90. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Meeting Between President Carter and Prime Minister Desai


  • United States

    • The President
    • Secretary of State Cyrus Vance
    • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
    • Alfred L. Atherton, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs
    • Ambassador Robert Goheen
    • Anthony Lake, Director, Policy Planning Staff
    • Thomas P. Thornton, NSC Staff (Notetaker)
  • India

    • Prime Minister Morarji Desai
    • Home Minister Charan Singh
    • Foreign Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
    • Defense Minister Jagjivan Ram
    • Finance Minister H.M. Patel
    • Commerce Minister Mohan Dharia
    • Industries Minister George Fernandes
    • Minister of State for External Affairs Samarendra Kundu
    • Ambassador to the US Nani Palkhivala
    • Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister V. Shankar
    • Foreign Secretary Jagat Mehta

The meeting began at 9:45 a.m. (after a private meeting between the President and the Prime Minister which began at 9:00).2 Prime Minister Desai welcomed President Carter, noting that the work of the Joint Commission would now be closer since easier collaboration was possible. He asked the President what he would like to talk about.

The President replied that he had read about the accomplishments of the Joint Commission; we are eager to strengthen it through direct involvement. We also would like to explore new areas such as agriculture and rural poverty where we have problems, also.

The Prime Minister jokingly said there was no comparison.

The President replied that we do see some similarities and hope to profit from Indian experience. Information from the space satellite would be helpful for agriculture; the Landsat Agreement will be announced shortly.3 (The President discussed the functions of Landsat at some length.) Later on the Indian side will be utilizing our space shuttle in connection with its own notable space capabilities. (The President then presented the Indians with a model of the space shuttle.)

The President noted that we will continue to cooperate on power and that, as he had told the Prime Minister privately, he will request approval for the pending Indian license request for uranium for Tarapur.

The President then continued to describe the progress we are making in SALT on qualitative and quantitative limits, the reduction of inventories, and ultimately elimination of nuclear weapons. The President hopes that Brezhnev will come to the United States this year to [Page 229] conclude the SALT negotiations. He noted that we have agreed in principle with the Soviet Union and the UK on a comprehensive test ban involving both military and peaceful tests. We hope to add France and China later. The Soviets had withdrawn their previous objections to not having France and China involved from the beginning as well as their desire to exclude PNEs. The United States, like India, is ready to stop all tests; we are following Indian leadership in this.

The President said we are also pursuing non-proliferation. We are concerned about South Africa, Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan and others, and are trying to induce them not to develop an explosive capability. There are problems because of the German and French sales to Pakistan and Brazil; there is some progress, however, as you described to me (sic). We and the Soviets have been monitoring South Africa with satellites and hope this will discourage them from testing, which they have the capability of doing.

We are trying to ensure at the same time that nuclear energy will be available adequately in the world. We recognize that we and the Soviets are the worst violators on nuclear weapons. The President hopes that he and Brezhnev will be able to end this.

The Prime Minister said everything will be all right when you and the Soviets agree.

The President noted that the Chinese problem may remain.

The Prime Minister said that they will come around.

The President said he hopes that India can guarantee that. The Soviets are worried about China.

The President said that we are also discussing the Indian Ocean with the Soviets—another area where India has taken the initiative on arms control. We recognize the predominant influence of India in the Indian Ocean area, but we thought it best to start with the Soviets, and others could be involved later. Progress has been good.

Secretary Vance said that an agreement will be drafted in February.

The Prime Minister said there should be reductions until ultimately nothing is left except peace.

The President said we have good relations with the Soviets and the Prime Minister’s good offices (his visit to Moscow and correspondence with President Carter) have been helpful.

Turning to the Middle East, the President said that he admires Sadat’s courage. We have been encouraging direct negotiations between the parties but with no success, and Sadat’s trip was a fine move.4 He took a chance and the President is going to Aswan to [Page 230] reassure him. We cannot abandon UN Resolutions 242 and 338; we believe the Israelis should withdraw. Some small border changes are possible and the Arabs concur in this. The Palestinian question should move toward self-determination. We do not believe that there should be a Palestinian nation between Israel and Jordan and some Arabs agree with us privately. The Palestinian entity should have a tie to Jordan so that the radicals cannot build a disruptive military force. The Israelis are mistrustful and feel threatened. Sadat and Hussein5 have encouraged them but they will be cautious. Secretary Vance will meet with the Israeli and Egyptian Foreign Ministers in Jerusalem on January 15. The President noted that he had just met with Hussein and the Shah and they will meet Sadat later. We pray that there will be a resolution since war in the Middle East will affect the peace and safety of the world. We, Japan, Europe, India, and others are all vulnerable with regard to oil and the conflict could involve many countries. The Jerusalem issue complicates matters further. Negotiations will be long and difficult but all parties seek an agreement. Syria is abusive in public but Assad’s6 private conversation is much more constructive. Roy Atherton sat in on the Cairo meetings so we have been kept informed. We will offer support when called on; both sides have confidence in us and want us to participate.

The Prime Minister said that if the United States and the USSR can agree on a solution, there will be no problem. The President pointed out that we have issued a joint statement and it still provides a basis for a viable solution.7

Foreign Minister Vajpayee said that this was a big step forward but there has been backward movement on the Soviet side.

The President said we and the Soviets got a lot of abuse and now Sadat and Begin8 are sharing it. Israel, the US, Egypt, Jordan, the Shah, and perhaps the Saudis are in agreement, but the Israelis are reluctant. There could be an interim arrangement for joint administration (Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians and the UN); then there would be a referendum.

The Prime Minister said this would be possible if Israel withdraws. Pressure will mount on the Palestinians and there can be guarantees to Israel.

The President noted that Begin says that Israel does not claim sovereignty over the occupied territory but it does need to retain some [Page 231] military outposts to maintain security. We feel that the UN could do this.

The Prime Minister reiterated the US and the USSR should come to an agreement.

The President warned him not to overestimate American influence over Israel.

Secretary Vance noted that we are in constant touch with the Soviets.

The President said that the Soviets do not always agree with us but we keep them informed. He saw two differences between us and the Indians: We do not believe the Palestinian entity should be autonomous and we do not see the PLO role as significant. We have tried to get the PLO to accept the existence of Israel and have told them we would deal with them, but they have refused. Sadat is disgusted with the PLO and Hussein probably is, too. The Palestinians do have a right to run their own affairs, however, and to have a homeland of their own.

The Prime Minister said that the PLO can be contained if others put pressure on them and that depends on the United States and the Soviets.

The President asked under what circumstances India could establish relations with Israel.9

The Prime Minister said that this could only be after peace is achieved. To do so beforehand would mean losing influence with the Arabs. He pointed out that India recognized Israel informally. There is an Israeli consulate in Bombay.

The President noted the parallel of our trade representative (sic) in Cuba.

Turning to the Horn, the President said we are discouraged with the Somalian and Ethiopian situation and are concerned with the military buildup in Ethiopia and the danger of invasion of Somalia. We have no solution; perhaps a semi-autonomous state is possible in the Ogaden. We do not approve of the Somali attack. We need to discuss these issues with the Soviets and we will be discussing them soon with France and South Africa. Does India have any suggestions?

The Prime Minister said that the US and USSR should put pressure on both sides to accept a border commission. He had warned Brezhnev against supplying arms.

The President asked whether Desai thought the UN could play a role.

[Page 232]

The Prime Minister replied that the UN does not have the strength without US and Soviet support.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee pointed out that neither side had approached the UN.

The President observed that despite Nigerian efforts the OAU is a doubtful quantity. We cannot do much until the Somalis and the Ethiopians are ready.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee said that the situation involving Somali liberation forces reminded him of Kashmir.

Prime Minister Desai said that India had declined to sell arms to the Somalis and had not provided any weapons to Ethiopia.

Secretary Vance said that despite press stories, we had not approved transfers of arms to Somalia from third countries.

The President noted that we have no diplomatic relations with China although we do have a strong presence there. He asked Desai to describe Sino-Indian relations and give us some advice.

The Prime Minister said he was glad that the US was improving relations with China and India is trying to bring them around, also. They invaded India, however, and India’s land should be returned.10 India would not, however, resort to war. Ambassadors were exchanged last year; India responds to China on trade, etc. The two countries cannot be close, however, until China gives up the occupied territory; the Chinese must initiate negotiations on that.

He continued with the observation that the Soviets are concerned about improvements in Chinese relations with India and the United States. He had reassured Brezhnev on this score.

The President said we had not made much progress in normalizing relations with the Chinese. We still have obligations to Taiwan. President Nixon negotiated the Shanghai Communique and we honor its terms,11 including one China. We have greatly reduced our military presence in Taiwan, but we want to be able to have normal trade relations with them at the same time we have diplomatic relations with the PRC. We are still optimistic. The change in government there has caused some delay, and we are preoccupied with the Middle East and SALT. We exchange ideas with the Chinese. Like India, we do not want to play them off against the Soviets or see Sino-Soviet relations get worse.

[Page 233]

The Prime Minister said that the Chinese are a difficult people and questioned how the US could possibly abandon Taiwan. The PRC would ultimately come around.

The President said we will not abandon Taiwan.

The President turned to North-South issues and said we respect India’s leadership among the LDCs. We are trying to break down trade barriers, ensure food supplies, support commodity prices and give more aid to the needy. India is now giving aid itself and we admire its agricultural successes. Perhaps Desai could suggest how we could do a better job.

The Prime Minister said that the non-aligned countries with whom India associates are LDCs. In many cases this was because colonial powers exploited them and they, therefore, expect help. Desai said his position is that we should depend first on ourselves and help each other. Not all LDCs believe that, however. Other developed countries should follow the US lead and help the LDCs to grow. Then there would be no more North-South problem. Desai sees only one world in which blocs, such as a non-aligned bloc, do not make sense. The LDCs will require help, however, and nobody can remain alone in the modern world. It is always hard for the weak to act reasonably; the strong should give them confidence. The LDCs are hurt by commodity and trade problems and sympathetic dealings on these will avert bad feelings.

Finance Minister Patel noted the growth of protectionism in the developed countries. The Prime Minister said that disarmament will mean a surplus for everybody; this makes disarmament all the more urgent.

The President noted that LDC rhetoric has disrupted discussions and makes it difficult for us to assure the cooperation of Congress.

The Prime Minister pointed out that they have strength only in abuse—something he does not like.

Patel said that trade barriers block industrial development in the LDCs.

The Prime Minister said that trade is better than aid.

The President noted that the American Executive is more liberal than Congress. He and Prime Minister Manley of Jamaica agreed that discussions would be better held in Committee. This would avoid the public debates that inflame Congressional opinion. We do, however, recognize grounds for criticism, and it is in our national interest to see the LDCs develop. There is no good mechanism for cooperation and communication between the LDCs and DCs. We look to India for help.

[Page 234]

Foreign Minister Vajpayee noted that India does not engage in abuse and, as Secretary Vance knows, played a constructive role in Paris at CIEC.12

The Prime Minister said that Indian friendship does not depend on help. Nothing is going to be accomplished at the UNGA. (Vajpayee agreed.) Things must be done quietly lest there be a vicious circle. India tells this to the other LDCs.

Commerce Minister Dharia said that India wants to see trade barriers relaxed on small-scale industry so it can be integrated with US manufacturers. A mechanism of this type should be developed. There should be preferential trade treatment that would generate employment.

The President asked if the Joint Commission would be best for this or should Secretary of Commerce Kreps come to India?

Foreign Minister Vajpayee said we should decide to have more official-level consultations.

Foreign Secretary Mehta noted the Indo-US bilateral meetings that had been held in 1969 and 1970.

The President said that these could begin again.13

The President said that US business is discouraged about the investment atmosphere in India. The IBM and Coca Cola experiences have scared people off.14 We need to encourage business exchanges and work on better cooperation. We are not blaming the Indians for exercising their sovereign rights.

Finance Minister Patel said the key is trade and that the fault was with IBM and Coca Cola policies. He discussed Indian foreign investment law at some length maintaining that a company can maintain control even with a 40 percent share. He said India would be selective in new investment.

The Prime Minister said he had dealt with IBM and Coca Cola. IBM had refused to train Indians to take over their positions. Coca [Page 235] Cola should never have come here in the first place. It is habit-forming and the Prime Minister suspects that their formula is behind this. Coca Cola drove out other Indian products because it is addictive.

The President said that the real need is to have understanding in the business community and American business should come to India and learn.

The Prime Minister said that Eugene Black had written very much the same thing to him when he (Desai) was Commerce Minister. India welcomes technology in areas where it does not have a capability.

The President said he will have Secretary Vance get Secretary Kreps to recommence trade talks.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee noted that the Joint Business Council had discussed these matters also.

The Prime Minister said there should be more frequent meetings.

Finance Minister Patel said the United States should begin to play a larger role in the aid consortium.

The Prime Minister turned to the visa issue and said there are delays and harassment of visa applicants.15 Could that be improved?

The President pointed out that about one-half of Indian non-immigrant visa applicants stay permanently in America and we have limits on immigration.

Ambassador Goheen noted that this was a difficult problem and described it in some detail.

Prime Minister Desai said that he wants Indians to return to India and that we should throw out those who overstay their visas.

Minister of State Kundu asked how a person can prove that he is not a potential immigrant.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee cited the incident of some students who were not allowed to return to finish their studies when they came home on vacation.

[Page 236]

President Carter said that we had to comply with our laws but we would do what we can. Ambassador Goheen should develop ideas on this. Perhaps India could help us on the screening of these applicants. The Prime Minister said perhaps this would be possible.

The President turned to the special UN session on disarmament where we hope India will play a leading role.16 We need ideas and would like to know what India perceives in terms of procedures and results.

The Prime Minister said that disarmament must start with nuclear weapons and this should be done in stages. It will be difficult at first but we should persist.

The President asked what the SSOD might accomplish before conclusion of SALT and CTB negotiations.

The Prime Minister said that they should be concluded before the SSOD.

The President said that we expect all of these things to go on simultaneously as well as agreements on conventional weapons transfers. Is India prepared to play a leading role?

The Prime Minister said India seeks to mediate, not lead.

Foreign Minister Vajpayee noted that India is meeting on this subject with the other non-aligned countries.

The President said we would like to consult with the Indians.

The Prime Minister said that he may take part in the SSOD.

The President said that when he does, he should also pay a visit to Washington.

The Prime Minister said he will pay a visit to Washington and visit the UN incidentally.

The President asked for public support of the Panama Canal Treaty.

The Prime Minister said he would be glad to do that.

The President discussed our activities in Africa; working with the frontline Presidents, Nigeria and Britain on Rhodesia and with the five-power group on Namibia.17 In both cases there is danger that “an internal solution” will be adopted. Mugabe and Nkomo are afraid to fight elections since they have been outside the country for so long. We hope that UN leadership will provide transition. There is bad [Page 237] dissention among the frontline presidents and the freedom fighters. We want to do what we can, including protecting the legitimate interests of the whites. We are discouraged but doors are not closed. Does India have any suggestions?

The Prime Minister said that India wants the problem solved soon lest it become a volcano for the whole world. He had had a long talk with Callaghan and blamed the British for the Rhodesian problem. The issue should be settled peacefully, especially because of dissentions among the black leaders. The prerequisite is the removal of Smith18 which means pressure from the UK and the US. Smith is good at dividing people and should be thrown out. Pressure should also be applied on South Africa in this regard.

The President said that the bad problems are dissention among the black leaders and the Cuban intrusion. There are more than 27,000 Cubans in Africa. We have asked them to withdraw, and most Africans are also concerned about their presence. Foreign military troops should stay out of Africa.

The meeting thereupon concluded at 11:00 a.m.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 36, Memcons: President: 1/78. Secret; Sensitive. The meeting took place at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official residence of the President of India. Carter was in India January 1–3.
  2. No memorandum of conversation was found of the private meeting.
  3. Telegram 18644 from New Delhi, December 30, 1977, conveyed the text of the LANDSAT Agreement with India and the Indian Government’s concurrence in it. The agreement provided for access by the Indian Government to satellite imagery taken by U.S. satellites of Indian territory. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780002–1264)
  4. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat visited Jerusalem November 19–21, 1977.
  5. King Hussein bin Talal of Jordan.
  6. Hafez al-Assad, President of Syria
  7. The U.S.-Soviet joint statement on the Middle East, issued on October 1, 1977, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978, Document 120.
  8. Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel.
  9. India did not establish official relations with Israel until January 1992.
  10. In what became known as the Sino-Indian War, Chinese forces attacked Indian forces in 1962 and captured disputed territory along the Himalayan border.
  11. Issued on February 27, 1972, during President Nixon’s first trip to China, the Shanghai Communiqué established a modus vivendi for Sino-U.S. relations. The text of the agreement is printed in Public Papers: Nixon, 1972, pp. 376–379.
  12. See footnote 3, Document 75.
  13. Annual Indo-U.S. bilateral talks ceased as a result of the 1971 South Asia crisis. Efforts to resume talks began as early as 1972. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–7, Documents on South Asia, 1969–1972, Document 209.
  14. The New York Times reported that the Coca Cola and IBM corporations quit India because of “India’s Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, which requires most foreign companies to divest 60 percent of the equity of their subsidiaries to local shareholders by the end of 1977. (Companies that manufacture strictly for export are exempted.) Throughout its history, I.B.M. has been adamant about running the whole show, saying it had to if it was to operate efficiently. In April 1976 I.B.M. issued a compromise plan that would have broken IBM India into two companies, one of which would have been 60 percent owned by local interests. This month India rejected the proposal. I.B.M. responded yesterday by announcing it had decided to pull out.” (N.R. Kleinfield, “I.B.M. to Leave India and Avoid Loss of Control,” New York Times, November 16, 1977, p. D1)
  15. Telegram 14707 from New Delhi, October 18, 1977, reported: “we have a visa problem because large numbers of Indians seek non-immigrant student and exchange visitor visas to enter the US and then move into our labor market by adjusting from non-immigrant to resident status. The problem is intensified by the poor job market in India for degree holders and the vastly more attractive opportunities for them in the U.S. Consular officers frequently have to refuse non-immigrant visa applicants who cannot offer persuasive evidence of their intention to return to India upon completion of their studies or visit. A more stringent application of visa regulations, particularly in New Delhi, has sharply increased the refusal rates for all non-immigrant visas in the past three years. This higher refusal rate is beginning to create some friction with Indian Govt officials who intervene on behalf of individual applicants, particularly students.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D7700382–0624)
  16. The UNGA Special Session on Disarmament was held May 23–June 30.
  17. The Front Line States—Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe—worked together to promote the transition to democratic majority rule in South Africa, The Western Contact Group of five nations—the United States, United Kingdom, France, Canada, and the Federal Republic of Germany—engaged in a diplomatic effort to achieve a peaceful transition to independence for Namibia.
  18. Ian Smith, Prime Minister of Rhodesia.