183. Telegram From the Department of State to the White House1

24416. Exdis Distribute as Nodis for Dr. Brzezinski. Following repeat Valletta 0117 sent action SecState info USUN New York 30 Jan 78.

Quote. Valletta 0117. Exdis handle as Nodis. Subject: Rhodesia: Comments on First Day’s January 30 Malta Talks.

1. We knew that the restrained demeanor of the PF during the morning session was no guarantee that the familiar tough positions would not re-emerge.2 Nkomo’s lunchtime statements to Dick Moose (reiterated at the outset of the afternoon session) did seem, however, to offer the prospect of some running room. On that basis, we had decided before going into the afternoon that we would keep the session short (in keeping with a private suggestion from Nkomo) and avoid [Page 526] getting into specifics. We would not lay down our revised transition proposals (as Owen was disposed to do) but wait for the PF paper3 promised by Nkomo at lunch. Nevertheless, Owen did press Nkomo for PF views on the transition but backed away when Nkomo clearly played for time. For some reason Owen then layed out a very general outline of our various Advisory Council ideas. When Mugabe reacted sharply to these saying the PF had “not been fighting to end up with seats on some Advisory Council” Nkomo moved quite deliberately to cut off what clearly would have become a confrontation.

2. On the basis of this episode and his own conversation with Nkomo at lunch, David Owen believes that Nkomo is far more disposed to deal than is Mugabe. His thinking immediately runs to how the two can be split and Nkomo gotten together with Smith. He sees the Anglo-American plan as the instrument for bringing this about.

3. Andy and I have proposed to Owen that we hear the PF on their proposals in the morning, but avoid coming to blows over what we fully expect to be unacceptable elements. In the afternoon we would lay down our elaborated transition proposals (which Owen has unfortunately already foreshadowed). Following some discussion we would break for the day, giving us time for further reflection and informal contacts. A Wednesday morning session might then be our final meeting and we would hope to end with agreement to consider the results at a later date.

4. Both we and Owen agree that our plan should be kept in play. In some manner yet to be determined we would get quickly to Muzorewa and Sithole following these talks to reassure them that they are not being frozen out and to warn them against closing a deal with Smith. At the same time we would consider whether Nkomo’s seemingly more flexible attitude offers any longer term prospects. In this connection both Nkomo and Mugabe are seeking private meetings with Andy and these may give us further insights. We will also seek to find out what Vierera, Machel’s very astute observer, is thinking.

5. These are obviously only musings on the first day’s events. All in all, it was not a bad day. We had expected fiery rhetoric and demands that we denounce the Salisbury talks. Perhaps the PF just wanted to [Page 527] establish a reasonable image and will re-emerge tomorrow united on a hard line.



  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Europe, Box 23, 1/18–31/78. Confidential; Immediate. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. See Document 184.
  3. In telegram 25578 to the White House, January 31, the Department transmitted a copy of the Patriotic Front’s proposals for the transition period, which was received late in the evening of January 30. The Department noted that the text “embodies known PF positions, with central element being transfer of power from Smith to PF-controlled governing council at beginning rather than end of transition period.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Europe, Box 23, 1/18–31/78)