President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, despite the war he has on his hands, wants his American-built C-130 loaded with Coca-Cola before it is delivered to him.
"Things must go better with Coke," said one stunned administration official in confirming that "Mobutu has been asking us for a lot of Coke." The official added that the C-130 is the most likely delivery wagon but not necessarily the only one.
Another government official said Mobutu intends to spend $60,000 on Coke and recently notified the American government of that intention through the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa.
The United States is sending Zaire what is officially labeled "nonlethai" military support in the conflict that broke out March 8 when a force of former Katanga gendarmes crossed over from Angola into Shaba (formerly Katanga) province.
Morocco has sent 1,500 troops to help the Mobutu government repel the intruders and France has sent in military advisers. Unitl recently, there was little, if any, acutal fighting.
A Coca-Cola executive in Atlanta said yesterday he had not heard about Mobutu's plan, but quipped: "I am glad it isn't Pepso." He added that $60,300 would buy a lot of cans of Coke at the bulk price of between 1 and 2 cents an ounce.
"Maybe Mobutu wants to drown the enemy in Coke," was one theory advanced.
The C-130 transport plane Mobutu will buy with $15 million in U.S. aid is expected to fly to Zaire from Dobbins Ari Force Base in Marietta, Ga., within the next few weeks.
Charles W. Duncan Jr. deputy secretary of defense, is a former president of Coca-Cola, but there is no indication that Duncan knew of Mobutu's request.
At the State Department, one official said that "Cokes were in the original list" of "nonlethal" equipment requested by Mobutu's government.
Another official said flatly, however, "We are not going to use [American] foreign military sales credits to buy cokes . . . If they want to buy Cokes, that is their business - not ours.
"It is up to them to decide what to put on the C-130."
There are Coca-Cola bottling plants in Zaire, U.S. specialists said. Then why would Mobutu want a planeload of Coke sent from the United States? "Maybe it's more transportable into "the field' that way," suggested the official.