77. Telegram From the Embassy in Zaire to the Department of State1
Summary: During March 25 meeting I briefed Mobutu on the status of our consultations with Nigerians on mediation, our undertaking direct contacts with Cubans, and discussed both the political and military dimensions of the Shaba problem. I stressed the importance of Zaire’s continued cooperation in seeking a political solution and need to avoid actions which might impede achievement of that goal. Mobutu indicated his agreement on most points and understanding of reasons why we placed priority on political settlement. He reiterated his concern, however, re our reluctance to extend more military aid and the dangerous signal this could give to those attacking Zaire. End summary.
1. I spent an hour with Mobutu this morning, March 25. I began by referring to our phone conversation yesterday (Ref A) and said I thought it would be useful to discuss further the reasons why we remained intent on pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Shaba problem as a first priority. I noted that both President Carter and Secretary Vance had underlined the importance we attach to mediation efforts in recent public statements.[Page 235]
2. Mobutu broke in, as I expected he would, to say that not all of those statements were very favorable for Zaire. He mentioned particularly the President’s press conference remark yesterday to the effect that the US had no military obligation to Zaire,7 expressing concern that this might only encourage the Angolans and their Cuban and Soviet supporters to pursue their aggression against Zaire. I said that, while I had no official elaboration, from reading the text of the President’s comments I had the impression he was speaking more in the context of whether we were actually committed to make further arms shipments in response to the Shaba attack, and not so much in terms of our ongoing, longer-range FMS program. As Mobutu was well aware, the question of the degree of our response had aroused considerable interest both in the US media and the Congress, and the administration had made clear that it intends to weigh all factors carefully. Mobutu then expressed surprise that Secretary Vance had told the press that, in view of mediation efforts, no additional shipments will be made to Zaire. I corrected this, noting that the Secretary had said such shipments may rpt may be unnecessary.8
3. I then returned to the question of mediation and gave Mobutu a run-down of the Secretary’s consultations with Nigerian FonMin Garba (Refs B, C) which, I noted, seemed to have gone very well. Mobutu listened with interest and seemed pleased with the results. When I mentioned Garba’s concern that any attempt to pursue the Katangans across the border into Angola might provoke an escalation of the conflict, Mobutu said Garba had expressed the same concern to Nguza and he, Mobutu, understood well why this would indeed cause problems. I also noted that Secretary Vance had confirmed we were talking to the Soviets about the Shaba problem. I then went on to convey the Secretary’s message concerning US-Cuban discussions (Ref D), noting our hope to broaden the talks to cover Cuba’s intervention in Angola and its policies in Africa.[Page 236]
4. I said all of these activities—including instructions just sent to our posts in a number of African countries which Mobutu had suggested to us—clearly showed our continuing desire to be helpful in Africa.9 As for the Shaba, our stress on an African solution does not mean we intend to wash our hands of the whole affair. On the contrary, we are playing an active although discreet role with many parties in support of successful mediation. I expressed the personal view that a political solution was by far the best and perhaps the only feasible way to resolve the Shaba problem.
5. I said I had been impressed by the positive steps Mobutu himself had taken in the diplomatic area, and expressed hope we could count on his continued close cooperation. I thought it was particularly important to avoid any actions that might harm the chances for mediation or provide Luanda with excuses—such as claims of Zairian border provocations—for abandoning the political track. On the other hand, I could see an advantage in finding ways to demonstrate positive support for mediation, which would strengthen Zaire’s international position and certainly be well received in the US. In this regard, I favorably noted a report this morning that the GOZ had stated it had no objection to Nigerian mediation.
6. Mobutu agreed on the need to avoid charges of not wanting a political settlement and, in this regard, said he had no intention of stirring up trouble elsewhere along the border. He then went on to review some of the GOZ’s successful efforts to gain diplomatic support, noting Amin’s decision to send food to Zaire (which he found amusing) and the support for Zaire published by the Libyan press (which he found mystifying). He said the GOZ would continue its diplomatic efforts and would seek additional ways to indicate a positive approach to mediation. Then, he said, if Angola backs away the onus for failure will be on them.
7. Turning to military matters, I said I did not yet have a definitive reaction to Mobutu’s suggestion that we might find a way to help finance Belgian arms and ammunition shipments to Zaire. However, I did not discount the possibility that something along these lines might be feasible. As for mercenaries, I referred to General Babia’s comments to our ZAMISH chief on this matter (Ref E). I said that, while I had no official guidance, my personal view was that news of introduction of foreign mercenaries in Shaba, particularly Americans, [would] elicit a decidedly negative reaction in the US. The whole mercenary question had proved highly controversial in the US during the Angolan war, [Page 237] and I anticipated a similar reaction should they now turn up in Shaba. As for Babia’s suggestion that we might help in recruiting anti-Castro Cuban mercenaries, I thought this was clearly out of the question. Mobutu said he understood and agreed with my assessment, and said the GOZ did not have in mind seeking USG assistance in recruitment. He did not explicitly confirm or deny that he intended to move ahead with putting mercenaries in place. However, he went on to stress the urgent need to improve the lamentable performance of his forces in Shaba. In this connection, he said he would make major changes in command personnel in the next few days. Mobutu gave no detailed response to my query as to how he intended to proceed militarily in Shaba, other than to confirm that defense of Kolwezi had first priority and that he also intended to counter-attack at an early date.
8. Mobutu made a final reference to the serious threat which the Shaba invasion posed to Zaire’s hard-pressed economy, both in terms of domestic finances and the negative impact it might have on foreign donors and investors. He hoped he could count on our continuing assistance. I said we were proceeding with our economic assistance programs and were alert to new needs which might arise. This very serious aspect of the current situation underlined the importance of resolving the Shaba problem just as quickly as possible.
9. Comment: Mobutu was in one of his rare listening moods today and seemed to take in most of what I said. While I suspect he harbors reservations about the Nigerian role and tends to view of the whole mediation track more in terms of political competition than a serious way out of his problems, he still seems inclined to cooperate. In this regard, I believe the fact that we ourselves are playing an active role is a source of reassurance and encouragement to him. Certainly by now he understands the problems we have in moving ahead with further military aid at this time and the real importance we place on a political solution.
10. Dept please pass other posts as desired.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840083–0188. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.↩
- In telegram 2670 from Kinshasa, March 24, the Embassy reported on Cutler’s telephone conversation with Mobutu. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840083–0194)↩
- In telegram 65136 to Kinshasa, Brussels, and Paris, March 24, the Department commented on Vance’s March 21 meeting with Garba. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770101–0199)↩
- In telegram 64366 to Lagos, March 23, the Department reported on Vance’s March 21 discussion with Garba of the Shaba invasion and Angola. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770100–1009)↩
- In telegram 65371 to Kinshasa, March 24, the Department reported that U.S. representatives were meeting with Cuban representatives to discuss fisheries problems, and they would use this opportunity to raise the issue of Cuban intervention in Angola. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840081–1918)↩
- In telegram 2683 from Kinshasa, March 24, the Embassy reported on a meeting of military mission chiefs from the U.S., U.K., French, and Belgian Embassies and Zaire to discuss the current military situation in Shaba. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770102–0091)↩
- At a March 24 press conference, in response to a question on U.S. commitments to Zaire, Carter said, “We look on them as a friendly nation, and we have no obligations to them as far as military aid goes. But we have been cooperating in exchanging information with the Belgian Government, the French Government, and others, just to try to stabilize the situation and to lessen the chance of expanding the conflict.” (Public Papers of the Presidents: Jimmy Carter, 1977, Book I, p. 502)↩
- In telegram 64724 to Kinshasa, March 23, the Department transmitted a portion of the transcript of Vance’s March 23 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on Foreign Assistance. Afterward, Vance responded to questions from reporters. In response to a question about the U.S. response to Zaire’s request for ammunition, he said, “We have nothing at this point. At the moment, we’re looking to see what we can do on the question of a political solution there.” The reporter followed up by asking, “It may be unnecessary, is that what you seem to be saying?” Vance responded, “It may be unnecessary.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770100–0358)↩
- Telegram 64155 to all African diplomatic posts, March 23, transmitted information and talking points for consultations with host governments about the attack on Zaire. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770158–0374)↩