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1977, p. 28648)
  5. See Documents 170 and 285.
  6. Smith, Van der Byl, and Gaylard met with Kaunda on September 25. “According to a Zambian Government statement on October 1, the meeting had achieved ‘nothing of significance’ and a Zambian Government spokesman said on October 2, that the Rhodesians had merely ‘set out their attitude towards the Anglo-American settlement plan’ and explained why they objected to certain aspects of it.” (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, 1977, p. 28650)
  7. No record of this meeting was found.
  8. In telegram 9550 from Lagos, August 23, the Embassy reported on the meeting among Young, Moose, McHenry, Petterson, and Sam Nujoma, which “centered on withdrawal of South African troops from Namibia, the powers of the UN Special Representative, and SWAPO’s continued fears about the South African Government’s ‘massive’ assistance to Turnhalle and establishment of ethnically-based military forces in the territory.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770304–0251)
  9. See Document 73.
  10. See footnote 9, above.
  11. Steve Biko died on September 12 while under South African detention.
  12. October 14.