123. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East Negotiations; the Nonaligned Movement; Rhodesia; U.S.-Gabon Relations and Military Assistance


  • US

    • Vice President Mondale
    • William C. Harrop, Bureau of African Affairs, State Department
    • Denis Clift, Office of the Vice President
    • Gerald Funk, National Security Council
    • Sophia Porson, Interpreter
    • Maurice Tempelsman
    • USUN—Amb. Young
  • Gabon

    • President Omar Bongo
    • Foreign Minister Martin Bongo
    • Ambassador Jose-Joseph Amiar

After Salutations, Vice President Mondale said that President Carter had wanted him to raise four points:

1) We were grateful and pleased by Gabon’s support for the Middle East peace process, and especially for President Sadat.

2) We appreciated in this regard the constructive role played by Gabon at the Islamic Summit,2 and we hoped that Gabon would continue to support Egypt at the Monrovia OAU Summit in July.

3) We were further gratified by Gabon’s efforts to keep the nonaligned movement actually nonaligned in opposition to Cuba’s obvious efforts to swing it toward Moscow.

4) President Carter hoped that President Bongo, while in the United States, would help the American people to understand the importance of holding to principle on Rhodesia. Some Americans saw a black bishop with the title of prime minister and wanted to lift sanctions precipitously. The President felt we must persevere to seek a government in Zimbabwe truly reflecting majority rule. President Bongo could help us domestically by explaining this complex issue.

President Bongo said he would comment on these points. On the Middle East, he was pleased to see that the Camp David process was evolving as President Carter had outlined to him in March of 1978 [Page 326] [1977].3 A comprehensive peace was desirable, but we had to start somewhere. Egypt and Sadat were now seriously isolated. Gabon and other friendly African governments were trying to rally African support for him. Africans had broken with Israel at Egypt’s request, and it now appeared logical for Africa to renew contact with Israel. President Bongo had that morning met with the Israeli Ambassador to Washington to outline his intention, now that Israel and Egypt were resolving their problems, to get off dead center and work toward normalization. He would make the same points to the Egyptian Ambassador in Libreville on his return and seek Egyptian views also. He was prepared to do all he could to restore peace both in the Middle East and between Israel and African governments, and he was prepared to raise this issue at the OAU Summit.4

However, Gabon was surrounded by radical states, some under strong Soviet and Cuban influence. He could not cope with a military challenge and needed military credits to buy defensive equipment; he also wished training in the United States for his officers. He would like to discuss these requirements with the Department of Defense if Vice President Mondale could arrange an appointment.

(The Vice President undertook to arrange an appointment for Bongo with Deputy Secretary Duncan for later in the day, and did so.)5

Turning to Rhodesia, President Bongo said he shared the U.S. position and had so informed members of the Senate and House of Representatives the day before. It would be wrong to lift sanctions.

The Vice President interjected to assure President Bongo that the United States had no intention of lifting sanctions. The recent vote in the Senate would sustain a veto and there was a fair chance of winning outright in the House of Representatives.

Bongo went on to say that Rhodesia was still a British responsibility and it was up to the U.K. to make the first move. At such time as Britain declared Rhodesia independent, others could consider their own position. Action now would be untimely and wrong. The citizens [Page 327] of Zimbabwe must choose their own leadership. However, the Patriotic Front had refused to cooperate in an early election and Ian Smith had gone ahead without them. Others must view the resulting situation with caution. The OAU would not offer any support or recognition to the Muzorewa government. Smith was still the brains and the power behind Muzorewa. Thus, Gabon approved of President Carter’s position.

On the nonaligned movement, President Bongo continued, he agreed with the Vice President. In order to oppose Cuban influence, the United States must support moderate Africans and should encourage investment in countries such as Angola where the Soviets and Cubans were not truly popular. In response to the Vice President’s question, Bongo enlarged on this to say that the communists were not popular in Congo-Brazzaville either. Africans were like people everywhere and wanted to eat and to live more comfortably. You could not eat ideology. Furthermore, maintenance of Cuban armies and technicians was a very expensive matter for African governments; this was another source of unpopularity.

President Bongo expressed his high regard for Maurice Tempelsman,6 whom he was quite aware had obtained the appointment for him with Vice President Mondale after the American Ambassador and the State Department had stressed how very busy the President and Vice President were.

The Vice President thanked President Bongo for coming to see him and wished him a good visit and trip home.

  1. Source: Carter Library, Donated Material, Mondale Papers, Box 43, Foreign Countries—Africa, 1977–1980 [1]. No classification marking. Drafted June 19 by Harrop; cleared by Clift. The meeting took place in Mondale’s office.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 117. Gabon had abstained from the vote to expel Egypt.
  3. Bongo met with Carter on March 3, 1977, during a private visit to the United States. In telegram 50528 to Libreville, March 8, 1977, the Department summarized Bongo’s visit and his meeting with Carter: “Discussion lasted for over an hour, focusing primarily on broad African issues and on President Bongo’s forthcoming tenure as OAU Chairman.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770078–0710)
  4. In telegram 5698 from Monrovia, July 21, the Embassy reported on the OAU summit that took place in Monrovia July 17–20. The OAU adopted a resolution on the Middle East that strongly condemned Israel, but refrained from attacking Egypt. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790333–0463)
  5. Bongo met with Duncan on June 14. The memorandum of conversation, dated June 29, recorded their discussion of military aid to Gabon. (Washington National Records Center, OSD Files, FRC 330–82–0205, Box 9, G–1979)
  6. Maurice Tempelsman, a U.S. diamond merchant, maintained contacts with government leaders in Africa and political connections with members of the Democratic Party.