35. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Secretary’s Meeting with Denis Healey, The UK Shadow Foreign Minister


  • US

    • Secretary Haig
    • Robert L. Funseth, Director, EUR/NE
  • UK

    • Denis Healey
    • John E. Fretwell, Minister, British Embassy

Healey said European confidence in America had been shaken by the Carter Administration because of too much vacillation. The worry now is that the new Administration may emphasize too much a military approach. Therefore, Healey suggested the Administration should try to correct this unwarranted impression—and in so doing we would paradoxically help achieve the goal of enhancing Western defense.

The Secretary said it is not easy to walk the cat back. But America has a new President who came into office with a mandate to make changes and one of the changes is to restore the US/Soviet military balance. This will be helped by a restored Executive/Legislative consensus which wants this imbalance to be rectified.

The Secretary noted that he has participated in the past three weeks in extensive meetings with Allied leaders: French Foreign Minister Francois-Poncet;2 Prime Minister Thatcher and Peter Carrington;3 German Foreign Secretary Genscher4 and with Prime Minister Trudeau [Page 117] and Secretary MacGuigan.5 He came away from these meetings, concluding there is a strong consensus among these Allies for a somewhat more robust US policy towards the Soviet Union. In framing its relationship with the Soviet Union, the new Administration seeks to obtain from the Soviet Union an understanding for restraint in their global conduct.

In his talks with Western leaders, the Secretary said he reaffirmed the US commitment to pursue both tracks of the TNF decision.6 In this connection, we have announced a meeting of the SCG for the end of this month as a first step leading to a resumption of talks with the Soviets perhaps by the end of the year.7

The Secretary said the SALT process is a little more complex. The treaty was discredited by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and today there does not exist political or public support for ratification of the treaty. However, the new Administration believes in the overall SALT concept and is putting together a SALT package. At the same time, we have to have assurances from the Soviet Union that they will pull their horns in. Their international demeanor will have to change substantially. We will be talking about this “code of conduct” with Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin upon his return to Washington. It remains to be seen what the Soviet reaction will be but we have noted that they have been recently very moderate in their public statements.

Healey said the US will not find much European opposition in its efforts to restore the military balance or in adopting a more robust attitude in its bilateral relations. But the US will find concern that it is seen as tending to exaggerate the Soviet angle in local instabilities elsewhere. Many in Europe believe, for example, that the best way to get the Cubans out of Angola is to resolve the Namibian problem. The [Page 118] Five-Power initiative on Namibia strengthened the Western position in Black Africa.8 There is a growing preception (and fear) that the new Administration may tilt towards South Africa. The US should find ways to give the Front Line States9 some excuse to avoid seeking UN sanctions in April. Perhaps sending a US Special Emissary to Southern Africa would be the short-term answer. The Secretary said we are considering such a proposal but we intend to proceed very carefully on Namibia.

The Secretary said he senses a new attitude in the Middle East desiring a consensus on security. The regimes in the area see the Soviet presence in South Yemen and in Afghanistan as a threat to their security. The Omani Foreign Minister10 recently told him that all of Oman’s Gulf partners had privately urged them to keep a Western presence and to strengthen the American role in Oman even though they could not support them publicly.

Healey said he hopes that we appreciate that the European Middle East initiative is complementary to American efforts.

The Secretary urged Healey to fight for a moderate Labor Party. We have to have a stable two-party system in Britain. Healey thought the moderates had a good chance to pull the Labor Party back from the Left. But first the moderates must get control of the National Executive Committee.

Healey said the Spanish situation is worrying. Felipe Goncales, the Spanish Socialist Leader, told him last weekend there could be another coup in Spain and this time it might succeed. The Secretary said he shared Healey’s concern and for that reason he was thinking of stopping off in Spain on his way to the Middle East.11 We must all do everything we can to strengthen democratic forces in Spain.

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Files, Secretary Haig Memcons and Whitehead Briefing: Lot 87D327, Sec/Memcons—March 1981. Secret; Exdis. The meeting took place in Haig’s office at the Department. Drafted by Funseth; cleared by Eagleburger. An unknown hand initialed for Eagleburger. Attached but not printed is a suggested distribution list. In telegram 4160 from London, March 5, the Embassy noted that Healey planned to visit the United States as part of a British-American Parliamentary Group delegation and had requested that the Embassy assist him with “arranging appointments” for his visit to Washington, adding that Healey “is extremely good value. Time spent with him, we believe, is time well spent.” (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, D810104–0533)
  2. See footnote 6, Document 21.
  3. Haig met separately with Carrington on February 27 during Thatcher’s February 25–28 visit to the United States. For Thatcher’s visit, see Document 30.
  4. See footnote 7, Document 21.
  5. Haig met with separately with MacGuigan on March 11 in Ottawa during Reagan’s March 10–11 visit there. In telegram 1606 from Ottawa, March 19, the Embassy transmitted a draft memorandum of conversation of the meeting. (Department of State, Central Foreign Policy File, Electronic Telegrams, [no N number]) Memoranda of conversation for Reagan’s meetings with Trudeau are scheduled for publication in Foreign Relations, 1981–1988, vol. VII, Western Europe, 1981–1984.
  6. In a December 12, 1979, communiqué issued at a special meeting in Brussels of NATO Foreign and Defense Ministers, the ministers agreed that the United States would deploy 108 Pershing II launchers and 464 new ground-launched cruise missiles to Europe in order to modernize NATO long-range theater nuclear forces. In addition, as part of theater nuclear forces (TNF) modernization, 1,000 U.S. nuclear warheads would be withdrawn from Europe as soon as feasible. For the text of the communiqué, see Department of State Bulletin, February 1980, p. 16. The texts of the communiqué and the final communiqué of the meeting of the NATO Foreign Ministers, issued on December 14, are also printed in American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1977–1980, pp. 494–499.
  7. On March 10, the administration announced that the United States would convene a meeting of the NATO Special Consultative Group in Brussels at the end of March. (Bernard Gwertzman, “A U.S.-Soviet Parley Is Linked to Poland: Bonn Agrees to Cooperate in Effort to Deter Russian Intervention,” New York Times, March 11, 1981, pp. A1, A7)
  8. Reference is to the Governments of France, the Federal Republic of Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, and the United States, also known as the “Western Five” or “Western Contact Group.” Representatives from these governments, beginning in 1977, sought to assist Namibia in its transition to independence following its illegal occupation by the South African Government.
  9. Originally an ad hoc caucus, the Front Line states were Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia, the five countries bordering Zimbabwe and Namibia. Following the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980, the Organization of African Unity included it in this designation.
  10. Qais Abdul Munim Al-Zawawi.
  11. Haig did not stop in Spain prior to arriving in Egypt on April 4. However, he did visit Spain, April 8–9, as part of his April 8–12 visit to Italy, April 8; the United Kingdom, April 9–11; France, April 11; and the Federal Republic of Germany, April 12.