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September 30, 1981

Memorandum of Conversation, Brazilian Foreign Minister Guerreiro and US Secretary of State Haig

This document was made possible with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)




September 30 1981
Brazil-USA. Interview with U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig

No. 319

Last Sunday, September 27, shortly before returning to Brazil, I was received by Secretary of State Alexander Haig. The interview, which lasted about three quarters of an hour, was cordial, substantive and dealt with several subjects. 


2. The Secretary of State, who told me he had spent the week-end engaged in conversations on the Middle East, was in an excellent mood and displayed interest in dialogue.


3. Haig started the conversation with a mention to the forthcoming visit to Brazil of Vice-President George Bush, whom he described as a longtime friend.


4. Next, he mentioned the question of the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the related issue of international cooperation in this field. Haig said that in his view the multiplicity of American norms on nuclear energy constituted “an aberration” a “fixation” that does not correspond to President Reagan’s thinking nor to that of the American people. Such “insanities”, which were a product of the policy followed by the previous American government, were harming the very economic performance of the country, since because of the number of instances dealing with the various aspects of nuclear questions, eleven years are now required between the conception and the effective operation of a nuclear plant in the United States. According to Haig, such norms, therefore, should be changed. My interlocutor remarked that the examination of the question of the recharging of Angra I belongs to this context. For my part, I told him that the position of the Brazilian government is to try to prevent, as much as possible, that this question takes dramatic proportions, which perforce would negatively affect our bilateral relations, and that we remain willing to enter into negotiations on the issue, as we had announced to Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Enders during his recent visit to Brazil. (From what I can infer from Haig’s words, there are signals that the American position in this question is evolving: at first, and until Enders’ visit, Washington demanded new commitments from Brazil in the area of safeguards; when the Brazilian government refused to heed those requests, Enders sought to characterize, during his visit, an impasse of which the Brazilian government would be the “guilty” party. I avoided such an outcome and now the Secretary of State seems to have recognized that the problem is rather the regime that the American legislation seeks to impose, rather than the Brazilian attitude. It is very likely that the reason why Haig has given this optimistic indication is that he may not be thoroughly aware of the specific point of the present difficulties at the bilateral level.


5. I then expressed to Haig my confidence that the two governments would be able to resolve any bilateral problems, either political or economic, that may arise. I remarked, however, that on the other hand we in Brazil were concerned with certain positions that the American government is adopting in the multilateral field, especially in what regards the Law of the Sea, the North-South dialogue and the attempt to divide developing countries in several categories which, when applied, create commercial and financial problems for us. In this context I mentioned the difficulties that are beginning to arise for Brazil due to the position of the United States to extend to the IMF and the World Bank the concept of “graduation”, which, once crystallized, would seriously damage our eligibility as loan takers in those financial institutions. (I had a clear impression that Haig was unaware of the implications for Brazil of this attitude on the part of his government, which seems to indicate that the growing application of the concept of “graduation” by the American government to countries such as Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and others is mainly the result of a certain general thinking about the problems of North-South relationship, rather than of specific political motivations, even without taking into account the repercussion on their bilateral relations with these countries).


6. I explained to Haig the position of our government about the Brazilian participation in Cancún, to which he had a positive reaction, in view of the state of President Figueiredo’s health. Haig expressed his wishes for the well-being of the Brazilian President and manifested the concern of President Reagan, with whom he had had a conversation on Sunday morning .


7. The Secretary of State was keen to apprise me of the latest developments in the negotiations on the independence of Namibia. Stating that he could talk frankly with me, Haig said that following contacts with South Africa and within the Western contact group he had come to believe in the possibility of reaching positive results if some minor changes could be introduced in the plans of the United Nations for the independence of Namibia. He clarified that the bilateral conversations United States-South Africa have not been a “love feast” and sometimes turned unpleasant, besides being difficult. Haig said he was convinced that a polemic climate or public attacks of condemnation of South Africa would not be useful (this position, by the way, is traditional on the part of the United States regarding the whole decolonization process). Haig added that recriminations against South Africa during the current year led Pretoria to harden its position and reject a significant UN presence in Namibia, including Resolution 435 itself. He said that to consider SWAPO as the only representative of the Namibian people had been a mistake on the part of the UN. (I recalled, on this issue, that in the context of the negotiation SWAPO itself and the Front Line African countries had even accepted in January, at the Geneva Conference, that other forces participated normally in the political process in Namibia and that this had been an important concession, while South Africa remained inflexible. Haig added that the South Africans were convinced that, in view of documents they had apprehended in Angola, the Soviets have been assisting and “directing” SWAPO for at least two years (this, by the way, is not a new accusation on the part of South Africa).


8. Haig went on to inform me that Undersecretary Clark and Assistant Secretary Crocker had achieved in their long conversations the acceptance of South Africa to: a) resolution 435; b) an important presence of the UN in the transition of Namibia to independence; c) measures to create confidence; d) that the white minorities, despite receiving guarantees, do not come to enjoy a right of veto allowing them to halt the political process in Namibia; e) a non-aligned position by Namibia at the international level. 


9. Haig indicated that the meeting of the Contact Group which took place last week aimed at refining these positions, which now should be negotiated with the other actors in the process, including the Front Line countries and SWAPO.


10. Haig talked with emphasis about the related question of the presence of Cuban troops in Angola and the convenience of creating international conditions to facilitate their withdrawal. I apprised him in an abridged form of the contacts we have held with the Angolan government and of our evaluation of its interest in a negotiated solution for the question that would make possible that withdrawal. After mentioning again the South African belief that the USSR is behind SWAPO, Haig observed that “he and I” knew that the African nationalists will always be willing, in their struggle, to utilize any ideology in order to reach power. He reaffirmed that his government is not interested in the transformation of Namibia into an instrument for the USSR (this position has a certain degree of convergence with ours, since we are interested to see to it that African countries be able to assert their own national personality, regardless of pressures). 


11. Haig reported that during his visit to Yugoslavia he received a message from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Angola, Mr. Paulo Jorge, to the effect that the Angolan government would favor the creation of international conditions that would lead to the Cuban withdrawal and that he was deeply interested in Western trade and technology. Last Thursday, Haig said, he had had a confidential meeting with Paulo Jorge, during which the message received in Belgrade had been confirmed.


12. Haig confided that he would tell Gromyko this coming Monday that the United States are willing to resolve the Southern African questions with or without Soviet participation. In a previous meeting, Gromyko had already said that the USSR does not have “an interest” in the region and Haig called on him to act accordingly (“put your money where your mouth is”).


13. Haig said that Namibian independence and the Cuban withdrawal are no longer a “chicken and egg question” but rather “a chicken omelette”. He stated he has been receiving positive signs from the AUO and even from Cuba.


14. I repeated to Haig what I had already expressed to Enders in Brasilia: we do not speak for Angola, but it seems to us that the solution for the question lies in the negotiation of mutual guarantees by stages, combined with an eventual withdrawal (“phasing out”) of the Cuban troops. I added that I did not see any reason preventing the Angolan government to reach a compromise in this direction, while, of course, Angola would keep an internal socio-economic organization of a Marxist kind. Haig made two comments to this: he said it was necessary to “preserve” his Angolan interlocutors in order to avoid happening to them “the same that happened to Agostinho Netto”; and that the United States wanted to keep the superpowers away from Southern Africa. I mentioned to him again the possibility of negotiation of mutual guarantees and of the Brazilian interest in a truly independent and non-aligned Angola, in reply to his observation that we should not “repeat” the idea that the Cuban troops should only leave Angola after Namibia becomes independent. (In fact, the Brazilian government never put the question in those terms. Haig probably received from Enders an inaccurate report of the conversation I had with the latter in Brasilia. On that occasion, I observed to Enders that it was not likely that the Cuban troops would leave Angola before the independence of Namibia, in view of the very genesis and motivation of the Cuban presence: to protect Angola from South African incursions, something that would only become unnecessary with an independent Namibia. That was the background of my suggestion to Enders about the negotiation of reciprocal guarantees distributed along stages, as a form of breaking the impasse).


15. Regarding the Law of the Sea, I expressed concern with the possibility that the United States would be in a position of total isolation and mentioned that the U.S itself should make an effort to prevent that eventuality. Haig replied that his objective was to avoid the repetition of the SALT-I episode, that is, that the Executive would sign a treaty and afterwards find itself unable to obtain ratification from the Senate. He stated that with the current reappraisal of positions in the United States, private interests are already beginning to understand that to exploit the sea bottom without stumbling they would need a multilateral treaty, and the American government believed it would be able to come back to negotiations preserving the consensus previously reached. 


16. With regard to the substance of the Cancún negotiation, I clarified that the Brazilian government is not interested in the creation of a mechanism to act after the Conference, but wishes the latter to be conclusive and that it produces a spirit of conciliation that may be used as the circumstances of the North-South dialogue warrant it. I added that in Cancún Brazil will emphasize the structural, global and long lasting aspects and that we would resist the division of developing countries in different categories, since these countries share fundamental problems such as, for instance, being net importers of capital and technology, suffering from imbalances in different sectors and struggling against serious social problems. Haig showed some understanding regarding the latter point and answered that he was aware that Brazil is a big, complex and diverse country. He spoke of the future “superpower” and I commented that we had not even “graduated”.


17. The Secretary of State told me that at Grand Rapids Presidents Reagan and Lopez Portillo, plus Prime Minister Trudeau, besides exchanging views about Cancún, had also examined the present situation in Central America and the Caribbean. He reported that the Mexican President now strongly supports the plan of assistance to the “Caribbean basin”, since the United States clarified that this plan neither belongs in the scope of the East-West competition nor is specifically directed against Cuba.


18. For my part, I apprised him, in general terms, of the conversations I had had with President Lopez Portillo on the occasion of my visit to Mexico. I explained that we had dissociated ourselves from the Franco-Mexican declaration about El Salvador without being aggressive to our hosts. I observed that we had not found a justification for the public action carried out by Mexico and France. I also made explicit the differentiation that we make between certain colonial situations which have a strong international component, and other situations such as that of El Salvador, in which the principle of non-intervention must be fully respected. I added hat we had exhorted Venezuela and Mexico to try privately to motivate their respective Salvadoran friends or co-partisans to look for a peaceful and negotiated solution for the crisis, in spite of all difficulties. 


19.. The Secretary of State reported to me that at Grand Rapids Lopez Portillo had practically apologized about the Franco-Mexican communiqué (“we have not done things the right way” the Mexican President was quoted as having said). Haig added that the Social-democrat leader Guillermo Ungo has maintained some contact with President Duarte, who is a Christian Democrat. Haig showed interest that the Social-democrats would join the electoral process in that capacity, but not that the guerrillas would do likewise, since the latter counted on the support from the “arm of Moscow”. 


20. Recognizing the difficulties of the Salvadoran problem, I conveyed the impression that it would be convenient that the elections did not serve only as an attempt to obtain external legitimization for the current Salvadoran government, but that the internal problem be also dealt with in parallel.


21. My interlocutor replied that the United States wants to reach the source of the problem and that this means to deal with Cuba in a constructive way, whether the Cubans cooperate or not. He asserted that the United States is ready to work with the Cubans and is not trying to create difficulties (“we are not looking for trouble”) in spite of the 40.000 Cuban soldiers in Africa and of the 10 million dollars that Cuba receives daily from the USSR. (On this point, Haig is certainly gathering ideas from Lopez Portillo, who is willing to intermediate an eventual rapprochement Cuba-United States). 


22. For my part, I informed him on the state of our “non-relations” with Cuba, in which both countries avoid hostile attitudes. I explained the differences that keep us apart from Cuba regarding the understanding of the principle of non-intervention. I remarked that often, in disrespect of that principle and in accordance with what it considers to be a duty of international solidarity, Cuba believes to have the right to render politico-military support to insurgent movements in several countries, a position with which we disagree.


23. Finally, before taking leave, Haig made a brief but significant report about the Middle East situation. He stated that he identifies a new mood in Israel about Palestine autonomy, and when I noted that, in any case, municipal autonomy would be insufficient, he countered that at the moment what is important is to keep the conversations going and above all preserve President Sadat. 


24. Haig added that he had asked the Western Europeans to be patient, under the argument that a new “initiative” would provide Israel with pretexts to harden its stance. To my remark about the eight-point program presented by Saudi Arabia, Haig admitted that it contained “usable” parts, such as the one that recognizes implicitly to Israel the right to exist in peace within recognized boundaries, by mentioning Resolution 242 as one of the bases for the solution of the conflict. Haig concluded with the statement that he will proceed with the Camp David effort and that for it he also had the discreet blessing of Saudi Arabia. 


25. In my view, the conversation with the Secretary of State was useful mainly to confirm that the American positions on many questions (Southern Africa, Central America, Cuba, Law of the Sea, nuclear energy, etc….) are undergoing or may undergo a favorable evolution. Haig seems to be in a position to give different hues to the initial postures of principle and wishes to look for concrete diplomatic results. This is a healthy trend which opens room for us to maintain with the United States a dialogue based on trust, albeit, of course, not devoid of divergence. I believe that this confirms the well-founded strategy followed by Brazil in its bilateral relations with the U.S. to the effect of delaying, as much as possible the breaking out or the development of controversy, expecting, precisely, that the different American positions could slowly be taken off the rhetorical field and be adjusted to the practical needs of the negotiation. In this way, conditions are beginning to be created for us to impart a new impulse to our relations with the United States.


Ramiro Saraiva Guerreiro

Brazilian Foreign Minister Guerreiro and American Secretary of State Alexander Haig meet in Washington D.C. Haig illustrates a shift in American nuclear policy from that of the Carter administration to a more lenient approach.

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Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil (CPDOC), Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV). Obtained and translated by Fundação Getúlio Vargas.


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Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)