158. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Tanzania1

24513. Subject: Ugandan/Tanzanian Situation.

1. (C–Entire text)

2. We received today text of a message from Idi Amin to Secretary General Waldheim dated January 26, 1979, in which Amin called attention to alleged attacks by Tanzanian forces and asked Waldheim and the Security Council to “prevail on Tanzania to withdraw from Uganda peacefully.”2 In accordance with standard procedures, Waldheim sent Amin’s message to the Security Council President for January (Mills of Jamaica) and to the other Council members.

3. The next step, if any, in the UN’s handling of the Ugandan complaint depends very much on the actions of the other members of the Council, in which the positions of the three African members (Nigeria, Gabon and Zambia) will be decisive. Without African support, we doubt that there will be any inclination within the Council to respond in one way or another to Amin’s message. It is possible that Kuwaiti PermRep Bishara, who assumes the Council’s Presidency on February 1, will be more inclined to be responsive to Amin than the current Council President, but we doubt that Ishara will take any step, even toward informal consultations, without African support. We are confident that the Soviets will also adjust their moves to the African position.

4. The Ugandan move to the UN places the United States in a potentially embarrassing position. On the one hand, it is very difficult, as was the case with Cambodia and the Vietnamese invasion,3 to be seen supporting someone whose record is as awful as Idi Amin’s. On the other hand, an important principle of international law and the UN Charter is at stake if the international community turns a blind eye toward Tanzania’s invasion of Uganda, despite the mitigating circumstances of Uganda’s prior invasion of Tanzania. There are two points which we need to consider:

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A. How should we react if a formal request for inscription of a Security Council agenda item on Uganda’s complaint is made? IO and AF believe we should follow our traditional policy in favor of inscription. We could tell the press that in line with our well-known policy, we support the Council’s hearing any complaint a member state chooses to bring, and this includes a complaint by Uganda. At the same time, we would totally disassociate ourselves from the Ugandan regime, as we did in the case of Pol Pot and Cambodia.

B. What should we say to the Tanzanians, and when? We believe that we should, if only for the record, attempt to dissuade Nyerere from deeper military involvement in Uganda.

5. Would appreciate your urgent reaction to above, and reporting on any discussions you have had with Tanzanian officials in last several days as well as your best estimate of Tanzanian intentions.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790044–0976. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis. Drafted by Bridges (IO/UNP); cleared in AF and S/S; approved by Maynes (IO). Sent for information Immediate to USUN.
  2. In telegram 373 from USUN, January 29, the Mission transmitted the text of Amin’s letter to Waldheim. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790044–0411)
  3. In December 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia (Kampuchea) to overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime. The United States condemned the invasion as a violation of international law.