131. Telegram From the Embassy in India to the Department of State1

3650. Subject: DepSec’s Visit to India: Second Plenary Bilateral Discussion, March 1. Ref: New Delhi 3541;2 Karachi 1316.3

1. S–Entire text.

2. Summary. At the second plenary round, Indian Foreign Secretary Mehta reiterated the strong Indian public feeling about the supply of US arms to Pakistan, and said it would be “unfortunate” if this issue were to become a revived complication in Indo-US relations. Efforts by the US side to explain the limited extent of our projected arms supply program and the primacy in US-Pak relations of economic assistance seemed to make little impact on the Indians. The Indians stressed their interest in the stability of Pakistan and in improved Indo-Pak relations. The two sides differed in their assessment of Afghanistan. In the Indian view, it would not be helpful for either India or others markedly to reduce economic relations with Afghanistan, though they understood US reaction to the death of Ambassador Dubs.4 Touching briefly again on Pak nuclear intentions, the Indians said that the US would have to make a judgement on these and on Indian intentions. They urged that this should be done without any discrimination. They [Page 358] said in this context that the US should recognize that “a sense of frustration” could lead to a reversal of Indian nuclear policy. The Indians reacted negatively to the US suggestion that the elastic definition of the NAM to include countries which did not seem non-aligned could discredit the movement. They maintained that the NAM was not institutionalized and that it was best for all members to say their piece. They welcomed prospective Iranian membership in the movement. The Indians took a hard line on SANWFZ,5 maintaining that in supporting the proposal the US was not reciprocating the attention to national sensitivities the GOI had shown on such issues important to the US as Puerto Rico.6 End summary

3. DepSec and Foreign Secretary Mehta held a second plenary bilateral discussion on the morning of March 1. The main subjects covered in the hour and forty minute session included India’s relations with its South Asian neighbors; US military supplies to Pakistan; Pak nuclear intentions; Afghanistan; the Non-Aligned Movement; Iran; the Indian Ocean; and the South Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. In addition to DepSec, US participants were Ambassador Goheen, Thomas Thornton of the NSC, Deputy Director S/P Paul Kreisberg; NEA Deputy Assistant Secretary Jack Miklos; John Trattner; Stephen Oxman; and Pol Counselor Howard Schaffer. Mehta was assisted by MEA Secretaries U.S. Bajpai and M.A. Vellodi, Additional Secretary Gonsalves, and Joint Secretaries I.P. Singh, P.P. D’Souza, and A.R. Deo.

4. Regional relations. Mehta expressed satisfaction with the success of GOI efforts to improve relations with its subcontinental neighbors. Progress had been beyond Indian expectations. He touched briefly on economic policy concessions the GOI had made to Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka as part of these efforts. With the elections now completed in Bangladesh, the GOI hoped that there would be even further improvement in Indo-Bangladesh ties. Mehta thought that this GOI policy of improving relations with all its South Asian neighbors should help Pakistan understand the credibility of India’s desire for regional stability and the exclusion of competitive outside involvement.

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5. Pakistan. Mehta stressed Indian interest in Pak stability and GOI efforts such as the visit to Pakistan last year of FonMin Vajpayee to improve relations. Aware of Pak anxieties about Afghanistan, the Indians had sought immediately after the revolution there to reassure the GOP that they would not exploit the situation. India had accepted that Pakistan was entitled to join the Non-Aligned Movement if it left CENTO and was adhering to this position despite Afghan complaints. It did not wish to interfere in Pakistan and was being careful not to take steps which could damage the credibility of this policy. It wanted greater economic cooperation with Pakistan. In the final analysis, it would be for Pakistan to decide whether this Indian approach was a positive one which could allow the Paks to address themselves to the many internal problems they face.

6. Arms to Pakistan. Mehta reiterated that the Indian public feels strongly about the supply of US arms to Pakistan. It cannot be denied that this has complicated Indo-US relations. The GOI did not want this complication. In this context, he argued that no one wanted Pakistan to disarm, but that Pakistan did not require an army larger than the force it had maintained before the establishment of Bangladesh. (He and his colleagues sought to brush aside the point, made by the US side, that the Paks had kept very limited forces in the East Wing before 1971.) He maintained that the lesson of Iran suggested that military power is irrelevant to the quest for internal stability. Pakistan faced major internal problems, and without some means of addressing these, military strength would not matter. He also mentioned that the sale to Pakistan by the US of Gearing class destroyers at low prices had created the impression that the US was subsidizing such sales.7 The US had spoken of arms sales and not arms aid, but if it was confirmed that there was an element of subsidy, this would have a reaction in India.

7. Mehta said that by contrast with Pakistan, Indian armed forces were being kept down in numbers. The GOI was trying to keep a careful balance between its extensive defense obligations and what its economy could stand. If it was modernizing its forces, this was because it had to replace old equipment; he cited the Jaguar purchase as an example.8 But Indian defense expenditures remained a relatively small proportion of GNP. In determining defense spending levels, Mehta maintained, India was not thinking of itself as a regional power but was concerned only with the defense of India itself.

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8. The Deputy Secretary observed that it was the US perception that India has a clear military superiority over Pakistan and that this is widening. Thornton added that we were not criticizing this, since we do not believe in light of India’s size and other factors that numbers should be at issue. He said that we also accept and have commented favorably on GOI policy toward its neighbors. He suggested, however, that there was an inconsistency between the reasonable statement the GOI can make about the purchase of Jaguars and the Indian public’s concern that the Paks may replace their old F–86s with F–5Es. He stressed that the USG does not want a major arms relationship with the sub-continent, but that if we sell nothing to Pakistan at all this could damage the minimal national self-confidence it requires. He denied there was any element of subsidy in US arms sales to GOP. Ambassador Goheen stated that it was irrelevant to cite the Iranian experience as an analogy. The US is not talking about building up Pakistan as a major regional power. It is focussing on development and food assistance and has only limited military sales in mind. We must respect the GOP’s need to be able to provide for national security and demonstrate this to its people.

9. Mehta recognized the difference between Iran and Pakistan and agreed that the problem of national self-confidence is one which every country must solve for itself. But he warned that judgments as to what was necessary for national self-confidence could be irrational. He said that US should take into account what India was trying to do in making its judgement. But it was only fair to say that it would be unfortunate if US arms supplies to Pakistan were to become a revived complication in Indo-US relations.

10. Mehta also touched briefly on Pak nuclear intentions, a concern the DepSec said the US shared. Mehta said the US would have to make a judgement on both Indian and Pak intentions. India would not be happy with anything that looked liked discrimination, nor would the Indian public accept this. The US should recognize that “a sense of frustration” could lead to a reversal of Indian nuclear policy. Ambassador Goheen pointed out that the US did not discriminate between India and Pakistan on the nuclear issue. If the Paks went for nuclear weapons, any assistance we were providing them would end.

11. Afghanistan. DepSec reviewed US perceptions of Afghanistan. The regime was moving closer and closer to the Soviet Union; the country was under increasingly rigid controls; the DRA was becoming less interested in dialogue or contacts with the West; it has some difficulties with dissident groups within the country; it now has scarcely any qualifications for responsible membership in the Non-Aligned Movement by the definition of the NAM as the USG understands this. When the govt changed last year the USG was rather prompt in recognizing [Page 361] it. The US had had misgivings, but had maintained various programs in order to have the opportunity to keep open lines of communication and to keep the DRA from falling into the Soviet orbit. Leaving aside the tragic death of Ambassador Dubs, the US experience has been disillusioning. Given the way the DRA appears to feel about the US and its lack of interest in contacts, we are cutting back our economic assistance programs and closing down our military training programs. Because the USG does not want to burn all bridges, it will maintain some programs concerned with meeting basic human needs.

12. Expressing his regret at the death of Ambassador Dubs, Mehta said India assessed the Afghanistan situation differently. He recalled that while the new Afghan Government had for ideological and other reasons turned first to the Soviet Bloc, it had also scrutinized what India had been doing in the country and had decided to continue the relationship. India hopes to carry this on. Its approach to Afghanistan is response-oriented. In its view it would not be helpful for either India or others markedly to reduce economic relations with Afghanistan, though he could understand the reaction in the US following the death of Ambassador Dubs.

13. Mehta thought that the DRA, though broadly in control, faces problems inside the country. Afghanistan, in his view, has its own characteristics, and must find its own basis. It wished to be in the NAM and to maintain diversified economic links. He recognized that it was advantageous for the Soviet Union to have the DRA in power, but questioned whether Moscow had a complete identity of interest with the DRA. He cited Kabul’s attitude toward the integrity of Pakistan as an example of a difference between them. He said the Pak-Afghan problem was not now active, and thought that the activation of it by either side would only be counter-productive. Pakistan’s concern about Afghanistan was mixed up with its domestic problems, but in any event the GOP has the military capability to deal with any threat.

14. The Non-Aligned Movement. The DepSec said the US was puzzled by the utterly elastic definition of the “non-aligned” concept, and suggested that India should consider if the NAM was not being discredited because of inclusion within it of countries whose policies were so foreign from what is understood as the philosophy of the movement. He suggested that India might seek to prevent the leadership of the NAM from falling into the hands of those who might discredit it.

15. Mehta reacted negatively to this approach. He took the line that the NAM was not institutionalized, and that there was no mechanism to read countries out of the movement. He stressed that the NAM comprises independent countries which can adopt any line they wish and are not subject to discipline. The answer to the problems posed [Page 362] to the NAM—he mentioned, seemingly in this context, those who want the movement to associate with the anti-imperialist camp—was not for members to stay away but to say their piece. He noted that India discourages the use of the NAM to further bilateral objectives and does not do so itself. When the DepSec said he hoped that India would continue to provide leadership to the NAM, Mehta replied that the movement had no leadership.

16. Iran. The DepSec said that the US had good relations with the new Iranian Government and noted the latter’s helpfulness in the evacuation of Americans from Iran and in the prompt action it took when Embassy Tehran was overrun. The US has maintained contacts with some high officials of the government and while relations will not, for a long time if ever, be the same as with the Shah, we are pleased to have a dialogue going. The government faces severe economic and law and order problems. We wish them well, but do not want to hurry them. If they call for US experts and spare parts to maintain the military equipment in which we believe they take a nationalist pride, we will be responsive. In foreign policy, the US expects that Iran will join the NAM and move closer to the Arabs than they had in the past.

17. Mehta observed that the Iranians have to find a balance as to what extent Islam will determine social and economic policies. The immediate problem was law and order. Bazargan was trying to build a national consensus and trying to get the economy going. The developments which had taken place in Iran were primarily domestic in origin. The Soviet Union had been cautious, and may not want too much instability there. Mehta noted that the Iranians had hinted they would pursue a foreign policy more akin to the Non-Aligned Movement. India would welcome Iran into the NAM, not because the NAM was a bloc to be strengthened but because Iran’s new character had to be reflected in its foreign policy. On Iran’s regional role, Mehta thought this would be less grandiose. There was no shortcut to regional stability. The problem—and India was not advocating any particular approach—was how the countries of the Gulf associate themselves to maintain regional strength. In any event, stability was not military stability only; this was an ingredient but not the only thing.

18. Mehta touched briefly on India’s oil import problems. The DepSec recalled that the USG had approached the Saudis on India’s behalf.9

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19. SANWFZ and the Indian Ocean. MEA Secretary Vellodi took a very tough line with the US side when restating GOI opposition to SANWFZ. He expressed disappointment and concern that the USG would support the proposal, an issue so sensitive for the GOI and Indian public opinion. He said that India had taken US sensitivities into account on such issues as Puerto Rico and this had not been reciprocated. He expressed the hope that the US would abstain. On the Indian Ocean, Vellodi recalled that Foreign Minister Vajpayee had been given to understand by Secretary Vance in October that Vance hoped the US-Soviet talks would be resumed.10 The subject came up with increasing frequency in India.

20. MTN. The DepSec noted that we were nearing the end of the MTN. He hoped that GOI support would be forthcoming, that an agreement could be worked out, and that India could sign the code under discussion.

21. Department please send info to other posts as appropriate.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790097–0048. Secret; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. Reference presumably should be to telegram 3516 from New Delhi, March 1, which reported the first plenary meeting between Christopher and Mehta on February 28: “After general overview statements by both principals, discussion concentrated on China, Vietnam and Kampuchea, Sino-U.S. relations, Sino-Indian relations, Indo-Soviet relations and U.S.- Soviet relations.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, [no film number])
  3. Telegram 1316 from Karachi, March 2, transmitted revisions to the memorandum of conversation of the meeting between Christopher and Mehta in New Delhi on March 1. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790096–0489)
  4. Dubs was kidnapped and killed on February 14 in Kabul.
  5. See Document 4 and footnote 4, Document 82. On December 14, 1978, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 33/65 endorsing the Pakistani proposal for a SANWFZ. The United States voted for the resolution; India voted against it. (Yearbook of the United Nations, 1978, pp. 93–94)
  6. In August 1978, the United States sought Indian support in preventing Cuba’s resolution to declare Puerto Rico a non-self-governing territory (i.e., a colony) from coming to a vote in the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization. Telegram 11908 from New Delhi, August 4, 1978, reported Vellodi’s assurances that India would support the U.S. position. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780321–0828)
  7. See Document 340.
  8. See Document 141.
  9. The 1979 Iranian Revolution caused a sharp decline in importation of Iranian oil to India. Facing a potential energy crisis, the Government of India approached the United States to intercede with Saudi Arabia in order to facilitate the importation of Saudi oil to India. Telegram 3332 from New Delhi, February 27, reported Indian news reports of Saudi Arabia’s agreement to supply India with oil. The telegram also conveyed the Indian Government’s gratitude to the United States for its role in helping avert an energy crisis. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790089–0887)
  10. As reported in telegram Secto 11020 from USUN, October 2, 1978, Vance expressed this hope to Vajpayee on October 2, 1978, at the United Nations in New York. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780402–1252)