49. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • President’s Meeting With President William R. Tolbert, Jr., of Liberia (C)


  • U.S.

    • President Jimmy Carter
    • David Aaron, Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Warren Christopher, Acting Secretary of State
    • Richard Moose, Assistant Secretary of State
    • Robert P. Smith, Ambassador to Liberia
    • Jerry Funk, National Security Council
    • Parker Borg, Director of West African Affairs, Department of State
  • Liberia

    • President William R. Tolbert, Jr.
    • Cecil Dennis, Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Francis Dennis, Ambassador to the U.S.
    • J. Bernard Blamo, Minister of Education
    • D. Franklin Neal, Minister of Planning and Economic Development
    • William Bull, Counselor, Embassy of Liberia


President Carter and President Tolbert exchanged views on major multilateral as well as bilateral issues. President Tolbert discussed the work of the OAU as viewed from his position of Chairman. He made a strong plea for U.S. recognition of Angola, asked that the U.S. not lift sanctions against Zimbabwe, and called for greater U.S. assistance to Africa in its struggle for economic independence. Speaking to bilateral issues, President Tolbert made several specific requests for U.S. assistance. President Carter proposed sending a delegation to Liberia to explore ways of strengthening the special relationship between the two nations. (C)

Multilateral Issues

OAU Conference. President Carter opened the discussion of multilateral issues by congratulating President Tolbert on his successful hosting of the OAU Conference and praising his statesmanship as OAU Chairman.2 (U)

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Human Rights. President Tolbert noted that he felt the most important achievement of the Conference was the resolution on human rights. Africans should have the same standards for human rights as they expect from the rest of the world. He noted that the human rights seminar held in Monrovia after the OAU Conference had reached a number of important decisions. (C)

Economic Liberation. Tolbert said he felt a second important outcome was the resolution on economic liberation. Africans had struggled in the past to achieve political liberation, and while some problems remain, such as apartheid, the present struggle will center around economic liberation. If economic dependency and underdevelopment continue, Africans will still not be free. He noted that the OAU Conference had drawn up a strategy for Africa’s economic development aimed at the continent’s future self-sufficiency. Tolbert urged that the U.S. move decisively to help the Africans with economic development. Eastern countries had seized opportunities to help with political liberation, but Africans, he said, realized that those countries could not resolve the continent’s problems. U.S. help as a common friend and ally would be much appreciated at this time. (C)

Egypt. President Carter commended Tolbert for his handling of the Egyptian issue at the OAU. Tolbert responded that it had not been easy to work out a resolution on Egypt.3 They had had to juggle what the extremists wanted with what they perceived as the U.S. position. He noted that it was the resolution adopted at Monrovia that had saved Sadat in Havana, pointedly remarking, “we did this as a friend of yours”. (C)

Angola. (a) As he had with Secretary Vance,4 Tolbert made a strong pitch to President Carter for U.S. recognition of Angola. He noted that Neto had told him he would welcome diplomatic ties with the U.S. although he had to rely on the Cubans because his existence depended on them. Tolbert stressed that Neto above all was a man of his own mind. He noted that dos Santos, at Neto’s funeral, had assured him that he would follow the same policies. (C)

(b) Carter remarked that he had been surprised and favorably impressed with Neto during the last few months, and said that the U.S. would follow the situation closely and not let Neto’s death interrupt [Page 149] the progress made previously.5 He cautioned, however, that the 18,000 to 20,000 Cuban troops in Angola colored U.S. attitudes on the matter, and that we needed to see what kind of new leaders emerged there. (C)

(c) The Deputy Secretary added that it will be important to see how the new Angolan leadership acts on Namibia. Tolbert agreed, adding that SWAPO’s presence on the Angolan border makes them very involved in Namibian events. Carter noted that in conversations with Angolan leaders the U.S. had encouraged the withdrawal of SWAPO forces from the border and of South African troops from the whole area. The Angolans have stated that they need only a token force to use against UNITA. Carter noted that the U.S. had cooperated with Angola in helping to defuse the Shaba situation and to demilitarize the Angola/Zaire border. Both the U.S. and Angola seek a non-apartheid government in Namibia, and the U.S. awaits the eventual Cuban withdrawal the Angolans have discussed. (C)

(d) Tolbert urged that the evolution of the situation is more important than the changes in leadership, and that the two sides should not waste time assessing each other’s leaders at this point. President Carter agreed that this was a very good point and asked the Deputy Secretary to pursue it through Ambassador McHenry. Carter continued that the U.S. would like to see Angola move out of the Soviet/Cuban orbit to become more truly non-aligned. Tolbert volunteered to do all that he could on this issue as OAU Chairman, and noted that it would be very useful if the Contact Group of Western Foreign Ministers could work more closely with a representative group of OAU Ministers on this issue. Carter agreed that this was a very useful idea. (C)

Western Sahara. Tolbert raised the Western Sahara issue, noting that the report of the OAU Committee of Wise Men had called for the self-determination of the people of the Sahara. Mauritania had pulled out of its section in the Sahara and Morocco had moved in. He said that he had called a meeting of the Wise Men and representatives of neighboring countries for October 16 in Monrovia, but that participation posed a problem. The Polisario wants to be there, but the Moroccans fear the Polisario would adversely influence the meeting. Further, Tolbert questioned whether Chadli of Algeria would attend if the Polisario were absent. Carter said it reminded him of the Middle East problems. (C)

Benin-Gabon Relations. Tolbert said he was also trying to bring Benin and Gabon together, after having successfully kept their dispute off the OAU agenda. Foreign Minister Dennis noted that a meeting at the Foreign Minister level is scheduled for October 12. (C)

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Arab-Israeli Dispute. Carter urged Tolbert to help with the Middle East situation, noting that if only Arafat would accept Resolution 242 and recognize Israel’s right to exist, it would be much easier to have serious negotiations. Carter noted that Arafat’s reluctance to recognize Israel until the final stage of negotiations appeared to play into the Israelis’ hands. Tolbert agreed that the Palestinians should recognize Israel’s right to exist as a state. (C)

Zimbabwe. Tolbert raised the Zimbabwe issue, noting that they hoped the London talks would go well but were concerned about the transitional arrangements involving the three armies. He expressed appreciation of the U.S. role in the matter. Tolbert urged that the U.S. not lift sanctions until there was real freedom and elections in Zimbabwe. He noted that African leaders at the OAU Conference had agreed that lifting of sanctions was tantamount to recognition, and such an action would reflect very badly on the U.S. Carter spoke of the difficulties with the sanctions issue, noting that the future U.S. position would depend on the London negotiations and the moves of ZAPU and ZANU. Carter warned that if the Patriotic Front broke off negotiations, leaving the British and Muzorewa as the only seemingly reasonable parties, it would be difficult to adhere to his present position. He noted that the U.S. would work closely with the British, who had the proper legal status to resolve the issue. As for the question of armies, he noted that the British agree that this should be resolved afterwards. (C)

Bilateral Issues

President Carter opened the meeting by expressing Secretary Vance’s regrets that he could not be present, commending President Tolbert for his good judgment at the OAU Conference, and noting his regret at the departure of Ambassador Dennis with whom he noted he had the closest relationship of all the African Ambassadors in Washington. President Tolbert noted that this was the third time he had been received warmly in the White House and commended President Carter on his speech about Soviet activities in the Western Hemisphere the previous evening.6 (C)

The Liberian Political Situation. In response to President Carter’s inquiry about the aftermath of the April 14 riots,7 President Tolbert thanked Carter for the American support at the time and noted that [Page 151] certain elements had wanted to bring Communism to Liberia. He said that at the time of the riots there was a larger number of Cubans in the country than ever before. As a result he had asked the Russians to reduce the size of their mission in Monrovia. He noted that Liberia faced certain social problems and that he was moving to solve these problems, but that resources were limited. (C)

A Special Delegation. President Carter responded by recalling the special relationship and suggested sending a delegation to explore ways to strengthen the friendship and alleviate tension that sometimes had developed between the two countries.8 He stressed that the purpose of the group would not be to recommend an increase in assistance but to look at the overall relationship. Tolbert said he would welcome such a visit as he had welcomed Andy Young’s recent business delegation.9 He suggested that one of the first things the delegation might explore was the relocation of the University. President Carter said the delegation would have a broader mandate and composition than Young’s business group and might also include educators who had been associated with one of the large American university systems. President Carter asked Acting Secretary Christopher to look into the proposal and give him a recommendation. Carter noted that normally such commissions are created when there are difficult problems but happily this group would not look at any such large problems. (C)

Follow-Up From The President’s 1978 Visit. President Carter asked about the status of the projects which were discussed during his 1978 visit to Monrovia.10 (a) Tolbert said he had not yet received the report on the study of the river blindness, stressing that the problem was serious in many parts of the country, particularly near the Firestone Plantation.11 (C)

(b) Regarding the patrol boats, Tolbert said the new boats had not been received yet, noting that some of the original patrol boats had defective sections when they arrived. President Tolbert said they had wanted new boats but the Americans had stressed spare parts for the original boats. President Carter asked the Acting Secretary to look into the status of the river blindness and patrol boats project. (C)

(c) After Mr. Christopher noted that he had just signed the $10 million housing guarantee and $5 million ESF for low income housing, [Page 152] the Liberian President expressed his appreciation and continued that the housing needs in Liberia were very great. Noting the deplorable condition of the military housing and the consequent social problems, Tolbert asked that the U.S. Government consider a military housing project. President Carter responded by noting Liberia’s highest in Africa per capita assistance and Congressional strictness in allocating large sums for aid programs. (C)

P.L. 480. Tolbert noted that Liberia had once hoped to become self-sufficient in rice production, but that now it would be useful to have a P.L. 480 program again. The Acting Secretary responded that a program was not planned for next year; Assistant Secretary Moose explained that the Liberia program had been established in response to a certain need at a certain time, and as other countries’ requirements gradually surpassed Liberia’s, the program was stopped. Carter proposed that the delegation might include some agricultural experts. Noting that Liberians would know more about their own agricultural situation than outsiders, he added that the experts might be useful in discussing their tree crop technology. (C)

In conclusion, Tolbert again noted that the delegation would be very welcome. He stressed that the two most important projects for the Liberians would be the military housing program and the relocation of the University. (C)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Box 113, Memcons, 4/78–10/80. Confidential. Drafted on October 16. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room at the White House.
  2. See footnote 6, Document 47.
  3. The OAU resolution on the Middle East omitted any reference to the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and affirmed support for the struggle of the Palestinian people.
  4. In telegram 256182 to Monrovia, September 28, the Department reported on the meeting between Vance and Tolbert in which they discussed U.S. assistance for economic development in Africa, the Southern Africa situation, Rhodesian sanctions, and Egyptian-Israeli negotiations; and reiterated U.S.-Liberian friendship. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790445–0874)
  5. Agostinho Neto died in Moscow on September 10.
  6. Tolbert met Ford at the White House on November 5, 1974, while in Washington on a private visit. He returned for an official State visit September 21–24, 1976. Carter addressed the nation on the evening of October 2 about the presence of Soviet combat troops in Cuba (Public Papers of the Presidents Jimmy Carter, 1979, Book II, pp. 1802–1806; Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy, Document 129)
  7. See Documents 43 and 44.
  8. See Document 50.
  9. In telegram 7149 from Monrovia, September 11, the Embassy reported on the trade mission led by Young that visited Liberia September 5–8 in order to increase U.S. trade and investment in Africa. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790419–0326)
  10. See Document 34.
  11. See footnote 3, Document 37.