855A.6359/3–948: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Belgium

top secret

348. Please deliver following communication to Spaak as my answer to questions raised by Belgian Ambassador here on January 19, 1948.1

“I have given very careful consideration to the questions which your Ambassador, Baron Silvercruys, put to me on your behalf on January 19, 1948, and which were the subject of our conversation in October last in New York. It is my understanding that (in October at least) you believed that the agreements respecting uranium made between the United States, the United Kingdom and Belgium during the war might be made public; also that the time may now have arrived when Section 9a of the Agreement2 would become operative. This provision of the Agreement provides for participation by the Belgian Government on equitable terms in the utilization of Belgian Congo ore when such ore is used as a source of energy for commercial purposes.

Although I appreciate the pressures to which you are subjected and agree that many details of the Agreement may already be known or inferred, I do not believe that it would be prudent to make a full disclosure now. For some time, and increasingly since October, the uncertainties of the world situation have required stringent security measures with respect to atomic energy development. If anything, it appears to me that controls should be increased rather than relaxed. A disclosure at this time would at the least stimulate speculation as to amounts and tempo of individual ore shipments, our degree of dependence on the Congo, and the relation of the Congo to the over-all procurement program. Out of such speculation some details might be deduced about our bomb production rates. It is just possible that some of the gaps in the Soviet Union’s estimate of our position might be filled.

In any case a disclosure now would furnish the Soviet Union with certain propaganda opportunities. For example, our motives would be distorted to make it appear that we were backing the European Economic Cooperation plan to insure our supplies of uranium.3

Moreover, however fruitless it may be, the debate in the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission is still proceeding, and it would seem unwise to make any announcement prior to the submission of the Commission’s Third Report4 or possibly before discussion in the General Assembly.

[Page 694]

With respect to the fulfillment of Section 9a of the Agreement, I should like to assure you that the United States intends to give effect to the stipulations in favor of Belgium when the time comes. However, I am informed by the United States Atomic Energy Commission that we are now at a considerable distance from the point contemplated by that part of the Agreement. Moreover, in the absence of any agreement on the international control of atomic energy to insure its use for peaceful purposes only, the primary emphasis of the United States development program at the present time is on the use of ore for strategic purposes. Even if this were not so, there are, I understand, tremendous technical difficulties to be overcome before the use of atomic energy for industrial purposes can be accomplished on anything other than a token basis.

Since the signing of the Agreement referred to, the most significant developments, other than strategic, have been in the production and us of radioisotopes for scientific and medical research and therapy.

I believe that, in the spirit of our Agreement, Belgium could derive a special benefit from consultations with us on the use of these isotopes.

It is suggested that discussion among representatives of our two governments and selected technical personnel would be helpful in developing the means of sharing this type of benefit with you to the fullest possible extent within the limit prescribed by our law and common security. At the same time we should be able to give your representatives a clearer idea as to the nature and difficulty of some of the problems which must be solved before there is any prospect of the utilization of atomic energy for commercial purposes.

I believe I should, in all frankness, refer to one point which might present some difficulty. I am informed that some members of the Communist party occupy executive positions in the Belgian atomic research program. You can appreciate that as long as this is true it may make it somewhat harder to convince our people that an exchange of information is in the national interest. I believe, therefore, that when we hold the talks suggested, it would be advisable to have before us some description of any such persons known to you, and the positions they hold, so that we can consider what measures need be taken to insure security of information.

In conclusion I should like to renew to you my sincere appreciation of the steadfast manner in which you and the Belgian Government have cooperated in the execution of our agreements.”

  1. In telegram 514, March 12, Millard indicated that he had that day handed the message to Spaak, who “seemed satisfied.” (840.00/3–1248)
  2. For text of Section 9a, see footnote 18, p. 681.
  3. For documentation on the diplomacy of the European Recovery Program, see vol. iii, pp. 352 ff.
  4. United Nations, Official Records of the Atomic Energy Commission, Third Year, Special Supplement, The Third Report of the Atomic Energy Commission to the Security Council, May 17, 1948, hereafter cited as AEC, 3rd yr., Special Suppl., or Department of State Publication 3179 (July 1948).