38. Telegram From the Embassy in Bangladesh to the Department of State1

7404. Pass Peace Corps. Subject: Feeler on Withdrawal of Peace Corps.

1. Former BD Ambassador to the U.S. M.R. Siddiqi paid a “courtesy” call on Ambassador on December 8. DCM sat in. After initial pleasantries, and emphasizing he was speaking unofficially, Siddiqi raised question of Peace Corps in Bangladesh, noting it had become a major element in political opposition’s criticism of present government (read Zia). He said he had had to leave hurriedly one Awami League public meeting (in September) at which he was scheduled to speak because critics of the Peace Corps agreement threatened violence. He suggested that in view of the Peace Corps agreement’s having become a political liability for the BDG, we might wish to take the initiative to offer to withdraw it. Siddiqi said he had discussed this matter with Foreign Minister Shamsul Huq and it became evident during the conversation that his demarche had the approval, and was perhaps at the instigation, of the Foreign Minister.

2. The Ambassador, also speaking unofficially, commented that he thought there had been less criticism of the Peace Corps agreement in [Page 109] recent weeks. He noted that the agreement would not be abandoned without publicity, and that while such publicity in Bangladesh might ease a political problem, in the U.S. it would be likely to reflect unfavorably on U.S.-Bangladesh relations. If the Peace Corps agreement were to be withdrawn, there would have to be more formal inter-government discussions, and the initiative should come from the BDG. He suggested that for the government to give in to criticism of the Peace Corps might merely encourage the critics to take up some other aspect of U.S.–BD relations.

3. Siddiqi appeared not to have considered the possibility of unfavorable publicity in the U.S. He recognized that other U.S.–BD enterprises might be threatened in the future. When Siddiqi realized that the Ambassador was unlikely to take the initiative he had suggested, he said that the BDG also would be unlikely formally to take up the issue. He concluded that the situation should be kept under review and, perhaps, if all remained quiet until after the elections,2 no action on the agreement would have to be considered.3

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780515–0052. Confidential.
  2. According to telegram 7201 from Dacca, December 1, “President Zia announced November 30 that Parliamentary elections will be held January 27, 1979. In same speech he promised that martial law would be withdrawn.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780495–1009)
  3. In telegram 7403 from Dacca, December 12, Schneider confirmed that Siddiqi’s “remarks reflect a concern which we know exists at high levels in the BDG. I believe the best thing for us to do is to sit tight and leave the initiative to the BDG, if it chooses to take one. In the meantime, I believe it is best that we do nothing whatsoever to cause attention to be focused on the Peace Corps prior to the elections here.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780514–1101)