57. Telegram From the Embassy in Ethiopia to the Department of State1
807. Pass to White House for Brzezinski. State for Vance. From Aaron. Subj: Meeting with Mengistu.
1. I had two-and-one-half hour meeting with Mengistu afternoon 17 February with Foreign Minister Felleke, PMAC Foreign Relations Chief Berhanu Bayehn, Foreign Ministry PermSec Dawit and American Desk Chief Berhane present on Ethiopian side. None of Dirg members currently considered as hardliners present. Mood of meeting was temperate and serious with recognition of Ethiopian side of its high-level [Page 130] nature and expressions of appreciation for President Carter’s initiative. Much of the ground covered was as anticipated on both sides. Ethiopian criticisms of U.S. past position toward revolution were extensive but familiar and not particularly vindictive in tone. My responses were direct as planned. The concluding portion of the meeting was clearly upbeat and positive.
2. Main highlights: Mengistu asked that I personally convey to President his assurances that Ethiopia has no intention of crossing Somalia’s borders, nor has Ethiopia any intention of interfering in other countries’ affairs, that Cuban and Soviet forces had come only to help Ethiopia and Ethiopia would not permit them to use Ethiopia as a base for intervention in neighboring countries.
3. In response to my strong characterization of destabilizing effect of Cuban and Soviet combat forces remaining in region and my stress on fact that this caused deep concern to US and other countries of the area, he said he understood this concern and wished to reassure US that Ethiopia did not regard these forces as a permanent feature of the area, but as temporary though necessary forces to enable Ethiopia to overcome the effects of Somali aggression. Mengistu’s purpose was clearly not to further strain relations but to keep open channels of communication and to balance Soviets to some extent. Key at this point is clearly to get Somalis out of Ogaden. Otherwise Mengistu determined to push them out despite risks of wider conflict. He appreciated clarification that our approach is ceasefire linked with withdrawal and negotiation aimed not at leaving Somali forces in place but at stabilizing situation after withdrawal. From his reactions, there may be some possibility of negotiation along these lines.
4. Prior to departure tomorrow, I will meet with Foreign Minister2 and visit former AID project (JFK Library) as well as Rural Development Association.