- Reply to Letter from Sri Lanka Prime Minister
At Tab B is a letter to you from Prime Minister Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, expressing concern over US-British plans for the expansion of naval facilities on the British-owned island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. A proposed reply is at Tab A.
As you are aware, US-British plans for the expansion of our joint naval communications facility on Diego Garcia call for the development of ship and aircraft support facilities and the construction of additional barracks and fuel storage capacity. The purpose of this expansion program, which will cost the US about $29 million, is to provide improved support facilities for our naval forces in the Indian Ocean region in order to reduce their dependence on faraway US support facilities in the Pacific.
Mrs. Bandaranaike’s letter expresses her government’s “grave anxiety” and “deep concern” over the Diego Garcia expansion, and urges that it be reconsidered. Her position is not surprising; she has long been personally committed to the concept of a demilitarized “zone of peace” for the entire Indian Ocean (a concept which we have not supported because of its impracticality and its inconsistency with broader US policy objectives). In addition, she probably wants to avoid being attacked by the many influential Ceylonese politicians within and outside her coalition government who periodically accuse her of being too friendly toward the United States. She remains anxious to maintain good relations with the US, however. Therefore, she has handled the matter through a personal letter to you rather than by turning it into a major public issue. Her letter is generally restrained and avoids making any threat or suggestion that our bilateral relations will be damaged. Meanwhile, her government has been minimizing the amount of publicity being given to the Diego Garcia question in Sri Lanka’s largely government controlled press.[Page 2]
The proposed reply at Tab A stresses that our naval presence in the Indian Ocean is consistent with our interest in peace and detente and is designed to help maintain a military balance, particularly in view of the expanded Soviet access to the region that will result from the prospective reopening of the Suez Canal. The proposed reply focuses on these points because the Ceylonese are uneasy over growing Soviet strength in the region and particularly over what they fear could be Indo-Soviet collusion at the expense of smaller states.
RECOMMENDATION: That you sign the proposed reply to Mrs. Bandaranaike at Tab A. (Text approved by Mr. Gergen’s office.)[Page 3]
- Source: Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, Kissinger Papers, Box CL 299, Presidential Memoranda, March, 1974. Confidential. Attached at Tab A is the March 1 letter. Attached but not printed at Tab B is Bandaranaike’s letter in which she expressed her “deep concern” over the expansion, which would establish a “joint U.S./British naval base in Diego Garcia,” conflicting with the concept of an IOPZ. (Ibid.)↩
- Secretary of State Kissinger provided President Nixon with a draft reply to Prime Minister Bandaranaike’s letter of February 11 regarding Diego Garcia.↩