29. Memorandum of Conversation1

SUBJECT

  • US-Liberia Relations

PARTICIPANTS

  • LIBERIA

    • Bishop Bennie D. Warner, Vice Presidential Candidate
    • C. Cecil Dennis, Foreign Minister
    • Emmett Harmon, Ambassador-at-Large
    • Francis A. Dennis, Ambassador to US
  • US

    • The Secretary
    • Richard M. Moose, Assistant Secretary, AF
    • Thomas W.M. Smith, Director, AF/W (notetaker)

The Secretary began by welcoming the Liberians.

Minister Dennis replied by saying that he was grateful for the opportunity to meet the Secretary on short notice and in advance of the scheduled appointment. He said Bishop Warner was “not yet in the saddle” but would be elected Vice President of Liberia on the 4th of October, and thus had to return to Liberia September 30.

The Secretary offered his congratulations in advance to Bishop Warner.

Dennis said that he had particularly wished the Bishop to meet the Secretary, and to see that great school of learning, the UN General Assembly, before his election.

The Secretary replied that after his exposure to the UN, the Bishop might teach the US a thing or two.

Dennis complimented the Secretary on his first few months in office, to which the Secretary replied that he was getting used to it after eight months.

Bishop Warner said that he had watched the Secretary on television during the Panama Canal Treaty hearings, and that he had rooted for the Secretary like a football fan.

The Secretary replied that he had been before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for four hours, and in the end had been obliged [Page 79] to excuse himself because he had an appointment with UN Secretary General Waldheim in New York.

Dennis said he wished to underscore President Tolbert’s cable to President Carter congratulating the latter on the achievement of the Panama Canal Treaties.2 Dennis said Liberia would sign the Declaration of Washington.3 Dennis continued that he wished to say how much Liberia appreciated the Carter Administration. President Tolbert, he said, never lost an opportunity to congratulate President Carter on US African policy. The Liberian Government thought that an eloquent way of manifesting US interest in Africa was to visit the continent. President Tolbert was overjoyed by the prospect of President Carter’s visit to Africa.4 Dennis continued by saying that the US is closely identified with Liberia. Liberia has tried hard to encourage the US to take an intelligent interest in Africa. Now Liberia can only congratulate the US on the success of its ventures in Rhodesia and elsewhere. Dennis said the US has the wholehearted support of Liberia.

The Secretary said the US Government appreciates the whole-hearted support of Liberia and, in particular, the President appreciates the support which came from President Tolbert even before his Administration began.

Dennis said that they regretted President Tolbert could not come to the General Assembly. They had received a message through the Embassy in Monrovia to the effect that President Carter was prepared to receive President Tolbert in New York if the latter could be there around October 4. Unfortunately, Bishop Warner’s election prevented President Tolbert from leaving Liberia.

Dennis continued by saying that he would be honest. Liberia appreciated the assistance the US has given, but all Liberians wished to know the answer to the question “Where does the US stand with regard to Liberia, given the special relationship?”. Senegal and Ivory Coast, to name two of Liberia’s neighbors, have a special relationship to France. Liberia was a beacon, a torch, lit in Africa by the United States. Until recently, Liberia was the only independent republic on the continent. Now, the OAU has 49 members. They have followed the example of Liberia. Liberia has paid a price for this. It has been regarded as a tool of the US. Liberia has tolerated this implied criticism, indeed on occa[Page 80]sion has been more Catholic than the Pope, and supported US interests as strongly as any American. Given this close relationship, the friends of the US in Liberia wished to know where the US stood.

Dennis emphasized that he was not talking about the possibility of a visit by President Carter to Liberia, although Liberia knows where President Giscard of France would go if he made a visit to Africa.

The Secretary said he would speak simply. It was true that there is a special relationship with Liberia based on history, shared aspirations, and shared views. Among the important values we share are a belief in human rights. What must be done now is to work closely together to make sure that our hopes and aspirations can be realized. We must stay next to each other in the UN. We must be aware of the economic aspects of the special relationship. The Secretary commented that he understood that US economic assistance to Liberia had been greater than US assistance to any other country but one in the African area. The question arose, should it be larger? The Secretary said we would be willing to talk about it, in order to respond to Liberia’s requirements.

The Secretary said he regretted it was not possible for the President to stop in Monrovia during his trip. There simply was not enough time. In the interest of the special relationship there should be increased discussion of issues, particularly African issues, with Liberia. The US needs to understand better Liberia’s point of view.

Dennis thanked the Secretary for his explanation. He noted that the system Liberia advocated had been inherited from the United States, and that Liberia believed in it. But, he said, to sustain the system we shall require more of the things we are talking about. Dennis said he was heartened by the way the Secretary felt about it, and commented that, among other things, a new yardstick was needed to measure US assistance, a yardstick more effective than per capita aid. Liberia knows that a friend in need is a friend indeed.

Bishop Warner said he wished to express his appreciation for taking the Secretary’s time. He had benefitted from the broad perspective of the Secretary’s views of the world. He understood that the Secretary kept a Bible in his office and had been heartened by that news.

The Secretary congratulated the Bishop and said that he looked forward to working with him.

Dennis, who had just received a note from Ambassador Harmon, said that in 1979 Monrovia would be the venue for the meeting of the OAU. He said that as Liberia prepares for this meeting it would share some of its problems with the US.

The Secretary concluded by saying that in the meantime the US would be grateful for the support of Liberia, particularly with regard [Page 81] to southern Africa. The problems were important. The repercussions of success or failure would be worldwide.

  1. Source: Department of State, Files of Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, NODIS Memcons 1977. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Smith and approved by Wisner on October 11. The meeting took place at One UN Plaza.
  2. In telegram 6223 from Monrovia, September 7, the Embassy transmitted a message from Tolbert to Carter congratulating him on the success of the Panama Canal Treaties. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770323–0976)
  3. The Declaration was signed by the representatives of 26 American Republics at the same time the Panama Canal Treaties were signed.
  4. President Carter visited Monrovia on April 3, 1978, and met with President Tolbert. See Document 34.