14. Letter From President Carter to Indian Prime Minister Desai1

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

Thank you for your good letter of May 21.2 The arrival of summer in Washington recalls the pleasure of your visit just one year ago.3 I am still nourished by memories of the time that we spent together and the thoughts that we shared, not only about the issues of the day but of the world we both hope to see. While our letters cannot substitute for the kind of exchange that is possible when we are together, they mean much to me. The only drawback is that we seem to spend much [Page 48] of the time discussing nuclear matters without, I fear, making much progress.

In contrast to recent press reports, my government has in fact not come to any conclusions concerning a solution of the South Asian nuclear problem.4 On the contrary, we are looking for ways in which we can be helpful—both in averting the grave dangers of a Pakistani nuclear explosive program and in finding a solution to our differences over Tarapur. This is why I have asked that you receive Ambassador Goheen for a frank and informal discussion of these problems.5 Perhaps together we can come up with solutions that elude us individually.

As I look back over the year or so since we last met, I see a mixed picture of matters in which we share an interest. We have reached agreement on SALT but I will not be satisfied until the end of that road is reached and nuclear weapons are no longer part of the world’s armories. I shall be meeting soon with President Brezhnev, not only to sign this agreement, but also to set the stage for the development of our relations during the coming decade. You too will be meeting with the Soviet leaders shortly. I hope that you will impress on them the importance of creating an environment of reduced tensions that will make it easier to take the urgent next steps—SALT III and a Comprehensive Test Ban.

In the Middle East, we have also made some important progress. I of course agree with you that the Palestinian problem is critical, and the United States will remain a full partner in the next phase of the negotiations that will deal with issues of great concern to the Palestinians. But there is a great danger in focussing excessively on what remains to be done at the expense of what already has been accomplished. The significance of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty is not that it is just a first step, but that it is the first concrete manifestation of peace in that region in decades. I was proud to have helped in the process, but the real accomplishment belongs to Israel and Egypt. Their actions required statesmanship and courage.

The thought of Egypt being excluded from the Non-Aligned Movement is especially distressing to me as, I am sure, it is to you. Such a step, with an accompanying condemnation of the Peace Treaty, would only discredit the NAM in the eyes of those of us who see it as an important element in the changing global structure. The NAM must continue to look to such countries as India for the meaning of genuine non-alignment.

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Some of the other developments of the past year are less encouraging. Peace still eludes Southeast Asia. I warmly welcome your decision to withhold recognition from the two contending sides in Kampuchea. As you correctly point out, neither side has control of the country. I would add that neither side has a moral base from which to solicit international support. The people of Kampuchea deserve something better than the choices that are now being offered. Let us keep in touch and see if our two countries cannot help them find it.

Even as I write this letter, I am faced with difficult decisions on Zimbabwe. I am very concerned about the demands of real majority rule. I hope that some way can be found to meet these demands while at the same time meeting the equally pressing demand of simple humanity—avoidance of bloodshed, repression and suffering. This is a dilemma that must be considered by all of us who are concerned with justice in Zimbabwe.

I have a mixed view of the situation in South Asia. The highlight, of course, continues to be the good relations between our own two countries based on shared values and aspirations. In Afghanistan, as we have discussed before, the deterioration has been striking. The threat of a Pakistani nuclear capability is also discouraging. Nepal is encountering difficulties, although these could contain within them the seeds of a democratic political order.6 On the positive side is the strengthening of democratic institutions in Bangladesh and your efforts to strengthen relations with your neighbors. I was very pleased by the decision of Pakistan to send its Foreign Secretary to New Delhi for consultations7 and your renewed invitation to President Zia to visit India. I hope that these were successful and can lead to further, higher-level contacts when conditions are ripe. I know from my own experience during the Egyptian-Israeli peace negotiations that the task of putting the past behind and making the impossible become a reality is a long and arduous process. We simply cannot decree the kind of world we hope to see and expect that it should become so; we have to work for it, one building block at a time.

Finally, I would like to return to a matter which I raised when I was in India—international support for an integrated water development plan for the eastern subcontinent.8 I am aware of the problems that this involves for India and have refrained from reiterating this proposal in public. The excellent progress that you have made on water matters with Bangladesh and with Nepal on Karnali suggests that the [Page 50] time may be approaching to take another look at this idea. I certainly do not want to let this become a political issue; I believe it is important, however, that the South Asian nations begin to address this concept and to suggest how the international community can help.9 The food needs of the region and the world continue to grow and years, even decades, will elapse before a large-scale water development program can reach its full potential. Over time, it could provide the underpinning for stability that the smaller nations of the region so badly need. I look forward to hearing your thoughts and advice on this matter.

As always, it was good to hear from you. I look forward to exchanging impressions on Soviet matters following our respective visits. Rosalynn joins me in sending our warmest wishes.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P890025–2392. Secret; Exdis.
  2. In addition to covering a range of international topics, Desai’s May 21 letter to Carter expressed Desai’s concern with Pakistan’s nuclear program and reported that he had invited Zia to New Delhi for talks. (Telegram 139948 to New Delhi, June 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790248–0841)
  3. See Documents 103 and 104.
  4. See footnote 5, Document 146.
  5. See Document 145.
  6. See Document 225.
  7. See footnote 3, Document 353.
  8. See Document 92.
  9. Tension between India and Bangladesh caused difficulties for the proposed Eastern Waters project. Telegram 4024 from Dacca, July 16, reported that on July 14, Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Kibria “raised ‛for the record’ the growing difficulties between Bangladesh and India. Kibria reviewed the issues of the Eastern Waters, land and maritime boundaries and disputed islands which are a matter of contention between the two nations. The Foreign Secretary also reviewed recent Bangladesh-Indian relations and the BDG’s efforts to ensure harmony with India. In cool and professional terms, yet with conviction, Kibria claimed the GOI is employing unfair tactics which threaten to ‛suffocate’ Bangladesh ‛without a shot being fired.’ The GOI response to Bangladesh’s proposals for a South Asian summit meeting has been neither positive nor negative, says Kibria, but the GOI is stalling.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D800342–0220) On July 24, the New York Times reported that “India has dammed the Ganges at Farakka, gaining the capacity to regulate flows into Indian and Bangladeshi channels of the river basin. As a result there has been almost constant negotiation and discussion of how many cubic feet of water a second should be released to which country. The Bangladeshis say that unless a heavy flow is maintained during the dry season saline waters will infiltrate upstream, destroying croplands. Bangladeshi scientists contend that the ecology of the river basin that nurtures this fecund but overpopulated land could easily be damaged. For its part, India has argued that it needs to store Ganges water and send it down the Hooghly River in the dry season to flush out the port of Calcutta, which is silting up. In addition, the waters are needed for irrigating Indian farmlands.” (Michael T. Kaufman, “To Bangladeshis, India Seems a Domineering Giant,” New York Times, July 24, 1980, p. A2)