62. Memorandum From Thomas Thornton of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Trip to India

The logistics of the trip took up a lot of time, but everything worked out very well.2 I think the Carters and everyone else involved were quite pleased. I am meeting with people in Hugh Carter’s office to help them set up a more formalized procedure for meeting crises of this type. After that, I hope to back out of the administrative side.

Miss Lillian performed magnificently, and the reaction of the Indians was beyond all expectations. We consistently drew prime press coverage, getting considerably more attention than the Soviets or any other delegation. My guess is that we have not had such good press in India since our response to the famines of the late 1960s and perhaps even since the Chinese invasion of 1962.

Two points need to be made in this regard, however:

—We have to be careful that expectations do not get raised beyond reasonable levels. Some Indians are finding it hard to believe that Jimmy Carter is not also the savior of India.

—Secondly, this extremely favorable coverage and high-level attention was done at the behest of the Indian Government. The GOI clearly wants to improve relations with us, and I gather Mrs. Gandhi sees this to her advantage.

The election situation is quite confused. The Embassy is not willing to make any confident predictions and Mrs. Gandhi, herself, is running [Page 160] very scared. I think that she will hold elections, though, and if I had to bet on the outcome it would be that she will win big. The opposition is a sad bunch of has-beens, and their election could lead to chaos. Whatever we may think of Mrs. Gandhi, she is the only force capable of holding India together.

I was favorably impressed by the political climate. I think the elections will be fair; the opposition is getting reasonable, if not equal, press coverage, and about the only political poster I saw frequently was one reminding Indians that their vote was secret.

For a host of reasons, I think the greatest danger would be that Mrs. Gandhi would feel that she had to postpone the elections. This is why I am glad the President has made favorable comment3 and why I am appalled at the press treatment Mrs. Gandhi is receiving in the States. Bear in mind, incidentally, that I am no great admirer of hers and was ostracized by the Indian Ambassador for my known opposition to the emergency.

We had very few substantive discussions. The delegation, plus myself, called on the Foreign Minister for a pleasant courtesy call that was generally upbeat. Several of us met with Jagat Mehta, the Foreign Secretary. The conversation was wide ranging and thoughtful. He was clearly concerned about our policy on supply of nuclear fuel to the Tarpur power reactor4 and provision of A–7s to Pakistan.5 His message on the latter was that any A–7s would be bad; it is a question of type of aircraft rather than quantity. The Embassy in New Delhi will be doing a message on the conversation.6

Finally, two State officers and myself met with the Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, Homi Sethna. Much of the conversation was highly technical but I sought (as with Mehta) to point out that we have a new Administration genuinely interested in nuclear reduction as well as nonproliferation.7 We need to work cooperatively [Page 161] with India in finding broad nonproliferation strategies that meet both of our interests. Unofficially I encouraged Sethna to give us his ideas on what would be a good political context for India to make forward steps in the nonproliferation area. It will be interesting to see if he comes up with anything, and I will be in further touch with Jessica on this.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 17, India: 2–8/77. Secret. Sent for information. In the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum, an unknown hand drew an arrow pointing to the initials “DA,” which were crossed out, and wrote: “See note” with an arrow to Brzezinski’s name where it appears as the addressee of the memorandum. See footnote 5 below.
  2. Thornton accompanied Lillian Carter on her trip to India. The party visited New Delhi February 13–14 to attend the funeral of Indian President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed. While in New Delhi, Ms. Carter met with Prime Minister Gandhi. Telegram 2124 from New Delhi, February 13, reported that “Mrs. Gandhi said she had been deeply moved by the President’s request to his mother to represent him at the funeral.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770051–0580) After the funeral, Ms. Carter visited Bombay February 15–16. From 1966 until 1968, Ms. Carter served as a Peace Corps volunteer in India. For an account of her return to the village where she served, see William Borders, “Lillian Carter Goes ‛Home’ To Her Clinic Post in India,” New York Times, February 16, 1977, p. 3.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. See footnote 6, Document 60.
  5. See Document 232. In the right-hand margin next to this sentence, Aaron wrote: “ZB—The A7’s have enormous range. DA.”
  6. Telegram 2371 from New Delhi, February 17, provided an account of the February 14 conversation with Mehta, during which he noted that “climate of opinion in India and US was much improved for Indo-US relations.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770056–0266)
  7. Telegram 408 from Bombay, February 17, reported Thornton, Dubs, and Kux’s meeting with Sethna in Bombay. During the discussion, Dubs “pointed out that the new administration is determined to consider nuclear problems within the framework of an overall approach which gives first priority to nonproliferation objectives. To this end it is making a study of all programs which affect nonproliferation including fuel supply. The study is targeted for completion at the end of February and it is hoped that decisions can be taken on urgent nuclear matters in March.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770057–0298)