73. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Conversation Between Secretary of State and Romanian Foreign Minister Stefan Andrei


  • United States

    • Secretary Haig
    • Ambassador Harry G. Barnes, Jr.
  • Romania

    • Foreign Minister Andrei
    • Ambassador Bogdan, Director for the Americas, Romanian MFA

(The Secretary and the Minister had come together from the meeting with the President2 and had already been talking for a few minutes before Ambassador Bogdan and I joined them.)

ANDREI: I wanted to explain a little more of the importance we attach to your visiting Romania. President Ceausescu asked me to tell you that although the invitation is in the name of the government, he himself looks forward very much to the opportunity to talk with you to share with you some of his thinking and to learn more about your views. As I told President Reagan, we see his visit as much more than a protocol-type occasion. It would be the occasion for a great public manifestation of the friendship between the two peoples. Ambassador Barnes, who was in Bucharest, knows what I mean.

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I wanted to raise several bilateral economic and political problems President Ceausescu has asked me to take up with you, particularly in our more restricted discussions. With regard to the renewal of MFN, he is hoping he can count on your support. We will be taking, I can assure you, the necessary measures internally on emigration questions. In this general context, President Ceausescu recalls that we had raised with the Carter Administration the possibility of MFN being granted for two-three years at a time, but that was not then possible. Such an approach would provide a much more favorable perspective to our relations and would make our economic ties much more solid than is now possible with the renewal coming every year, which inevitably introduces an element of uncertainty.


We are still having difficulties in obtaining U.S. export licenses. In fact, for the last year, we haven’t obtained any of those we have sought. Going back to the time of the Nixon Administration, we had developed a joint venture with Control Data Corporation but now of late have been having problems with getting licenses for export of their technology. As someone with a military background, you, of course, understand that we have and are prepared to accept whatever obligations are necessary to give you the assurances you require for export control. We would ask you to support a more favorable approach to your issuance of licenses which would have a positive effect on increasing American business interest in Romania.


President Ceausescu asked me to thank you for your country’s assistance to us in both the World Bank and IMF spheres and to ask you to continue that same sort of support in the future. Basically, our problems here are related to the difficulties we’ve had in getting an adequate supply of oil. Until this last year, the Soviets have provided us with no oil; now they are selling us a million tons but at the world market price not the concessional price other Eastern European countries get. We, in general, do not want to depend too much as you can understand on the Soviet Union, nor for that matter on the other Eastern European countries who are close to the Soviets. (Andrei then proceeded to cite several instances from the past where Romanian actions had led to Soviet displeasure and that displeasure in turn had been felt in Romania’s relations with the other Eastern European countries.) What happens is that when we have problems with the Soviets they are felt in our relations with other countries, a sort of “wave” effect. We are planning now to cut the work week from 48 to 46 hours, but to keep up our production plans at the same time. We have made good use of the loans provided [Page 231] by the World Bank and cannot afford now to lose that source of help. Admittedly, we have concentrated on the production and not the consumer section, but we’ve done that in order to assure our economic independence. We, therefore, hope you will continue to support World Bank assistance to Romania.

With regard to the IMF, we have negotiated some new understandings and ask that the U.S. Director of the Fund be authorized to support them.


This is a problem that goes back some time. We have concluded an agreement to buy 500,000 tons of coal from an American firm. Hampton Roads is the closest port to the mine, but because of American restrictions we have to load the coal in Baltimore, which costs $6 more a ton. We are prepared to submit to any form of control of the ship and its crew that you require. The economic loss is so great we do ask that you look at this matter again.


There are close ties between the Romanian and American Departments of Agriculture and we had hoped to get some credits for the purchase of various items such as powdered milk. We had been told this would be possible but were just recently informed we would have to pay market prices, which given the transportation costs would make the purchase too expensive.


President Ceausescu also asked me to mention that he has sought since the Nixon-Ford Administrations to obtain credits for development purposes from the United States. I last discussed the matter with Secretary Kissinger in 1976.3 We were always told that this was a very difficult problem but could be looked at from time to time, a sort of half-promise.

THE SECRETARY: I wanted to assure you that I had a very active participation in Romanian-U.S. affairs in the past, starting with the period when Ambassador Bogdan used to work on all these problems. I personally have great respect for President Ceausescu because of our past relations with him and the great help he gave to Presidents Nixon and Ford. There is a vacuum, of course, for me during the Carter years but I was in Europe then and admired the way you worked within the limits of the possible and the practical imposed on you to make the most of opportunities to enhance your independence and [Page 232] continuing freedom of action. There is, of course, always a price to pay in the East European environment. That is why the courage you have demonstrated must not be ignored either on the part of the United States or the rest of the Western world.


I am also familiar but would never speak publicly about the interaction between your emigration policy and our ability to improve and move forward with our economic relations. This is very important in the Congress where difficulties can develop and which do so intermittently. Having said this, we are addressing the question of continuing MFN and this department is in favor of it. There is some opposition in the bureaucracy but I am confident things will work out. You will find our new Secretary of Commerce is a helpful person. We leave up to you to handle privately whatever needs to be done with regard to the emigration issue.


As you know, we’ve had some dispute within our bureaucracy on questions of foreign assistance. I believe it is of vital importance for the United States to continue to participate actively because this provides flexibility to keep our friends able to remain on an independent course. We will continue to do all we can in this area and specifically will follow-up on your request with the World Bank. McNamara4 is leaving but Clausen,5 who is replacing him, is good. We, of course, have our own economic problems as shown by President Reagan’s determination to cut fifty billion dollars from our budget. This will have some effect on our multilateral financial funding in that we will have to stretch out some of our contributions. We will want the Bank to understand our interest in Romania and I will see that we take care of that.


Clearly some of the export licensing problems are the aftermath of the invasion of Afghanistan.6 We were probably less than careful in being discriminating as to destination. We will have to get some more discrimination into our approach. We are aware of the Control Data question and will work with that problem constructively. We do, of course, have to abide by the COCOM limits regarding the USSR but there probably are some people foolish enough to believe if something goes to Romania it also goes to the Soviet Union. We have to educate the new officials in the Government to reality.

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I think in every case you will find President Reagan will be a friend like Presidents Nixon and Ford, in many respects even a greater friend. He understands what great courage gives to a people and understands the pressure under which you have to live. It is in our interest not to complicate things for you but rather to be aware of ways to help you in what you’ve set out to do.

Our colleagues who are more expert can perhaps help with some of the problems you have raised, but I wanted you and President Ceausescu to know that my involvement with Romania has been of long-standing. It is important that we understand each other well. If that exists, everything will be fine.


I’d like to turn to other questions, Lebanon, for example, and get your appraisal. There is, of course, the serious situation in Poland which is somewhat calmer now but may become more serious nearer the Party Congress. I don’t want to embarrass you but we are very concerned from the standpoint of the whole issue of easing tension.

ANDREI: Thank you for what you’ve said. We do want to continue our policy of independence. As you know, we have very good relations with Yugoslavia and we believe it was important that after Tito’s death President Ceausescu worked to keep Romania independent—important for the whole European continent. For Romanian independence it is important that Yugoslavia be independent, just as Romania’s independence is important for Yugoslavia’s own independence. That is why we consult with each other so often and so frankly.


With regard to Poland, there are very complicated problems internally. There is no unifed point of view anywhere including within the Party. There is part of the Party’s leadership, for example, which doesn’t say what it wants, which is not that much in favor of independence, but they are afraid to speak out because they have the Soviets behind them. It would, of course, ease things if it could be said that Poland would continue to be a friend of the USSR’s. But it would have to be understood that Polish policies were made in Warsaw not Moscow. I believe the Poles can resolve their problems. They have one big advantage, namely the constructive role played by the church. They must, however, avoid a confrontation with the Soviets which would permit the Soviets to intervene. The Soviets, objectively speaking, are not interested in intervening and have said as much to us. They know it would complicate their relations with the new administration. They have their own internal problems. They realize that changing the leadership of the Polish party would accomplish little, for the workers would occupy the factories.

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Poland is not Czechoslovakia, the Poles in the past fought the Czar’s troops and the Soviets understand they would fight Brezhnev’s. The Soviets for these reasons are no longer really raising questions about the transformations that are taking place internally. The sorts of changes they raised questions about and acted on in the case of Czechoslovakia they are letting take place in Poland. It is not just the question of Solidarity or the peasants’ association, but the Poles are even authorizing now the establishment of veterans’ associations for those who fought on both sides during the Second World War!! My feeling is that if the Poles concentrate on strengthening the nationalist sentiment in the country with the aim of building an independent Poland, one that is not hostile to the USSR, with an independent approach to problems, they can succeed.

I have been asked, you should know, by President Ceausescu to assure you officially that there is absolutely no possibility whatsoever in any form or under any conditions of any Romanian participation in an intervention in Poland. The Poles have got to solve their problems themselves. I agree the Congress is very important, but is not going to resolve all their difficulties. Incidentally, we have seen some of the materials being prepared for the Congress which so far on the international side don’t sound all that different from Gierek’s day with references still to the leading role of the USSR.


There is no need for me to dwell on our relations with Israel with which you are familiar and which among other things have a sentimental importance to us because about a quarter of the population speaks Romanian.

BOGDAN: In fact, President Ceausescu has been told by some Israelis that he could be elected to office there because of the large Romanian speaking population.

ANDREI: President Ceausescu asked me to tell you that we have been making urgent approaches to the Syrians, Lebanese, and Jordanians in the hope of avoiding the outbreak of war. We are very worried about the possibility of a Christian state being set up in Lebanon, which would complicate everything. Instead efforts have to be directed toward somehow reconciling the various elements in that country with each other which would serve as an occasion for the withdrawal of Syrian troops which represent a fundamental problem now. We believe that a war over Lebanon would affect not just Israel but also could affect Egypt and perhaps even bring into question the Camp David accords.7

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President Ceausescu also asked me to tell you that he wanted to cooperate in any way we can with your efforts. As you know, we did have a small part in the Camp David agreements. That process was very good, we welcomed it. But Israeli-Egyptian peace is not all there is to the problem and the process has to be carried to its logical conclusion. For that we believe a new framework has to be created—another forum which could create the necessary conditions, a forum in which all the interested parties including the U.S. and the USSR could take part under UN auspices. When we first raised this approach with the USSR, they were absolutely against it insisting that the Camp David accords had to be thrown out and Sadat removed. The Syrians were also very opposed. After a lot of discussions with them, the Syrians are now agreeable to the idea and the Soviets at their party Congress proposed that same policy, even though they may still make noises about Camp David to please Quadhafi. Even though they probably still don’t like the idea that the Israelis and the Egyptians have reached an understanding, they know it is a reality of which they have to be aware, just as they know any Egyptian who replaced Sadat would never agree to give back the Sinai just to make the Soviets happy.


When I saw Arafat recently, he asked me to tell you that he wants to find some way of talking with the United States. He is still looking for a political solution and is prepared to consider territorial needs which Israel has in those areas where the distances from one border to another would be too narrow. He accepts the idea of a confederation with Jordan but feels this ought to be worked out with the Jordanians on an equal basis. We believe that solving the Palestinian problem would help the Lebanese situation because the Palestinians would have no reason to remain in Lebanon. As you know, the Palestinians have significant influence in other Arab countries, but Arafat stresses it was not Palestinians who created the difficulties in the holy mosque in Saudi Arabia and in fact he has been resisting pressure to make the PLO more Islamic. There were even, as you know, attempts by the Iranians to influence the PLO representative there in that direction.



I am very greatful for your views. It is clear that on some subjects we are not in agreement but I am optimistic that the next phases of the Camp David process can be continued successfully after the Israeli elections and that it would add to the momentum. I recognize that is not enough, but the reason I am optimistic is that if we can maintain peace and stability I believe all of these longer-term difficult problems can be resolved.

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Right now our most serious problem is with Syria. To be very frank, we have been putting major pressure on Israel not to take military action. They have been prepared to do so since the day I arrived in Jerusalem a month ago,8 but agreed to give us time so we could seek a compromise. It is clear that neither Syria nor Israel created the problem. This problem is with the Christian element which felt left alone with no protecting big brother and started to take actions that disturbed the Syrians. The Syrians then occupied that ridge, placed missiles there, which in turn disturbed the Israelis. In that context, we saw a possible compromise through a return to the status quo. We were able to convince the Israelis to agree not to take any military action against Syrian forces north of the Red Line and we sought a return to the status quo with some assurances from the Syrians that the missiles would be ultimately withdrawn, but not involving making the Syrians back down publicly. We worked out with President Sarkis that Lebanese troops would occupy Zakla town and would remove the non-permanent elements. When this was presented to Assad, Assad said no.

We are going to try one more time, I’ll be asking for help from the Saudis and also talking to the Soviets. The Soviets are clearly behind this and I’m afraid time is almost running out. We are prepared to face the consequences, but it is important that both the Soviets and Assad understand that they must demonstrate greater flexibility. We are willing to listen to anything they have to say. At first in the talks with Habib they showed some flexibility, but now none at all, which suggests that the Soviets have been talking to Assad. The situation is dangerous because the Israelis have the ability to take very strong action. I believe that is their intention. It is not in the interest of anyone to become the victims of this sort of situation. Anything you can do to apply pressure in Damascus would be very helpful. Israel has been very responsive even though this is adding to the risks they run because of the increasing Syrian pressure on them. There should not have to be a conflict but the Soviet Union is misjudging the situation if it believes a conflict would stop the peace process started by the Camp David accords. That process has come too far and the Arab states will never rally again under Soviet leadership, not Saudi Arabia, nor Jordan and never Egypt. Also, what interests do the Soviets have in another of their clients being brutalized. We are not anti-Syrian but the Syrians are being foolish.

(At this point the discussion was interrupted and continued over lunch.)9

  1. Source: Department of State, Executive Secretariat, S/S Special Handling Restrictions Memos, 1979–1983, Lot 96 D 262, ES Sensitive, March 13–20, 1981. Secret. Drafted by Barnes on May 19. The meeting took place in the Secretary of State’s office.
  2. See Document 72.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–15, Documents on Eastern Europe, 1973–1976, Document 41.
  4. Robert McNamara, World Bank President from April 1968 to June 1981.
  5. Alden Clausen, World Bank President from July 1981 to June 1986.
  6. The Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XII, Afghanistan.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VIII, Arab-Israeli Dispute, January 1977–August 1978; and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. IX, Arab-Israeli Dispute, August 1978–December 1980.
  8. Haig was in Jerusalem on April 5 and 6. This was part of a larger trip, April 4–12, which included Cairo, Amman, Riyadh, Rome, Madrid, London, Paris, and Bonn.
  9. A memorandum for the lunch conversation was not found.