The Carter administration was repeatedly urged by one of the top political officers in the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, Zaire, during the last two years to distance the United States from a government "due to fall of its own corruption and inefficiency."
Robert Remole, who served as political counselor at the embassy until last July, said his classified cables were either ignored in Washington or stifled by the U.S. ambassador in Zaire, Walter Cutler, who, Remole says, refused to report some human rights violations in Zaire to Washington.
Moreover, in an assertion disputed by Cutler and the State Department, Remole, 51, said in a telephone interview that he was forced into early retirement because of his strong dissents, in which he said that the "Mobutu government, its police and its military are the worst enemies of of Zairian citizens."
"I began in 1978 recommending to the ambassador that we distance ourselves from the mobutu regime, that the regime was due to fall of its own corruption and inefficiency, and that when this happens I did not want the United States to Be identified with the discredited regime," Remole asserted.
Remole said he also called for a halt to military aid and economic aid to President Mobutu Sese Seko.
"I wanted to report certain human rights violations that were going on, but the ambassador wouldn't let the reports go through to Washington," he said.
Instead, said Remole, who now lives at Randle, Wash., Ambassador Cutler wrote an assessment of his performance that was so critical as to ensure the end of Remole's career after 28 years in the Foreign Service.
Cutler, who recently became deputy assistant secretary of state for congressional relations after having spent more than three years in Zaire, said Remole "was assessed fairly on his performance and potential and his views on the U.S. foreign policy did not enter in that assessment."
Cutler added that Remole "had certain views which did not necessarily accord with mine but they were taken into account." But he denied having blocked reports on human rights violations in Zaire.
Two other officials supported Cutler's statement. One of them, who served with Remole in Kinshasa, said his charges should be taken with a grain of salt given Remole's sudden selection out of the Foreign Service.
But the officials said that Remole's policy argument has been aired in one form or another as U.S. policymakers focus on ways to approach Third World countries in the wake of the traumatic events in Iran.
Like Iran under the shah, Zaire is an enormously wealthy land ruled by a dictator who is friendly to the West. While he is among the world's greatest human rights offenders, Mobutu has virtually absolute control over the country that contains the world's greatest known deposits of industrial diamonds, cobalt and copper.
"The real question," a senior State Department official said in discussing U.S. policy toward the Third World, "is whether our interests are better served by pulling away from say, Zaire, or hanging in there and trying to serve our legitimate interests by working with Mobutu.
"If we pull away, we sort of leave things to fate. If we work with Mobutu and use our influence to change the system, well, you get your hands dirty in the process."
The official said he preferred the latter course because "it is not in our interest to contribute, directly or indirectly, to destabilization" in Zaire.
Remole, in his dissenting cable sent to top State Department officials before he left Zaire, had argued that U.S. military and economic aid symbolized U.S. political backing for an unpopular autocrat. Total U.S. aid amounts to $35 million annually.
Military assistance, although it involves less than $10 million annually, is widely perceived in Zaire as a demonstration of U.S. support for the government which, Remole said, is violating human rights on an unprecedented scale. "A Zairian cannot go about his ordinary business without being harassed, robbed and plundered by his own government," Remole said.
Remole argued that public perception of U.S. involvement with Mobutu "makes it almost inevitable that when his regime is overthrown the successor government would be anti-American.
"By distancing ourselves from the regime which is exploiting its own people, we would create a Western option for those who take power after Mobutu," he said.
Moreover, Remole argued, the United States could cut its aid to Mobutu "without opening ourselves to charges of overthrowing an African government" because France and Belgium "would continue to support Mobutu to the end." Both France and Belgium have extensive economic interests in Zaire.
One senior official, who asked not to be identified, conceded that "we have been concerned about our identification with a dictatorship." But he said that part of the problem, "which is going to persist, is a tremendously exaggerated perception [by Zairians] of what the United States does in Zaire."
The administration has reduced the U.S. military assistance program from $40 million in 1975 to $8 million in the current fiscal year. "Our assistance is almost entirely people-oriented," the official said.
Congressional critics of the U.S. policy emphasize that, apart for Zairian cobalt exports, which account for 60 percent of U.S. requirement, the United States has only marginal economic interests in Zaire.
Some American banks, notably New York's Citibank Corp., have substantial exposure in heavily-indebted Zaire. The U.S. government Export-Import Bank has extended almost $300 million in easy credits to Zaire for the construction of a power line.
Critics also have focused on a wealthy New York businessman, Maurice Templesman, who is deeply involved in Zaire's diamond and metals trade. U.S. sources said Mobutu personally controls diamond trade, which according to official figures exceeded $600 million in 1978.
Templesman, who has enjoyed a long personal and business relationship with Mobutu, has helped market Zaire's gem and industrial diamonds through South Africa's De Beers, a firm that is a partner in both mining areas.
Although Templesman has made campaign contributions to various Democratic and Republican politicians, his influence on U.S. policy toward Zaire is discounted by Knowledgeable sources.
One official said that support for Mobutu is required by U.S. political interest in stability throughout Africa. He pointed out that Zaire borders on nine other African countries and that the prospect of instability in Zaire -- and the risk of disintegration -- could have an adverse effect on the entire region.