165. Telegram From the Embassy in Brazil to the Department of State and the White House1

4709. Subject: Report of Conversation Between Mrs. Carter and President Geisel. Following sent Bogata June 9: Following is report, cleared by Mrs. Carter in Bogata, of Mrs. Carter’s June 7 conversation with President Geisel.


Brasilia 4709.

1. Summary: During a 70-minute conversation on the morning of June 7, with which President Geisel said he was greatly pleased, and extensive exchanges at dinner that evening, Mrs. Carter explained the basic foreign policy concepts of the Carter Administration. The morning session was devoted principally to a discussion of human rights and economic and social development; the talk in the evening, to nuclear proliferation. Mrs. Carter stated that the primary purpose of her visit was to present first-hand President Carter’s views and concerns and to hear and carry back to him Geisel’s thoughts and opinions. On human rights, Mrs. Carter, recognizing President Geisel’s own efforts and Brazil’s stature in the world (she had earlier confirmed that we considered the MOU in force),2 inquired whether Brazil could sign and ratify the American convention on human rights. Geisel, who had stated that his and President Carter’s views on the importance of human rights coincided but had expressed skepticism about the pace of achievement as long as economic and social inequalities continued, replied negatively on the Costa Rican convention.3 He emphasized particularly that Brazil could not accept the infringement of sovereignty that the authority of the international tribunal provided for in the convention implied. Geisel volunteered that he differed with President Carter’s statement that communism was a waning threat, asserting that [Page 496] the economic and social weaknesses of countries like Brazil made them vulnerable to infiltration and interference. Mrs. Carter explained the real purpose of President Carter’s references. On nuclear proliferation, Geisel maintained the GOB position against using the waiver provision of Tlateloloco to permit full entry into force of the treaty for Brazil, but said he would give more thought to the matter. On the NPT, Geisel stood on the standard Brazilian arguments against adherence. Geisel reiterated that the GOB would not acquire nuclear weapons, and Mrs. Carter pointed out that the world was faced with decisions in this field that would shape the future, which was full of uncertainties. End summary.

2. Accompanied by Ambassador Crimmins, Mrs. Carter met with President Geisel, who was accompanied by Foreign Minister Silveira, for 70 minutes (60 of which were devoted to substantive matters).

3. Exchange of courtesies: After deliverying President Carter’s letter to Geisel 4 and her own letter of condolence on the death of his sister-in-law, Mrs. Carter thanked the President for making time available to receive her. She went on to say that the fact that her husband had corresponded more with President Geisel than perhaps with any other President demonstrated how much he valued the exchange and the relationship. Geisel expressed his thanks for both letters. He made no substantive comment on President Carter’s letter. He said that, despite the death in the family and “other circumstances”, he had wanted to receive and honor Mrs. Carter not only officially as the wife and representative of the American President but also personally as a charming woman.

4. Mrs. Carter’s presentation: Mrs. Carter stated that in her enjoyable and useful meeting with Silveira,5 she had explained, as essential points of President Carter’s foreign policy approach, his deep commitment to human rights, his recognition that the concerns and needs of developing countries have to be taken into account, and his conviction that U.S. foreign policy had to represent the best of the American people and had to have a moral base in order to move towards a better world. The President, she said, recognized that the HR commitment might create difficulties in the short run but in a long-term sense it [Page 497] would serve the interests of the entire world. The Carter administration is certainly not looking for adversary relationships, but we believe all countries basically share our ideals. For example, she observed, President Carter knew and appreciated the interest and efforts of Geisel in the human rights field. We recognize, she said, that of course no country is perfect in this respect and in the U.S. we have much still to do.

5. Referring again to her meeting with Silveira, Mrs. Carter noted that she had cited her husband’s concerns about disarmament and the proliferation of nuclear explosive capability, the latter involving an effort to resolve the dilemma between energy needs and the risks of proliferation. The President’s concerns, she pointed out, extended beyond the reduction of proliferation dangers to the reduction of existing stocks of nuclear weapons. Concerning conventional weapons, Mrs. Carter pointed out that one of the first tasks her husband had turned to after taking office was a review of U.S. policy on arms sales, the results of which were announced very recently.6 The policy had three basic points: (a) annual reductions in the volume of arms sales; (b) a decision that the U.S. would not be the first to introduce new weapons systems in regions where they were not already present; and (c) consultation and cooperation with arms producers and arms consumers to obtain international agreement on restricting the sales of arms.

6. Mrs. Carter went on to say that her husband was taking a special interest in global policies in relation to the western hemisphere, an interest that was manifested in his OAS speech7 in which he had laid out three principles: (a) a commitment to human rights; (b) absolute respect for the individuality and sovereignty of every nation, and (c) cooperation in closing the gap between LDC’s and DC’s, to which end the President intended to work very closely with the governments of the countries of Latin America.

7. Mrs. Carter stated that her husband believed that we have reached a critical point in international relations in that the institutions constructed immediately after World War II are no longer adequate to deal with new problems and the concerns of the new nations that have emerged since the post-war period. She commented that those institutions had become so confining that we have not been aware of the great changes that have taken place in the last decade. In this respect, she referred to the emergence of new, strong countries like Indonesia, Iran, Argentina, Venezuela and Brazil who are rightfully [Page 498] demanding a voice and active participation in world affairs. We recognize, she went on, this demand and we hope that Brazil will continue to use its great influence to help re-shape the world so that it will be better and more just.

8. Summarizing the foreign policies of the Carter Administration, Mrs. Carter said that the President wanted to (a) develop wider and more flexible positions; (b) to assure that policy was more open and humane; and (c) to consult closely with the governments of Latin America and to adjust U.S. global policies to the needs and interests of those countries. Mrs. Carter said that her visit had as its essential purpose to make known at first hand to President Geisel our concerns and our policies and to learn his views and the policies and concerns that motivated Brazil. She explained that, because Brazil is such an important leader in the hemisphere and there is so much that Brazil and the U.S. share, Secretary Vance had informed Silveira that the memorandum of understanding was still in effect. She also expressed the hope that the energy and trade sub-groups would soon be able to meet. Noting finally Secretary Vance’s plans to come to Brazil,8 she invited President Geisel to comment on her presentation.

9. Comments by President Geisel: President Geisel stated that Mrs. Carter’s exposition had been complete and clear and that he had been pleased to hear it. He said that the first observation he wanted to make was that he and almost all Brazilians recognize that Brazil and the United States have been traditional friends and that we must be careful to develop and foster this friendship in the present and in the future as we have in the past. Here in Brazil, he went on, there has never developed an anti-American campaign; even when we had differences, they have never been used as a pretext for anti-Americanism. On the contrary, friendship should be the basis of our relationship. Geisel commented that he had been struck by a reference in President Carter’s OAS speech, and Mrs. Carter’s repetition of it, that each country’s individuality should be respected. In keeping with that principle, it was essential, he noted, to analyze and understand the reality of each country and not to be swayed by prejudgments and tendentious reports sometimes based on unreliable or prejudiced sources. Geisel said that Mrs. Carter’s visit was important in that context because she would have an opportunity to learn first hand about Brazil.

10. Stating that he wished to turn to specific points in Mrs. Carter’s presentation, President Geisel said that human rights was an issue of extraordinary importance. He stated that his views and those of the President and Mrs. Carter coincided, noting that Brazil was party to the [Page 499] international documents on human rights, including the UN Universal Declaration. The President went on to say, however, that it was not very probable, of course, that the problem of human rights could be fully and miraculously solved overnight inasmuch as there were complex factors involved. He explained that for poor countries like Brazil, progress in human rights implied progressive efforts. The GOB has strived to defend human rights by many means, such as basic advances in the economic and social fields. We have made great strides, he said, in the field of housing, food, education and health. Brazil is fighting against intrinsic difficulties, for example, a population growth rate of 2.7 percent a year which requires the provision of 2 million jobs per year. The right to employment, he noted, is a very basic human right. On the other hand, he pointed out, fifty percent of the Brazilian population is composed of young people who are consumers of resources, and not producers.

11. Geisel on the communist threat: Geisel then declared that these observations brought him to a point that Mrs. Carter had not mentioned but that had appeared in recent speeches by President Carter, the speech at Notre Dame specifically.9 Saying that he and President Carter differeed on the point, he explained that the question involved the Soviet Union on the one hand and communism on the other. Specifically, he said that President Carter had maintained that the Soviet Union and/or communism were losing importance, and that they should no longer provoke a phobia, since the danger from them was lessening. President Geisel expressed the opinion that President Carter’s view might be correct with respect to the United States, but he doubted that such a judgment could be generalized to other countries. Elaborating on this point, Geisel noted that because the United States had solid economic and social structures, it could be considered immune to subversion. Communist interference does not prosper in the US. On the other hand, he continued, in countries like Brazil, the economic and social structures are deficient and there are many areas that are subject to infiltration. Consequently, communist efforts to interfere encounter fertile soil, and a country like Brazil has to be alert, particularly since it had had painful experiences in the past. The Brazilian people, the President asserted, are not sympathetic to communism but social and economic weaknesses create vulnerabilities to communist subversion.

12. At this point, Mrs. Carter said that she thought President Geisel may have misunderstood the intent of President Carter’s references. What the President had said, Mrs. Carter explained, was that in the [Page 500] past we had been so afraid of communism we had embraced any government, no matter what its nature, in the name of resistance to communism. Mrs. Carter noted that, although we have been able to relax tensions in the world, competition between US and communism certainly exists and will continue to exist. The threat is, of course, present. We have, however, a quiet confidence that history is on the side of political freedom and political democracy, as the near-elimination of colonialism indicates. We are convinced, she added, that the developed democracies are not free because they are economically and socially strong, but are economically and socially strong because they are free.

13. Geisel responded that Mrs. Carter’s explanation was more or less the way he had interpreted the President’s references. He remarked that Mrs. Carter was right with respect to the historical fear of communism in the United States since it was there that McCarthyism had developed and that anti-communism had taken on an exaggerated form, to the point that the United States had become the center of anti-communism. He said that the point of difference between us could be expressed in another way: the United States has to face and deal with the danger of Soviet imperialism as the leader of the West, whereas the problem of Brazil is different. Brazil is not capable of taking part in the issue of Soviet imperialism; Brazil has to deal with internal infiltration and faces the internal weaknesses that the U.S. does not confront.

14. Saying that she understood the point Geisel was advancing, Mrs. Carter referred to her awareness of President Geisel’s desire for greater political liberalism. She said that it was in this context that she had made her earlier observation about the true basis of the strength of the developed democracies. She went on to state that she was very conscious of President Geisel’s personal efforts with respect to human rights and added that President Carter appreciated the seriousness of those efforts.

15. Discussion of the American convention on human rights: Mrs. Carter introduced this subject by saying that she would like to share briefly with President Geisel some of the opinions expressed to her by other leaders with whom she had talked on her trip. She said that Prime Minister Manley had been very pleased by the broader formulation given American foreign policy by President Carter and its emphasis on human rights.10 Manley had told her that, at the upcoming meeting [Page 501] of Caricom countries, he planned to advocate the signature by participating governments of the American convention on human rights. He hoped and expected that other governments would become signatories. President Oduber of Costa Rica had been very enthusiastic about promoting human rights on a broad multilateral basis.11 The military governments of Ecuador and Peru, she observed, are both pledged to restore civilian government.12 Both governments considered the position of President Carter on human rights as very important and their leaders had told her that they were prepared to sign and ratify the convention and to strengthen the inter-American Human Rights Commission. In short, she said, she believed on the basis of her and her husband’s travels, that there was a new spirit in the world with respect to human rights.

16. Alluding to the recognition by both the developed and less developed countries of Brazil’s stature as an emerging power, Mrs. Carter declared that Brazil had great influence and could play a very important role in global policy with respect to human rights. She noted that the commitment to the furtherance of human rights transcended national boundaries.

17. President Geisel commented that he was in basic agreement about the importance of the question and about the impulses in the world. He said that he was very skeptical, however, about achievements with respect to human rights as long as there were rich countries and poor countries. To achieve the ideal is going to be difficult, he said, but he personally wished with all his heart that the ideal could be attained.

18. Mrs. Carter stated that she knew that this was President Geisel’s desire. She said it was in that spirit that she wished that Brazil would join with others in adhering to the Costa Rica convention. She pointed out that by doing so Brazil would give a signal to the whole world. If Brazil at the OAS meeting in Grenada were to indicate such an interest, it would show the world that we all want to work together. Referring to President Geisel’s remarks on economic and social weaknesses, Mrs. Carter said that she and her husband totally agreed that it was essential to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor; the United States wanted to work closely with the countries of Latin America in the effort to do so. Returning to the question of the convention, Mrs. Carter repeated that if Brazil were able to sign it, a great signal would be [Page 502] given. She then asked President Geisel whether he believed that his government could sign and ratify the convention.

19. In reply, Geisel stated that he wanted to emphasize that what he was about to say was the present view of the GOB. He noted that Brazil was party to the UN instruments on human rights; Brazil was a member of the UN Human Rights Commission; and Brazil had supported the inter-American Human Rights Commission. Brazil had objections to the Costa Rican convention, he declared, the primary one being the jurisdiction given in the convention to the court of justice. He said that Brazilian sovereignty does not permit Brazil to submit to the judgments of such a court; it was a question of sovereignty, he emphasized. He continued that Brazil could not and should not subordinate itself to an exclusively Latin American framework inasmuch as human rights were not a Latin American problem but a universal problem; human rights was a matter for the UN as a whole. He summed up by saying that Brazil did not see the Costa Rican convention as a solution. He expressed regret for having to disagree with Mrs. Carter but said he had wanted to be frank and clear.

20. Mrs. Carter responded that she and her husband very well knew that human rights were a world problem, but action within the Inter-American system could constitute a model for the world.

21. President Geisel said that he wanted to recall the fact that Brazil was an extremely open society and one respectful of human rights. He cited specifically the harmonious and conflict-free relationships in Brazil of persons of many races and ethnic origins. He observed that the makeup of the Brazilian society was the best evidence of respect for human rights. He referred to longstanding Brazilian laws against racial discrimination and prejudice, laws which demonstrated the Brazilian respect for the principles of freedom. He said that these facts should be taken into consideration.

22. Closing exchanges: Noting the points that President Geisel had just made, Mrs. Carter stated that time had run out and that she regreted very much that she had not been able to cover some important points that she had intended to make. President Geisel agreed, saying that obviously the conversation could go on for additional hours. He suggested that Mrs. Carter and he continue their talk at dinner that evening. Mrs. Carter then mentioned specifically that she had wanted to address nuclear proliferation.

23. In taking his leave of Mrs. Carter, President Geisel told her that he had been greatly pleased by the conversation. He said that the talk had indicated that it was on certain aspects and details of issues that there were differences, but that deep down and basically, Brazil and the United States were in agreement, he believed. He added that he looked forward to continuing the conversation that evening about [Page 503] nuclear proliferation. Mrs. Carter thanked President Geisel for the opportunity to have the exchange of views. She said that she thought it was very important that a personal relationship had been established. She assured President Geisel that she would take back to her husband a full report of his views. Geisel then said that he wanted to repeat a point he had made earlier: the basis for a reciprocally harmonious relationship was in mutual knowledge, and it was for that reason that Mrs. Carter’s trip was so important.

24. Nuclear proliferation: At dinner on the evening of June 7, Mrs. Carter and President Geisel discussed the nuclear proliferation question, including the possibility of a waiver by the GOB of the conditions of the entry into force of the Treaty of Tlatelolco and Brazilian adherence to the NPT. On Tlatelolco, Mrs. Carter advanced the points she had made to FonMin Silveira the day before. Geisel maintained the position taken by his Foreign Minister. He did indicate to Mrs. Carter, however, that he would give further thought to the question of a Brazilian waiver.

25. On the NPT, Geisel stated that Brazil had long maintained and continued to maintain that the treaty was unbalanced, unfair to the non-nuclear countries, and discriminatory. He said that it would have to be amended before Brazil would consider adherence. To Mrs. Carter’s suggestion that he might want to talk to an expert on the treaty, Geisel said that he was always ready to talk. Mrs. Carter mentioned that she understood that the major suppliers of nuclear fuel were holding meetings to determine new rules to govern procession of fuel, and she thought membership in the NPT on the part of consumers would be one important factor. Mrs. Carter told Geisel of her very recent trip with President Carter and Admiral Rickover on a new submarine powered by a reactor fueled by thorium, a type of reactor which, she said, would diminish the proliferation risk. President Geisel expressed keen interest in the reactor, explaining that Brazil had huge amounts of thorium.

26. At one point, Geisel asserted that the US was trying to withhold nuclear energy from Brazil. Mrs. Carter replied that this was not at all the case, that the US recognized Brazil’s energy needs, and that our concern was not with power reactors but with the sensitive facilities that incurred the proliferation risk.

27. In the course of the conversation, President Geisel also reiterated that Brazil, as a very pacific country, had no intention of making nuclear weapons. Mrs. Carter responded that she understood that. She pointed out that President Carter believed that, as the Chief of State of the world’s most powerful nation, he was obliged to look responsibly to the distant future and that the proliferation issue did not involve only the intentions of existing governments but also the unpredictability of future political developments. It was for this reason, Mrs. Carter [Page 504] pointed out, that the countries of the world, facing right now decisions that could determine the future, had to be so careful in their actions that could increase the risks of proliferation.



  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770207-0971. Confidential; Immediate; Exdis.
  2. The 1976 Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and Brazil that set up semi-annual consultative meetings is discussed in Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E-11, Part 2, Documents on South America, 1973–1976, Document 125. In telegram 126838 to Brasilia, June 2, the Department confirmed that Vance had informed Silveira that the United States considered the MOU to remain in effect, although they “should have realistic understanding of probable difficulties in scheduling meetings on rigid ‘semi-annual’ basis.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770195-1210) See Document 14.
  3. The American Convention on Human Rights, signed in San Jose, Costa Rica, was sometimes referred to as the Costa Rican Convention.
  4. Not found. In an undated action memorandum to Carter, Brzezinski stated that Mrs. Carter would deliver a message to Geisel “which will allude to our intention to send a future letter suggesting a new approach on the nuclear issue.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron, Box 5, Brazil, 1-8/77)
  5. In telegram 4682 from Brasilia, June 8, the Embassy reported on Mrs. Carter’s meeting with Silveira. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770205-0025) See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Document 415.
  6. Carter announced the administration’s policy on conventional arms transfers on May 19. See footnote 1, Document 271 in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation.
  7. April 14. Printed as Document 33 in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy.
  8. Vance traveled to Brazil on November 22 and 23, 1977.
  9. Carter gave the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame on May 22. (Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 954–962) It is printed as Document 40 in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. I, Foundations of Foreign Policy.
  10. An account of Mrs. Carter’s conversation with Manley is in telegram 3616 from Quito, June 2. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770196-1042) See also Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXIII, Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean, Document 178, footnote 2.
  11. An account of Rosalynn Carter’s conversation with Oduber is in telegram 3606 from Quito, June 2. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770196-0337) See also Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XV, Central America, Document 330, footnote 3.
  12. See Document 268 and footnote 2, Document 302.