335. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Bilateral Relations; Cuba; Guyana Border Problem; Surinamese Foreign Relations; Fisheries Boundaries; The Middle East Problem


  • Surinam

    • Prime Minister Henck Arron
    • Ambassador Roel F. Karamat, Embassy of Surinam
    • Mr. Deodaat Van der Geld, Director, Ministry of General Affairs
  • United States

    • The Secretary
    • Assistant Secretary-designate Terence A. Todman, ARA
    • Theodore J.C. Heavner, ARA/CAR (notetaker)

Bilateral Relations

Arron opened by expressing the sincere wish of his government for continued good relations with the United States. Noting that the U.S. has had a Consulate General in Surinam since 1790, he stressed the congruence of Surinamese and U.S. views on foreign policy. Arron several times expressed his agreement and satisfaction with recent statements by President Carter on how the new administration intends to deal with foreign policy issues.

The Secretary responded by expressing his pleasure in greeting Arron and his determination to work toward continuing and deepening our friendship with Surinam. The Secretary also welcomed Surinam’s entry into the OAS, saying that we look forward to working with the GOS in that organization.

Arron commented on the importance of the U.S. role in the OAS and the hemisphere. He observed the general lack of finances and technology in the hemisphere, noting that this is also Surinam’s problem.

The Secretary acknowledged the importance and the difficulty of the problems facing the hemisphere, and in particular those confronting Surinam. He especially noted the importance of the transfer of technology, an issue of concern to the whole world.

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Later in the conversation, Arron described his government’s plans for development of hydroelectric power and an aluminum smelting complex in the western part of the country. Noting the need for large funds and ongoing discussions with the IBRD, he stressed that money and energy are major problems for his country. However, he did not ask for any U.S. assistance.

The Secretary commented that energy costs are a major problem for all countries. He said that the Saudi Arabians are trying to keep down oil prices out of concern for the difficulties caused to developing countries. However, the Iranians are pressing for ever higher prices. The Saudis may or may not be able to hold the line, as they are under great pressure.

Ambassador Todman commented that we admire the GOS willingness to say precisely what it thinks in international forums. The tendency of some states to take a common position regardless of their real views is not helpful. Surinam’s policy of looking at the issues objectively and expressing its real views is most desirable. The Secretary concurred fully in this observation.


Arron asked the Secretary for a summary of U.S. views on Cuba. (Arron raised Cuba three times in the conversation, indicating the importance he attaches to that problem.) The Secretary responded by saying that we want to discuss with the Cubans the many issues which divide us. We look toward an ultimate normalization of relations, but that will not happen overnight, and the difficulties are such that we may not succeed. Nevertheless, we are ready for discussions with no preconditions, and there are some indications from the Cubans that they are agreeable to talks.

Arron noted that Cuban influences are a matter of concern to his government, particularly as they have been observed in neighboring Guyana and Jamaica. He said that the GOS has no diplomatic ties with Cuba now and is not likely to have formal relations with Cuba in the near future.

Later in the conversation, in the context of the border problem with Guyana, Arron again raised the Cuba question, saying “in the Caribbean I am afraid of the Cuba position”. He noted that the Cubans made use of Guyanese refueling facilities during the Angolan airlift but had not raised the question with Surinam.2 At the end of the conversation, Arron again returned to Cuba, reiterating concern about [Page 821] Cuban influence in the Caribbean and saying “we do hope the U.S. will pay enough attention to this matter”.

In this context Ambassador Karamat said that the entry of COMECON into “our region” is “highly disturbing” to the GOS.

The Secretary responded to these several observations by noting some of our differences with Cuba. He mentioned the continued presence of Cuban troops in Angola, the Cuban campaign to portray Puerto Rico as an oppressed U.S. colony, human rights problems in Cuba, and confiscated U.S. assets in Cuba. The Secretary also noted some of the problems caused by our severed relations, including split families, shortages of medicines, and the prospective difficulties of negotiating a fisheries boundary. He also mentioned the hijacking treaty as an immediate problem for us.

Responding to Karamat’s observation about COMECON, the Secretary said that he is also somewhat disturbed by this development. He said that there is not much we can do about it, and we will watch the matter closely.

Guyana/Surinam Border Problem

Replying to an inquiry from the Secretary about GOS views on Caribbean issues, Arron raised the Guyana/Surinam border problem. He said that a few years ago Guyana occupied a piece of Surinamese territory. Surinam chose not to fight at the time. Now, the GOS is negotiating with the French for a resolution of their border dispute with French Guiana.3 Once this is resolved—and Arron expressed confidence that there would be a solution soon—the GOS feels it will be in a very strong position to open negotiations with Guyana on that border dispute.

Arron did not ask for any U.S. support in the border dispute, and the Secretary made no comment on it.

Surinamese Foreign Relations

In a general description of Surinamese foreign affairs, Arron began by noting the importance of the U.S. role in the OAS and reiterating his hope that we will be able “to support each other” in that organization. He particularly noted the problem of human rights in the hemisphere, stressing that “we have no such problems in our country”.

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Arron said that Surinam has developed a special relationship with Brazil, having recently concluded a treaty of friendship with that large neighbor. He expressed the hope that a similar agreement would be concluded with Venezuela. He also expressed the intention of expanding diplomatic relations with other countries in the hemisphere.

Commenting on Surinam’s role in the Caribbean, he said that the GOS is studying the desirability of entering CARICOM.4 Arron noted that relations between some CARICOM members are not entirely cordial, suggesting this was one reason for GOS failure to take a decision on CARICOM membership. Arron noted GOS cordial relations with Trinidad, and said of Jamaica only that Surinam/Jamaica relations are based on their association in the International Bauxite Association, of which both countries are founding members.

Ambassador Karamat stressed the importance of U.S. attention to hemisphere relations. The Secretary assured the Surinamese of our intention to revitalize our relations with the hemisphere.

Fisheries Boundaries

Arron said that the GOS intends to proclaim a 200 mile fisheries zone this year. He noted that Surinamese fishing grounds are being ruined by foreign fishermen. In particular, it is important to protect the shrimp grounds off Surinam, which are being exploited by huge trawlers, including Soviet ships.5

The Middle East Problem

At the beginning of the conversation, Arron noted the Secretary’s recent trip to the Middle East.6 He asked for the Secretary’s view on progress in that area.

The Secretary said that there is a reasonable chance for a Geneva conference sometime in the fall. There are very wide substantive differences, but all parties are willing to work on them. Recognition of the PLO is the big question. Before the recognition problem can be dealt with, the PLO must abandon their position that Israel has no right to exist.

Arron commented that Israel’s right to exist must be recognized. He said this is the GOS position, as has been made clear in past.

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The Secretary observed that part of the problem is that there is no agreement among the Arabs themselves. However, all say they will go to Geneva if the PLO question is resolved and they are willing to discuss an overall settlement without any preconditions. There are three core issues: peace, withdrawal, and resolution of the Palestinian question.

  1. Source: Department of State, Records of Cyrus Vance, 1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, 1977 memorandum of conversation for Secretary Vance. Confidential; Exdis. Drafted by Heavner; approved in S. The meeting was held in the Secretary’s office.
  2. Beginning in November 1975, Cuba began transporting soldiers and military supplies via air to Angola.
  3. The eastern boundary of Suriname was set by Czar Alexander III in 1888, during an arbitration hearing between France and the Netherlands. Ambiguity in Alexander’s language led to an unresolved border dispute between Suriname and French Guiana that lasted for decades. In telegram 169 from Paramaribo, March 4, the Embassy reported that Suriname and France had reached a tentative agreement on their border dispute. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770075–0923)
  4. Suriname did not join CARICOM until 1995.
  5. Arron and the Surinamese Parliament established a 200-mile fishing boundary in April 1978. (Telegram 587 from Paramaribo, April 24, 1978; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780177–0323)
  6. Secretary Vance traveled to the Middle East from February 15 to February 21, visiting Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria.