Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith visits the United States, challenging officials to support his plan for the transition of government in the country.


Ian Smith

Saturday, 7 October 1978

After declaring in 1976 that there would never be majority rule in Rhodesia, "not in a thousand years," Ian Smith reluctantly began to yield to diplomatic pressures and international sanctions. Further urging from then U.S. Secretary of State, Henry A. Kissinger led Smith agree on a plan to transition toward majority rule.  Critics pointed out, however, that the agreement was flawed, that whites would still retain many privileges.  Mostly though, Smith was suspiciously slow to carry it out. It was not until two years later, after a change in U.S. Administrations, when Smith finally signed an agreement with moderate black leaders on condition that they eschew war. But exiled leaders, Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo, dismissed the settlement as a ploy because it enabled whites to retain control of the army, economy and legislature. The agreement won no international recognition.

Over State Department objections, 27 U.S. Senators invited Smith to the U. S. in October 1978 to discuss the plan. Newly energized, Smith arrived in Washington hoping to promote his "internal settlement" approach to biracial government in Rhodesia. However, his reception was chilly at best.  Even most of the Senators with whom he met were reportedly unimpressed.

In a dramatic snub to a visiting head of state, President Carter flatly refused to meet with the Prime Minister, telling the press quite simply, "I do not intend to see Mr. Smith. There is no reason for me to meet with him."

A meeting with now U.S Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance ended in further disappointment.  Smth's deligation arrived at the State Department surrounded by Secret Service agents to protect them from placard-waving demonstrators. Once inside,  Smith grimly characterized the meeting as a sparring session in which there was nothing more than "a repetition of old ideas." In a pointed rebuff, Vance did not even bother to escort Smith from the State Department building as is customary with visiting dignitaries.

• Cowell, A. Smith, Defiant Symbol of White Rule in Africa, Is Dead at 88. New York Times. 21 November 2007
• Time ;Magazine,(1978),"Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." ;From :,[Online], 23 October available at:www.time.com,[Accessed: 02 October 2013]

Last updated : 02-Oct-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011