104. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting Between President Carter and Prime Minister Morarji Desai of New Delhi


  • The President
  • The Vice President
  • Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
  • Ambassador Robert Goheen, United States Ambassador to New Delhi
  • Joseph Nye, Deputy to the Under Secretary
  • Harold Saunders, Assistant Secretary
  • Thomas Thornton, Member, National Security Council
  • Henry Owen, President’s Special Representative
  • Peter Lande, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary
  • Prime Minister Morarji Desai
  • Foreign Minister Atul Vajpayee
  • Mr. Vidya Shankar, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister
  • Mr. Jagat Mehta, Foreign Secretary
  • Ambassador N.A. Palkhivala
  • Mr. Arjrun Asrani
  • Mr. V.Y. Tonpe
  • Mr. H.S. Shah
  • Mr. S.V. Purushottam

President Carter began the meeting with comments about the visit that he and Desai had made to the Lincoln Memorial the previous night.2 He said that they had discussed the need for increasing political [Page 273] stability in South Asia. They had also discussed Pakistan’s unwarranted concerns, its internal problems, and its insistence in making nuclear weapons. Afghanistan had also come up. Desai had told him of the steps India had taken to alleviate Pakistani concerns and intentions. The President noted that we have restrained our arms sales policy and want to reassure Pakistan. He asked if the Prime Minister had any advice to offer.

Prime Minister Desai said that Pakistan exists on anti-Indianism. India is unable to do much with them, and the United States should tell them that they should not be afraid. Pakistan is in CENTO and despite its threats to withdraw Desai does not think that they will do so. Desai said India would be willing to do anything reasonable, but it should not be offered as a sign of weakness. He said that they were able to deal with the Pakistanis easily and spoke with them frankly. Desai commented that Agha Shahi is particularly difficult but by being reasonable himself, Desai forces Shahi to be reasonable.

The President asked how serious the Soviet threat to Afghanistan is.

Desai replied that the Soviets have few chances there. The Afghans are proud people. They have poor relations with Pakistan, but India’s relations with them are good and have remained so after the coup. The Indians do not encourage the Pushtuns and other border tribes against Pakistan. Until Pakistan settles down and sheds its imagined fears, however, its situation will be difficult. The real problem is the domination of Pakistan by Punjabis. A dissolution of Pakistan would be a disaster for them and for India. India wants to see Pakistan strong but that is only possible if there is not Punjabi domination. The U.S. should take an initiative. (The President said that we could.) Desai had invited Zia to come to Delhi and he wanted to come. He then hesitated, but even so Desai told him that he should come at his leisure and that India would understand.

Deputy Secretary Christopher said that our relations with the Pakistanis are very tenuous because of the reprocessing issue3 and the Bhutto case.4 We want to get back to normal in our relations with Pakistan, especially in the economic area. Under Secretary Newsom will go there in July to try to give them a greater sense of confidence.5 We will be in close touch with India about this.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee said that we should try to persuade Pakistan to closer economic cooperation, including in the field of transportation. He noted general concern over Afghanistan and said that we [Page 274] should not react in a way that will force them into the Soviets’ arms. The Pakistanis are in a state of panic, but that will not have the desired effect. We will do what we can, and does the United States have any suggestions?

The President said that we will respond after the Newsom visit.

Desai noted that the Sallal agreement6 went well and there are signs that the Pakistanis wish to be friendly.

Ambassador Goheen said Agha Shahi has suggested a regional pact to ban nuclear weapons. That kind of reassurance might be a good step for the Pakistanis.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee asked how this would reassure them with regard to Afghanistan.

Ambassador Goheen said it would be part of a broad policy of reassurance.

Desai said they would be willing to sign a no weapons pledge, but it would be better if everyone signed it.

Foreign Secretary Mehta said that India was prepared to consider nuclear free arrangements and had told Agha Shahi that they would discuss it privately during the Zia visit. The Pakistanis leaked this at the SSOD, however, and had thereby soured the atmosphere.

Desai noted that Nepal also wants a declaration and this should be for the whole region. The question, however, was whether China would join in.

Dr. Brzezinski, responding to a question from President Carter, then gave a description of his recent visit to China. He said that his trip had not been a negotiating mission, but rather an attempt to advance the normalization of bilateral relations. He also wanted to discuss global matters with the Chinese and matters of bilateral cooperation short of recognition. For the most part, they had discussed views of world affairs.

Dr. Brzezinski said that among other things the Chinese were worried about Afghanistan and its impact on Pakistan. Their policy seems to be similar to America’s and India’s but they have more concern and anxiety than India does. Pakistan is particularly unstable and this would have bad consequences for India. There was some uncertainty about Southeast Asia; they believe Vietnam is seeking domination and [Page 275] the Soviets are encouraging them. They took a tough line on Korea but did not pursue it. Dr. Brzezinski also reassured them on SALT.

Dr. Brzezinski said there had been no anti-India remarks, although there had been some criticism of Mrs. Gandhi. It was only a brief, passing discussion. He found the regime less doctrinaire and ideological. They have made a long term commitment to domestic modernization and this involves contacts with the West and basic change. They continue to believe that war is inevitable, but now have come to the conclusion that it can be postponed. Their leadership is impressive.7

Desai said that the greatest change is the opening up of China, and this is a great change for the better.

The President then offered some specifics on the CTB negotiations. He said we are approaching it cautiously and that 3 or 4 questions remain and these are soluble. They are first, the length of time the CTB would be in effect. It cannot be permanent because neither we nor the Soviets know whether our nuclear weapons will deteriorate and have to be able to test. Second is the question of verification. The Soviets are strongly opposed to intrusion but we will be able to meet this by installing sensing devices. Third is the question of how long the Soviets will remain with CTB if others continue to test nuclear explosives. We see the CTB as a demonstration to convince others that they should join it. We are making good progress; the Soviets seem to be more forthcoming and they are increasingly flexible and are negotiating in good faith.

The President, turning to SALT, said there are two remaining issues. First, the question of new missiles and what kinds of prohibitions should be put on them. Second, the Backfire bomber, which is a political issue here. The SS–20 is also a problem for our allies. We, ourselves, are not threatened by it but neighboring countries (including India) are within its range. It is a very formidable weapon and we hope that other nations will express concern over its development. We have a standing invitation to Brezhnev to come here to complete a SALT agreement. For his part, the President said, he would like to conclude one tomorrow.

Desai said he was happy to hear of progress in these areas and agreed that the Soviets are sincere. If a CTB is limited in time, France and China might not come in at all. If it is permanent, then there will be more pressure on them to join it. It would be even better if no new weapons were made at all.

[Page 276]

The President, speaking in confidence, said that we and the Soviets had discussed a permanent ban providing that France and China join at some future time. The French objected, however, for they do not want to be under public pressure. The Soviets are also reluctant because of their fear of China, which is now deploying ICBM’s and MRBM’s. We, too, want to assess the reliability of our stockpiles pending elimination of them through a SALT agreement. The President said he knew this was contrary to Desai’s beliefs, but we would not get any alternative arrangement approved.

Desai said it would be a good idea if all the weapons deteriorated. He would like to get Brezhnev and Carter together and talk to them.

The President said that this SALT II agreement will, for the first time, result in the disassembly of nuclear weapons. Under SALT III, the cutbacks will be greater. The Soviets want to cooperate, but they are very cautious.

Desai said that one’s own trust should generate trust in others. More trust is expected of us (by which he apparently meant the democracies.)

The President then discussed Africa. He noted that the Cuban troops in Ethiopia have incurred a lot of dislike. The Cubans should not get involved in Eritrea. We need help from the Soviets and others in solving the Namibia and Rhodesia problems. The Front Line States have been very constructive, but the Soviets and Cubans have not. To the extent that India has influence with them, it would be good if it could urge them at least to be neutral.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee said India had sought to help Ethiopia through the NAM. They, however, passed the ball to the OAU who failed and the Cubans came in. There should have been an early effort to discourage Somalia from its aggression.

The President said we had little involvement in the conflict. Gromyko had told him that Siad Barre had violated an agreement with the Soviets on the use of weapons. The U.S. used its influence on Ethiopia not to cross the border against Somalia. The President said he has no criticism of the Soviets for aiding the Ethiopians. Now, however, Ethiopia is dominant and the 15,000 Cubans there should leave since their presence will be destabilizing and ultimately intensify the Ethiopian conflict.

The President noted there were also 23,000 Cubans in Angola. We are in a dispute with Castro about his role with the Katangans. The Cubans play a major role in Angola and the President has no doubt that they trained the Katangans. Castro has recently modified his claim by saying that they had not trained Katangans “recently”. The President said he did not know what “recently” meant, but that is now all in the past and we hope that African opinion has been aroused to restrain [Page 277] Neto and the Cubans. We are also concerned that Algeria and Libya are trying to make changes in borders. We just want to see stability and majority rule and want to keep outside forces out. We have never supported any Pan-African force. We do encourage reform and the strengthening of the Zairian economy.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee said India had stated that the continued presence of great powers’ forces in non-aligned countries is wrong. India will not allow Cuba to become a leader of a non-aligned.

Foreign Secretary Mehta, responding to a question by Brzezinski, said that criteria for membership in the non-aligned movement are flexible.

Originally it was non-membership in multilateral defense agreements. There is, however, no constitution to define criteria for admission or expulsion.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee said that Cuba is trying to radicalize the NAM. India rejected their attempts to align the NAM with the Socialist bloc.

Desai said that India is the only truly non-aligned nation and even it wasn’t a year ago. The non-aligned must not become a bloc.

The President said that non-alignment can be a constructive force. If all the leaders in the world had Desai’s good will it would be a better world to live in.

Desai replied that if all the nations of the world were governed by moral considerations, it would be a better world to live in.

The President urged Desai to write directly to him whenever a problem or issue arose.

Desai said that is the nature of their relationship.

Thereupon the meeting concluded at 11:29 a.m.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President: 6–7/78. Secret. The meeting took place in the Cabinet Room.
  2. From 9:40 to 9:53 p.m. on June 13, Carter and Desai visited the Lincoln Memorial. (Carter Library, Presidential Materials, President’s Daily Diary)
  3. See Document 273.
  4. See Document 272.
  5. See Documents 293 and 294.
  6. On April 12, Indo-Pakistani talks produced an agreement on the dispute over the Chenab River in Indian Kashmir. India secured the right to build the Salal Dam and a nearby power plant in exchange for adherence to Pakistani views on the projects’ designs. Telegram 6067 from New Delhi, April 18, announced the agreement and reported on the issues at stake. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780166–0845)
  7. For the records of Brzezinski’s discussions with Chinese leaders during his May 20–22 visit, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XIII, China, Documents 108111.