48. Action Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs (Saunders) to Secretary of State Vance1


  • Additional PL 480 for Bangladesh

Ambassador Schneider has reported that Bangladesh’s winter and spring harvests will probably be smaller than normal (Tab 1).2 Even a small decline in food production can cause severe hardship in Bangladesh where so many live at or below accepted nutritional standards (Tab 2).3 Many poor people simply cannot afford to buy sufficient food at higher prices. Their only recourse is to food distributed from government stocks and those stocks are replenished almost exclusively from imported foodgrains. If Bangladesh is forced to purchase food on the world market again this year it would further strain their already precarious balance of payments situation and jeopardize important economic development programs.

In addition to the humanitarian and development aspects of the problem, food has historically been the key political issue in East Bengal. A government which fails to cope with severe shortages may be the target of coup attempts and other political violence. It is in our interest that this moderate, friendly government remain in power.

We are not certain of the dimension of the emerging food problem, but we believe that the situation is more serious than last year. In order to get additional food in before the monsoon, we need to make a decision now. The Ambassador has recommended that we supply [Page 128] 100,000 tons of wheat under Title I in addition to the 400,000 tons already being provided under Title III.4

In your memorandum to the President of January 17,5 you recommended that no additional PL 480 be made available to Bangladesh because of the government’s Security Council abstentions on economic sanctions against Iran. We have since expressed our serious displeasure to Bangladesh over their abstentions and reduced development assistance levels for FY 81 to the FY 80 level.


Given our humanitarian and development concerns, that you authorize us to seek interagency agreement to provide additional wheat to Bangladesh from the current PL 480 reserve so as to lessen the probability of serious malnutrition problems there.6

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P800046–0876. Confidential. Drafted by Benedict; cleared in S/P and EB/OFP/FFD and by Schaffer and Coon. An unknown hand initialed the memorandum on Saunders’s behalf. A stamped notation at the top of the first page of the memorandum reads: “CV.”
  2. Telegram 769 from Dacca, February 7; not attached.
  3. Telegram 853 from Dacca, February 13; not attached.
  4. Telegram 8398 from Dacca, December 14, 1979, transmitted Schneider’s recommendation. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790574–1008)
  5. Not found.
  6. Vance checked the Disapprove option and dated his decision “2/28/80.”