Department of State Atomic Energy Files

Minutes of the Meeting of the American Members of the Combined Policy Committee, Washington, May 28, 1948

top secret


  • Under Secretary of State, Mr. Lovett
  • Mr. Gullion, American Executive Secretary
  • Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Mr. Lilienthal
  • Mr. Carroll Wilson, General Manager, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
  • Mr. Joseph Volpe, Jr., Associate General Counsel, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
  • Mr. Donald F. Carpenter, Deputy to the Secretary of Defense on Atomic Energy Matters
  • Maj. Gen. Kenneth D. Nichols, Chief of the Armed Forces Special Weapons Project

I. Negotiation for South African Supplies

The members of the Committee had seen the Commission’s letter of May 18, 1948,1 setting forth the background of talks to be held with the representatives of the South African Government in Washington in the second week in June. The U.S. and U.K. were agreed that by 1952 South Africa might be the principal source of uranium and negotiations should be undertaken now to procure the maximum amount. The Committee then considered the possible effect of the overthrow of Marshal Smuts’ government on the proposed negotiations.2 Mr. Lovett [Page 708] reported that the British were of the opinion that preliminary talks should take place as planned. This would be satisfactory if they were confined to amounts and price formulae, or the elements of a straight commercial transaction, but it would be inappropriate to engage in wider political discussions at this time.

Mr. Wilson described the approach which the representatives of the Combined Development Agency planned to make to the South Africans. We would probably want ten thousand (10,000) tons within the next few years, delivery to be made as soon as possible. Instead of a straight unit price per pound, we would propose an arrangement under which the Atomic Energy Control Board would be the principal and the South African mining companies would act as agents, being paid costs plus a royalty. A straight unit price per pound would be very difficult in the case of the processes to be used in South Africa, since little was known of the expenses involved. Moreover, the range of uranium content of the various tailings was very great. A straight unit price would mean that some countries would profit exorbitantly whereas others would barely make expenses. Mr. Lovett expressed the opinion that in beginning the talks the question of political concessions or of a politico-strategic quid pro quo should not be raised, unless the South Africans should do so. So far, it appeared that they were disposed to confine the talks to financial considerations.

In all our future foreign relations with the Union of South Africa, we would have to bear in mind the importance of South African uranium.

Mr. Lovett outlined some of the political and strategic considerations in relation to negotiations as follows:

1. The question of political inducements, or of a politico-strategic quid pro quo should not be raised, unless the South Africans do so.

In the last analysis, however, the price of uranium was dependent on political considerations. The South Africans, like the Belgians, were willing to sell uranium to us because they felt it is in their interest politically and strategically. Inasmuch as the South Africans have asked the U.S. and U.K. to make an offer, and have indicated that their principal interest is an assurance that we will continue to take over a long term any uranium produced, it is probable that they are disposed to confine the talks largely to financial considerations.

We should, of course, bear in mind the importance of South African uranium in all our future dealings with the Dominion—although there do not seem to be any policies which we ought to change with the possible exception of facilitating South African purchases of mining machinery and rolling stock.

2. South African membership on CPC or CDA. The South Africans might (a) require further information on U.S.-U.K. partnership in [Page 709] atomic energy, and (b) membership in the Agency or Policy Committee. We should take no initiative on either question unless the South Africans should raise the point. As to (a), the general character of the U.S.-U.K.-Canadian cooperation could be outlined. The British would feel compelled to do so, in any case, because of the Commonwealth relationship.

If South Africa should insist on membership in the Combined bodies directing atomic energy policy, this might eventually have to be granted, especially in view of the Commonwealth bond. However, we should not advance the idea, or encourage the British to do so.

There may be some advantage to South Africa in not assuming responsibility for decisions in atomic energy policy which now rest with the bigger CPC powers. It was better for all concerned if South Africa should continue to treat the whole thing as a commercial transaction. It would be easier, for example, for South Africa to deny uranium to outsiders if the uranium were bound up in a commercial contract, than if the government were actually engaged.

3. Construction of an atomic energy pile. It was doubtful that the South Africans would actually ask for this. If they do, it may be because of over-optimism as to the imminence of industrial uses. We should be prepared to give them a more correct view of prospects.

On the basis of the British position in the last CPC talks and their replies to a similar request from South Africa, we can anticipate that they would have to grant South African requests for research information, although they would probably try to defer delivery and would consult with us. In the long run we should probably have to agree to the construction of a pile in South Africa, but limited cooperation in this direction should be offered first, i.e., assistance in research (which they are already requesting), isotope uses, etc. We would also want assurances as to informational security, stockpiling, etc., and possibly other undertakings in fields other than atomic energy, and relating to over-all Atlantic Union defense.

4. State Department participation. It was understood that Shonland,3 the South African representative, was coming here “as personal representative of the Prime Minister” to “discuss high policy matters.” It is, therefore, recommended that the State Department be represented at the first contact with the South African representatives. Thereafter, if it appeared that negotiations could be steered into a commercial channel, State Department activity should be limited.

Mr. Lovett described the background of U.S.-South African relations at this time.

[Page 710]

II. Publicity on U.S.-U.K.-Canadian Consultation on Scientific and Technical Aspects of Atomic Energy

The Committee had before it a draft press release by the AEC. (Annexed to these Minutes as Tab A.4) The Committee approved such a press release in principle, subject to concurrence of the Canadians and the British, and further consideration of (a) the advisability of framing the release so as to indicate that the consultation in question was an outgrowth of the cooperation established during the war under the Combined Policy Committee, as announced in the Secretary of War’s press release of 1945;5 (b) wording the release in such a way as not to invite inquiries or representations by non-CPC countries, e.g., Belgium and France.

The draft release was turned back to AEC for further drafting and the Secretariat was instructed to ascertain the views of the British and Canadians.

III. Scientific Mission Attached to United States Embassy, London

The Committee approved in principle the appointment of Professor Smyth to succeed Dr. Evans as head of the Scientific Mission attached to the United States Embassy, London, subject to his acceptance and British concurrence.6 The Committee also indicated that favorable consideration might be given the recommendation that this Mission be permitted to engage on work in the atomic energy field which it had not hitherto engaged in. The Secretariat was instructed to follow through on these recommendations.

IV. Report on Action of Subgroup Established by Modus Vivendi, January 7, 1948

The Committee was informed that the Sub-group on Scientific and Technical Cooperation would shortly have ready their report on the matters within its competence, and that there would also be presented soon a Report on the inventory of stocks and projected allocations undertaken in accordance with the plan laid down in the Modus Vivendi of January 7, 1948.

Edmund A. Gullion
  1. Not printed.
  2. The election of May 26, 1948, the first in the Union of South Africa since the Second World War, resulted in victory for the Nationalist Party led by Daniel F. Malan who became Prime Minister and Minister for External Affairs. Field Marshal Jan Christiaan Smuts, leader of the defeated United Party, had been Prime Minister, Minister for External Affairs, and Minister for Defence since 1939.
  3. Dr. Basil F. J. Schonland, Chairman of the South African Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Reference is to the Statement by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson on August 6, 1945; for text, see Raymond Dennett and Robert K. Turner, eds., Documents on American Foreign Relations, July 1, 1945–December 31, 1946 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1948), pp. 413–419.
  6. Reference is to Dr. Henry D. Smyth, Chairman of the Department of Physics, Princeton University (consultant to Manhattan Engineer District, 1943–1945), and to Dr. Earl A. Evans, Attaché, United States Embassy in the United Kingdom. The contemplated change did not occur.