79. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Zaire1

78877. Subject: Secretary’s Conversation on Zaire With French President Giscard.

1. Following is summary of Secretary’s April 2 conversation in Paris with Giscard on Zaire.

2. Secretary summarized U.S. actions concerning situation thus far, noted speed with which we had responded to Mobutu’s request for non-lethal aid,2 and described congressional criticism that aid generated.3 He expressed vigorous disappointment with inaccuracy of intelligence received from Zaire and bluntly condemned military competence of FAZ. He noted this reluctance to fight created great problems for USG with Congress and even inside executive branch. How is it possible to help a country that cannot help itself? In responding to this question, he said, administration is pointing to regional and broader effects in Africa of Shaba situation.

3. Secretary cited Nigerian mediation effort, discounted reports other African states (Morocco, Egypt) might send troops to Zaire, acknowledged Belgian and French assistance, and expressed view Zaire could not hold out without support. Secretary reported he had twice warned Soviets of adverse consequences of Zaire developments. When he raised issue in Moscow, Soviet response was totally inadequate, consisting of repeating Angolan assurances of non-involvement and stating Katangans were not using Soviet equipment.4

4. Giscard commented at length on Zaire in context of overall African situation, seeing Zaire as test for both U.S. and France. He claimed U.S. had been rather indifferent to Africa in past 12 years, which saw nearly half of African regimes move toward pro-Soviet affiliation. Rest could follow by 1980 unless we meet challenge. Moderate leaders know that Soviets would provide ample arms, lots of aid and, if necessary, Cuban military assistance, thus assuring their personal safety. West on other hand provides little or no military aid, [Page 240] some economic aid, but no technicians or advisers. Africans have never shown martial prowess.

5. Giscard said Mobutu is Zaire’s only possible leader; without him country will rapidly fall into anarchy. He should not be dropped unless it becomes absolutely certain he cannot survive. Some of the business interests which control Belgian policy are tempted to flirt with Katanga solution. This would be gross mistake. It important to stabilize military situation, if only for few weeks. France is trying to do so “ourselves”. Morocco will probably soon send few “volunteers” and Egypt perhaps some air transport. King Hassan said he will decide soon after one of his ablest advisers now in Zaire returns. Giscard expressed belief even 200 good fighting men could bring overnight change to military situation, which not regular war but rather homeward migration of Katangans. Once they leave forests and try capture defended towns, they may be less successful. We must do our best.

6. Secretary agreed we should try to avoid giving any impression we are considering abandoning Mobutu but warned some Congressmen might so speculate and the press might use such comments to misstate our policy. We would have problem there. Secretary added we would move ahead with support for Mobutu and that he would focus on this as soon as he returned to Washington. We will consider requests for more petroleum, rations or other non-lethal supplies. We must by law inform Congress of any sizeable amounts of assistance but within certain limits we can give Mobutu more. Willing fighters on ground are vital to provide time for political solution.

8. To Secretary’s question as to how he assessed Nigerian mediation effort,5 Giscard noted that Angola also has problems and held that if other Africans, bigger Europeans and U.S. took a stand Angola might pull back fearing harm to its own interests. At that point, Giscard said, he believed Nigerian role could be genuinely helpful. Giscard concluded that what is needed now is time.

9. Secretary said that Nigerian FonMin Garba had confirmed Angolan logistic support of Katangans and had noted that in long term Angola wants relations with U.S. Secretary ended by stating we had [Page 241] informed Angolans that we would be willing to discuss relations without preconditions if there is progress on Zaire problem.6

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840081–1973. Confidential; Immediate. Sent for information Immediate to Lagos. Drafted by Arenales; cleared by Buchanan and Moose and in S/S; approved by Seelye.
  2. See Document 81.
  3. In telegram 71571 to the Secretary’s delegation in Bonn, March 31, the Department reported on congressional consultations on assistance to Zaire that “the reaction is mixed and some of it quite negative.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840072–1509) See also Document 84.
  4. See Document 75. Vance visited Moscow March 27–30 for meetings with Gromyko and Brezhnev, but there is no record of a discussion of Zaire.
  5. In telegram 2501 from Kinshasa, March 19, the Embassy reported that Obasanjo had agreed to Zairian requests to mediate between Zaire and Angola. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770095–0959) See also footnote 2, Document 80.
  6. In telegram 64155 to Lisbon, March 23, the Department agreed to support Nigerian mediation of the Zaire-Angola dispute and authorized the Nigerians to tell Neto that the United States “would be prepared to open discussions on normalization without preconditions provided progress is made with respect to current problem regarding Zaire.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840070–0624)