35. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting Between President Carter and President Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
  • Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Richard M. Moose, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs
  • Herman Cohen, United States Ambassador to Senegal
  • Thomas Thornton, Member, National Security Council
  • President Leopold Sedar Senghor
  • Ambassador Andre Jean Coulbary, Senegal Ambassador to the United States
  • Medoune Fall, Permanent Representative to the United Nations
  • Djibo Ka, Director of the Cabinet
  • Shiekh Leye, Chief of Protocol
  • Samba Ba, Press Attache

The meeting began at 11:00 a.m. with an exchange of books between the two Presidents.

President Carter welcomed Senghor and said he sought his advice, particularly an assessment of the situation in the Western Sahara region and what we could do to secure peace in Africa especially working through the OAU.

President Senghor replied that the Annapolis speech was very comforting.2 He then turned to Angola as a starting point of his analysis. [Page 109] The Soviets are prudent and flexible but quickly move into a vacuum. Angola was such a case because of American hesitation following Vietnam. France and other countries needed to trade with Angola and pressed Senegal to recognize it. They even spoke of personal danger to Senghor. Senghor told them that this was a dangerous tactic and that Zambia or Zaire could be next. The Soviets are attempting to carry out the legacy of both Lenin and Peter the Great. They want to conquer Africa first and then Europe. By that time it might be too late for the United States to react. They rely on non-African helpers such as Cuba and the GDR but have also recruited Africans such as Algeria, Libya, Benin, Congo Brazzaville, Madagascar, Ethiopia and Guinea although in Guinea American actions have improved the situation.3 Egypt, Tunisia and Senegal on the other hand are going to establish a social democratic union at the end of June.

President Senghor pointed to one split in Africa between Arabs and Negroes. Algeria and Libya are playing on this. Senegal is on the dividing line and has removed both tribalism and religious wars. A more important split is the cultural one between Francophones and Anglophones. Senegal is combatting this by developing bi-lingualism.

President Senghor said that the worst split in Africa is between “progressives” and moderates. The progressives, supported by the USSR and Eastern Europeans, seek to destabilize areas that they do not control. The OAU refuses to accept an East-West split in Africa and condemns intervention. Algeria however opposes Morocco and Mauritania and has intervened in Mali and Niger. They and the Libyans are interfering in the Western Sahara, and want to split all of these states to gain control of the Arab populations. Hardly five percent of the people in the Sahara however are pure Arabs.

President Senghor said the first thing we should do is to ensure compliance with Article III which prohibits intervention.4 Last year at the OAU, Senegal sponsored a Resolution condemning intervention, with Angola in mind. Algeria opposed it but it was adopted 42 to 6 showing that there is no progressive majority in the OAU.5 A second step should be an agreement among the Euro-Americans, within the Helsinki framework,6 prohibiting all military intervention. This should [Page 110] be supplemented by a UN Resolution that would cover the Cubans and Asians.

President Senghor pointed to the need for a defensive capability for the moderate states. He had asked for a defense arrangement at the last ECOWAS meeting7 but this depended on Nigeria and he solicited US backing with Nigeria on this.

President Senghor opposes an OAU force and prefers regional arrangements because the OAU is too diverse.

Even though Senegal is sending a Battalion to Zaire8 it feels very remote from Zaire. Senegal does not want the US to send troops, but to train and transport the forces of the regional pacts as they did in the Kolwezi operation.

President Senghor said that since only 10 of the 49 African countries are “progressives” we need not worry. The Cuban role, as in Angola, shows that this is not the case. Senegal could have refused to help in Zaire but then Chad and Mauritania would follow. There would be a Soviet-Cuban thrust into central Africa, isolating the moderates on the periphery.

President Senghor said we are in a state of confrontation of two ideologies. He and President Carter are both democrats and believe in human rights. President Carter’s religion and stand on human rights, and defense of democracy is important for Africa. America should help defend human rights and freedom in Africa and help resist communism.

President Carter thanked Senghor for his thorough and enlightening presentation which helped to shape his thoughts. He said that the American government is developing a willingness to play an active role in Africa. We want strong independent states in Africa with regional burden-sharing, no foreign intrusion, and efforts concentrated on peaceful development. We cannot send military forces but look to regional groupings or perhaps the OAU to deter intervention.

President Carter said it is correct to emphasize that countries such as Libya and Algeria who disrupt existing borders are setting a dangerous precedent. America needs guidance from Senghor on how to better handle African matters such as Zaire. We have had no success in getting the Cubans out of Africa or keeping them from sending more troops. We are therefore closely in tune with your advice and plans.

President Carter referred to Africa’s several economic problems and said that his Mother may visit the Sahel. This would dramatize his [Page 111] own personal interest in these problems. America wants to help alleviate hunger and disease and seeks Senegal’s guidance.

President Carter said that Senghor’s analysis of the Angola situation is correct. The Soviets came in while we were traumatized by Vietnam. We will not make a similar mistake. We have not recognized Neto but by law we cannot get involved in Angola. Neto would be unable to stay in power without Cuban support. We need to cooperate with you and other great African leaders. There has been a substantial change in Congressional and public opinion about opposing Soviets and Cubans and providing aid to those who help themselves.

President Senghor said he would be glad to welcome Miss Lillian.9 Turning to Angola he said that he frequently sees Savimbi who is fighting courageously. The French help him as does Senegal within its limited means. Cuba cannot remain indefinitely in Angola.

President Senghor said he was pleasantly surprised at the understanding and openness of the Congressmen with whom he had met, especially in the HIRC. He had met with the Black Caucus this morning. They are romantics and he told them that the Algerians are racists who want a white empire. The Polisario is slaughtering blacks.

President Carter asked how we could get SWAPO to be more cooperative. Nujoma is elusive and there is a danger of unilateral South African action.

President Senghor replied that the South African incursion had spoiled everything. He has long-standing ties with SWAPO and has urged them in the direction of the Western Five proposals. His Ambassador at the UN will talk to Nujoma again. Senegal supports the Anglo-American plan at Five Power proposals. Nujoma will not accept South African troops; the forces should come from the UN and Senegal will contribute if necessary. Senghor supports democracy in Namibia and Rhodesia and has told Nkomo and Mugabe that there should not be an imposed regime like the MPLA. Elections should be held as is done in Senegal.

President Senghor then raised the Arab-Israeli question. He said he is part Jewish and can speak frankly to both sides. At the time of the mandate both Jews and Palestinians lived together and both deserve a homeland. There will be no durable peace until Jews live among Arabs in a confederation. Begin is a fanatic but Senghor has confidence in Sadat. He is trying to establish relations between the PLO and Israeli Labor Party. He has always found the PLO open and easy to talk with, although the Christian Palestinians are more difficult. Senghor said he [Page 112] is at President Carter’s disposal if he can help. His financial advisor in Washington is David Morse with whom he is in close contact.

President Carter said that Secretary Vance would give Senghor a fuller report on the Middle East situation. We are not optimistic; Israel has delayed answering questions that we [omission in the original—gave?] to them.

President Carter noted that President Senghor had a luncheon scheduled and thanked him for this exciting chance to meet with him. He also expressed appreciation for Senghor’s servicing of our aircraft enroute to Shaba.

Thereupon at 12:15 the meeting closed as President Senghor presented some personal gifts for Mrs. Carter.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 114, Senegal 6/78–4/80. Confidential; Exdis. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House.
  2. For the text of Carter’s June 7 commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, on the subject of U.S.-Soviet relations, see Public Papers of the Presidents: Jimmy Carter, 1978, Book I, pp. 1052–1057. It is also printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 87.
  3. See Documents 26 and 28.
  4. Article III of the Charter of the Organization of African Unity affirms the sovereignty and independence of member states and advocates the peaceful settlement of disputes and a non-aligned policy for members.
  5. The 14th OAU summit took place in Libreville July 2–5, 1977.
  6. The Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Accords, aimed to improve relations between the Eastern bloc and the West.
  7. The ECOWAS summit took place April 21–22 in Lagos.
  8. Senegal contributed troops to the inter-African peacekeeping force in southern Zaire after the Shaba II conflict. See Document 116.
  9. Reference is to President Carter’s mother, Lillian Carter.