69. Letter From President Carter to Indian Prime Minister Desai1

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I want to thank you for your thoughtful letter of April 22 responding to my message of congratulations on your election.3 Shortly after assuming office, I wrote to your predecessor, suggesting that we might occasionally exchange views on matters of importance to our two countries.4 Now that you have had some time to settle in on your new duties, I would like to make the same proposal to you.

I read with great interest your eloquent address to the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers meeting and found in it many themes that are identical to my own views.5 The combination of self-reliance and helping others whenever possible is also a basic American belief. We share, too, a common interest in narrowing the economic gap between wealthier and poorer nations; this is certainly a major commitment of my Administration. There is a lengthy agenda of development issues that our two countries will be addressing bilaterally and in multilateral meetings. Since our goals are the same, I am sure we can find broad agreement on the best ways to reach them. We take pride in having helped India in the past, and we are prepared to help again in the future.

Our two countries are also concerned with questions of peace and security. Here, too, our goal is identical—a peaceful, stable, and just world—and I am sure we can agree on many of the steps to take.

You and your predecessors have frequently emphasized the need to reduce danger of nuclear weapons. I share your concern; as I said in my Inaugural Address, our ultimate goal should be the abolition of nuclear weaponry.6 As first steps toward this goal, we have made far-reaching proposals to the Soviet Union. I hope they will give us a positive response. This is a long and difficult road, however, and I [Page 176] hope that I can count on your support and advice as we take each step ahead.

As you know, my government has studied the problem of nuclear proliferation, and we have recently taken some steps, at considerable potential cost to ourselves, to demonstrate our commitment. We continue to support the spread of nuclear technology related to legitimate energy needs, but we strongly believe that this must be accomplished in ways that minimize the danger of military applications. Nuclear explosive technology is particularly dangerous; that is why I paid close attention to your comments on India’s program. You will, of course, make your decisions on the basis of Indian interests; but I am confident that your decisions will also reflect the long-term needs of all mankind.

In the areas of potential conflict near India, the Middle East and Africa, there is no basic difference in Indian and American views. We intend to pursue peace in the Middle East as a matter of highest priority. Although many serious problems remain unresolved, my talks with Israeli and Arab leaders indicate a basic willingness on both sides to move toward peace and a realization that the price of failure would be terribly high.

In Southern Africa, also, the time has come for action. Clearly the only viable and just solution to the Zimbabwe and Namibia problems is one that assures rule by the majority. We will work actively toward that end. I am also acutely aware of the problems posed by the apartheid system in South Africa. The cause of justice that Mahatma Gandhi championed there must become a reality.

As we approach discussions with the Soviet Union concerning demilitarization of the Indian Ocean, I would welcome any suggestions that you might have on realistic means of resolving this issue and meeting the legitimate needs of all interested parties.

As you know, the United States is firmly committed to a policy of development and independence for all South Asian states. India and its neighbors should be free to focus on developmental tasks rather than armaments. We support normalized relations among Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India, free from external involvement, and have been greatly impressed by your progress in reducing tensions. We seek no special role for ourselves and want to do nothing that will upset this process.

I ask your indulgence for having written at length, but I am convinced that mutual understanding between India and the United States is a vital element of world peace. My interest in India stems from my mother’s years there. From her experience, and my own, I know that Indians and Americans share many basic values and care deeply about fundamental human rights. Two countries as diverse as ours will not agree on all matters; our shared interests and values should, however, [Page 177] provide a sound framework within which we can work out specific differences. Ambassador Goheen is perhaps uniquely qualified to represent the United States in these terms. I look forward to staying in close touch with you through him and directly as we each shoulder our new responsibilities.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Trip File, Box 5, President, Europe and Asia, 12/29/77–1/6/78: Stop Papers, New Delhi, 1/1–3/78 [I]. Secret.
  2. See footnote 3, Document 66.
  3. See footnote 8, Document 66.
  4. Carter’s message to Gandhi was sent in telegram 30678 to New Delhi, February 10. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770048–0799)
  5. The text of Desai’s address to the NACC is in telegram 4981 from New Delhi, April 7. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770121–0756)
  6. The text of Carter’s inaugural address is in Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 1–4.
  7. At the bottom of the page, Carter wrote: “With best personal wishes—J.C.”