31. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Talks Between President Carter and the US Delegation, and Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo and the Nigerian Delegation: Second Session


  • The President
  • Vice President Mondale
  • The Secretary of State
  • Dr. Brzezinski
  • Ambassador Andrew Young
  • Ambassador Donald Easum
  • Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Richard Cooper
  • Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Richard Moose
  • Henry Richardson, NSC Staff (notetaker)


  • Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo
  • Commissioner Joseph Nanven Garba
  • General Martin Adamu
  • Ambassador Olujimi Jolaoso
  • Mr. J.A. Oladel Akadiri
  • Mr. Haruna Bin Musa
  • Mr. M. Arzika

(Press Opportunity)

The President: I appreciate the tusk (gift). I wish to present to you this book of satellite photos. Should we be able to assist you with respect to geological or geodetic surveys, please let me know or transmit your request through Ambassador Easum. Do you have national satellite transmission facilities?

Easum: You (Nigeria) have facilities for transmitting internationally, but not internally. The latter is being worked on.

The President: We would be glad to work with you on this. I wish for you to set the agenda for our discussion this morning, as it relates to the talks you have already had with Secretary Vance.2

Obasanjo: We have covered most of the points, I believe: North/South, SALT, Middle East. We also touched on bilateral issues slightly. [Page 84] Perhaps we could also discuss other issues, such as nuclear non-proliferation.

The President: On non-proliferation, we with a few other countries are suppliers of enriched uranium. Do you have uranium in Nigeria?

Obasanjo: There are some indications of it, but they have not yet proved out.

The President: It is costly to enrich uranium for nuclear fuel; the United States has been able to do it for thirty years. We are eager to see constraints placed on nuclear fuel after its use to present its reprocessing for use in explosives. We have been pushing to get agreement on this point among the relevant countries. We are concerned, and we have been monitoring South Africa from our satellites, to try to prevent further cooperation between South Africa and other potential nuclear powers. We hope to prevent the emergence of additional nuclear nations while moving towards the development of peaceful uses of nuclear power.

Obasanjo: Nigeria will need to develop peaceful atomic power.

The President: We are glad that Nigeria will participate in the nuclear suppliers conference. France and Germany who are reluctant to impose restraints will probably also participate, as will the Japanese. We want a strong IAEA and for all nations to sign the non-proliferation treaty. The point is to make fuel available for peaceful purposes while preventing its use for explosives. I feel strongly on this issue, and I have put maximum pressure on France and Germany on these questions.

Obasanjo: How much success have you had with France and Germany?

The President: We have had some success. Early in my Administration, I made the mistake of pursuing this question too much in public. We have some progress with Brazil. The French have doubts about Pakistan commitments in that deal. The French have publicly agreed not to sell reprocessing plants to any other countries. If they can back out without being seen to capitulate to the United States, I believe they would do so. A year ago there was a feeling that nothing can be done on non-proliferation. Now, that feeling is reversed. I will be urging Brazil to reconsider on this matter; they are angry with me for entering into “an internal matter”; they were on the verge of being competitive in this area.

In the upcoming (nuclear suppliers) meeting, I will meet with the delegates. This will probably be a meeting of technicians, designed to educate the world on this subject. For example, what is uranium, what are the processes by which it is enriched, the nuclear waste problem, peaceful nuclear power, some analysis of the fuel cycle. The Soviets and others need to know the necessity for restraint. There is a growing [Page 85] common commitment on this point. Demonstrations have occurred against nuclear power plants in the United States and in Germany. I think that if properly built, the plants can be safe, but there is strong public feeling on this question. Increasingly this is a world problem: it relates to national energy supplies, and it relates to OPEC.

Obasanjo: You mentioned carrying along the USSR on this question.

The President: They have been critical of France. We, Australia and the USSR are in quiet harmony on this question.

Obasanjo: What about China?

The President: They feel that nuclear power is their own business. But they are not a major supplier, and they probably don’t wish to be. They are facing the Soviet atomic threat. China wants an international conference, and wants that to lead to the elimination of nuclear explosives worldwide. But while they’re facing the USSR, they do not wish limitations to be placed on their capacity in this regard.

Vance: They have also said that they will not assist other nations to acquire their own explosive devices.

The President: Cy Vance has already touched on SALT. We are negotiating SALT II, and this will hopefully result in the first actual reduction (sic) of strategic weapons. Both the US and the Soviet Union realize that present arms levels are excessive, that money is being wasted, and that there is already adequate and general parity between the two countries. We probably have an advantage in miniaturization, solid propellants, and in numbers of warheads. The Soviets generally have liquid-fueled missiles and larger warheads.

If SALT II is successfully negotiated, for the first time there would be an equivalency which ends the arms race and looks towards a cutback. The present agreement mandates the Soviet Union to get rid of 300 weapons. We made good progress when Gromyko was here, and the Soviet Union seems to be acting responsibly. I have invited Brezhnev to visit; they have been waiting on progress on SALT to be made, but I hope for a visit this year. The tension between the United States and the USSR has been reduced dramatically.

Obasanjo: Yes, this reduced tension can be felt in Africa.

The President: I believe that my Charleston speech,3 the UN speech,4 and also progress on the Indian Ocean negotiations all helped. I feel [Page 86] good about all of those. The Soviets are now willing to discuss a range of matters responsibly: they are no longer taking a strong anti-Israeli position, and we have cooperated on the joint Middle East statement. Progress is beginning in all areas of our relationship.

Obasanjo: Commissioner Garba just asked me how does Egypt affect the Soviet stand in the Middle East?

The President: Three years ago the Soviet Union and Egypt were aligned. That relationship was broken by Egypt. There are currently good relations between the US and Egypt. Of all the parties in the Middle East, Egypt is probably the most cooperative, both publicly and in private; Sadat has frequently extended offers to help. Relative to military power, Egypt offers Israel the most problems. Sadat is having serious economic problems. A breakdown in negotiations would be attributed to his lack as a political leader, and his offer of friendship towards Israel would be perceived as spurned. The Syrians are more difficult; they are afraid of a unilateral Egyptian move. I personally like Assad and Assam, however.

Israel has been the most difficult, but lately more cooperative. They have agreed to move towards Geneva and towards PLO representation there. They are now being more forthcoming in private. Egypt is the most cooperative, and feels a great need for peace in the area. The easiest negotiations might be between Egypt and Israel. We are putting enormous economic and arms aid into Egypt and Israel.

Obasanjo: Do you see an economic cooperative arrangement arising between Egypt and Israel?

The President: I do, after a peace treaty is signed. We and the Saudis are willing to give aid. Joint mineral projects, irrigation schemes, etc., would be a great boost, and a reduction of weapons would assist the economies of both countries. Israel especially has a high rate of inflation.

Vance:In the draft peace treaties so far presented, all have arms limitations clauses.

The President: Even if only Israel and Egypt reach agreement, this would lead to a reduction in arms. However, this would cause difficulty in Syria and Iraq. I believe they do trust us somewhat more, and I will not betray that trust. I am interested in a Golan Heights settlement, and willing to pressure Israel to this end, but it is difficult. We will just have to listen and work these problems through. Cy and I have spent an enormous amount of time doing so. All parties have now agreed that Lebanon should be a party to the Geneva Convention. On Geneva, the US/Soviet co-chairmanship is still in force. That a new party must have unanimous consent to join the Conference, presents problems. Lebanon’s joining is a good step; the PLO could be part of the Lebanese delegation or spread among the Iraqi and Jordanian [Page 87] delegations. Israel has agreed that the Palestinians themselves can be represented. The Palestinians can also be represented on the refugees (sic) question. The process is somewhat like chewing on rocks. There is much pressure on Israel on the West Bank settlement issue. Israeli acts on the West Bank may be in accord with the Geneva Covenant. We are making progress and we must, because everyone knows that the alternative is war.

Obasanjo: Thank you for your exposition.

The President: In the future, if you have any questions, we would welcome your inquiry by personal letter, or through the Embassy. We have nothing to conceal from you.

Obasanjo: We appreciate that. Perhaps we could cover two points before getting to bilateral issues.

Garba: On Belize, the UN group met on Belize, and decided that Nigeria should approach the United States to persuade Guatemala to respect the territorial integrity of Belize in order that it may become independent.

Vance: We have been in touch with the British on this in London. The US position is generally that if a territorial compromise was possible, it should be explored. The British wish for Belize to retain territory down to the Mohoh River and west from there to Guatemala. They are also exploring initial compensation along with a settlement. We are now awaiting word from the British, and we have urged the Guatemalans not to take any precipitate actions.

I have also talked to the Guatemalan Foreign Minister in New York. Historically, Guatemala thinks that Belize is part of Guatemala, but think that some small territorial cession might be necessary. We would like to minimize this. The area in the South is basically unpopulated, and some compensation for pipeline rights might be possible. The United States has been publicly quiet on this issue. There is a general international feeling that Belize should be independent. We have been urging fairness throughout the whole process.

Garba: There would seem to be an analogy to the Ogaden here. And there is some fear in the Commonwealth of violating the principle of territorial integrity.

Vance: We have come down hard on Guatemala on this point.

Garba: We wish also to raise the issue of Mayotte. We want to persuade France to get out of Mayotte and to leave it as part of the Comoros Islands.

Moose: I met with the Comoros Foreign Minister in New York. Their position is that all the islands in the Comoros should have been given independence at the same time, and that there was no rationale for the French continuing to retain Mayotte. I promised that the United [Page 88] States would study the issue. I understand that the French Foreign Office might think that their own case on this question is weak.

Dr. Brzezinski: Wasn’t there a plebiscite on the question?

Moose: There was a plebiscite on a constitution but not on island-by-island independence. The Mayotte plebiscite came out two to one against the constitution. There are also economic reasons supposedly involved. We don’t have a position, but I promised that we would study it.

(There was some joking about the possibility of the French Foreign Minister not having hotel space in Lagos because of the arrival of President Carter’s entourage.)

The President: My only bilateral concern is investment arrangements. I hope we can establish an exchange on this matter between ourselves. I cannot force US business to do what they do not want to do, and I wish you to understand that. I also wish to report their concerns about the stability of the climate in which they are going to invest; for example, with respect to non-retroactive laws. I believe that substantial US investment in Nigeria is to our mutual advantage. Perhaps we could establish a joint trade commission or a seminar for US businessmen in Lagos to “have it out” on these issues. I would hate for this to create a problem between us. There is no imminent difficulty, but US businessmen need to understand your laws and your customs, for example, your labor situation and your regulations on indigenization.

Obasanjo: We briefly touched on this yesterday. Perhaps a seminar and a joint commission would be possible.

Garba: I told Ambassador Easum I will recommend something similar to General Obasanjo when we return to Lagos and get back to him on the details.

Obasanjo: That probably will satisfy the situation. We are fashioning economic progress and allowing investment and government participation. I believe that Nigeria’s atmosphere allows for a satisfactory return on investment. Relative to indigenization, there are three areas or sectors for Nigerian investment relative to the percentage which should be reserved for Nigerian participation: for example, trading, and distribution. In the distribution area we allow foreign participation up to 40 percent. In other areas we allow foreign participation of up to 60 percent. In some cases, there has been a deliberate misinterpretation of our policy. When we said Nigerians must participate up to 60 percent in banks and insurance companies, American banks and insurance companies decided to stay. Ambassador Easum tells me that they are happy. One, I believe, did decide to go, but I predict they will return.

Easum: The First National City Bank decided that they must honor their worldwide policy against foreign participation and reluctantly left, but they left on good terms.

[Page 89]

Obasanjo: Our policies are moderate. We seek to fulfill our national aspirations without losing sight of the need for investment. I speak only for the present government, obviously, but I don’t see expropriation by a future Nigerian government. Nigerians are too sensible and realistic to pursue such a policy. Our proposed discussion and seminar will serve an educational function in this respect. When we promulgated our indigenization program, we spoke with the ambassadors from the industrialized countries. This dissipated some initial misunderstanding. There is always the possibility of distortion unless one is actually on-the-spot to see how these policies work. Perhaps a seminar in the United States to serve a similar educational function might be possible.

The President: The business community might be overly concerned about these issues. For some of them their calculations must figure on investments of fifteen years, and therefore their concern is understandable. Might it be possible to include an anti-expropriation provision in the new constitution which you are now drafting?

Obasanjo: I do not think that would be possible. We do not intend to write the constitution; that will be done by other organs. The government wishes to exercise no “subterranean influence” on the writing of the constitution.

The President: When could we have the first exploratory meeting—before Lagos, I hope?

Easum: We could put a list together in a few days which would cover technical subjects: repatriation of profits, expatriate quotas, limitation on dividends.

Obasanjo: We can resolve this on an official level.

Cooper: On the concern that US business has, there is an area short of a constitutional provision where these concerns might be met. These concerns must be seen in light of various Third World resolutions in several international fora on investment, e.g., the Manila Declaration.5 This creates an atmosphere against private investment. In this context, Nigerian policy understandably seems difficult to separate from general Third World policies.

Obasanjo: What specific international conferences do you speak of?

Cooper: The Charter of Economic Rights and Duties,6 and the Manila Conference. Similar restrictions were tried at CIEAC,7 but they just [Page 90] missed. The atmospherics suggest caution to business investors. What we must do is to change those atmospherics, and this will take some work.

Obasanjo: Thank you for this caution. We do belong to G–77. You are probably more effective than us in your international groups. We have always tried to moderate policies in the groups to which we belonged, e.g., on debt questions. We have a problem in Africa, similar to yours in America. Everyone wants to benefit from us and take a bite out of us. When at times we tend to go along with this trend, you understand how this works.

Garba: We are realistic. Our economic planning must necessarily take into account global considerations, for example, ECOWAS.

Obasanjo: On the debt issue, we must search for some accommodation. We have become a modest creditor (sic) but must also think of the poor countries who cannot even service (sic) their foreign debts. What do we do? This produces problems.

The President:If you would help hold down the price of oil, this would help your problem.

Obasanjo: We in return want your assurance that the price of machinery which we import from the United States will be stabilized.

The President: We urge you to assess the adverse impact of an oil price increase at this time. The United States may be able to accommodate itself to a price rise, but the global impact would be much more severe. On the Peace Corps, I realize that in Nigeria it has had somewhat of a bad reputation in the past. Now, we have volunteers who are technically trained and would be ready to begin a program in Nigeria at your pleasure. They are young and energetic. I wish to emphasize that there is no political motivation here and no political involvement. I would want to know about it, and I would not permit any political involvement on their part.

Obasanjo: As I might have mentioned before, in the early days the Peace Corps had a bad press in Nigeria. We will look at this question politically and consider if the time is now ripe. If so, we will pass it on to Easum. If we need time to prepare the minds of the people, we will let that be known also.

The President: We are not trying to intrude, and we will certainly abide by your wishes in this matter.

I wish to say that I am proud of the friendship that you and I have developed on this visit. We value your advice and counsel and the opportunity to learn about your perspectives.

Obasanjo: On behalf of the Nigerian people and myself and my delegation, I wish to extend our sincere appreciation to you for this opportunity to examine issues of concern and importance to both Africa [Page 91] and the world. We are most (sic) impressed by the frank and cordial discussions which we have had. This is a new chapter in US–Nigerian relations. We will do all possible to continue to build on this firm foundation. We hope that skeptics and cynics will not be given the opportunity to say that they were right. We do still have a long way to go to concretize certain of these issues to our mutual advantage, and to the advantage of Africa and the world. I particularly appreciate the confidence that you repose in us and in me. We solemnly say that we will not betray that confidence—you have opened yourself to us. We will take advantage of this exposure in the best spirit.

The President: Those are indeed my feelings. We feel that we can depend absolutely on your integrity, and this is a mirror of the faith that Africa has reposed in you to act fairly. If there is any situation in the future that demands it, I hope that we would directly communicate with each other to escape any major difficulties. I hope that the small differences that we are bound to have can coexist within our friendship. I am honored to have all of you and look forward to visiting you again in Lagos.

[The discussion ended.]8

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 114, Nigeria: Obasanjo Visit 10/77. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House. According to the President’s Daily Diary, the meeting ended at 12:05 p.m. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary)
  2. See Document 30.
  3. Carter gave a speech to the 31st annual meeting of the Southern Legislative Conference on July 21, in which he spelled out his foreign policy goals. (Public Papers of the Presidents: Jimmy Carter, 1977, Book II, pp. 1309–1315; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 52)
  4. Carter addressed the United Nations General Assembly on March 17. He emphasized a foreign policy focus on arms control and human rights, among other goals. (Public Papers of the Presidents: Jimmy Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 444–451; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 29)
  5. The Manila Declaration was promulgated at meetings of the G–77 in January and February 1976. It laid out a strategy for relations between the developed world and the developing world. The Group of 77 (G–77) is an intergovernmental group of developing countries.
  6. The Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States was adopted in 1974 by the United Nations General Assembly.
  7. Presumably a reference to CIEC (Conference on International Economic Cooperation), which concluded in June 1977.
  8. Brackets are in the original.