Department of State Atomic Energy Files

The Under Secretary of State ( Lovett ) to Senator Bourke B. Hickenlooper

top secret

Dear Senator Hickenlooper: In reply to your letter of June 7, 1948,1 it is still too early to say to what extent the recent political changes in the Union of South Africa may influence the efforts of the Combined Development Agency to secure raw materials from that source. Our most recent reports indicate that the position of the winning Nationalist Party led by Dr. Malan is very weak. They actually trailed in the popular vote by an almost 12% margin. Their majority in the Parliament is only 3 to 5 seats. Moreover, to win support on controversial issues they would have to rely on winning votes from other parties. In these circumstances the extent to which Malan will be able to depart from the policies of Marshal Smuts’ Union Party is doubtful.

Certainly there has been no evidence of a change in policy thus far with respect to uranium. The question of “a diplomatic arrangement which would permit the Atomic Energy Commission to purchase uranium concentrates” has not yet actually arisen. So far the negotiations with the South African representatives (Brigadier Schonland and Professor Tavenner) have been purely exploratory. There is no evidence that anything will be required other than a straight commercial contract between the Combined Development Agency and a comparable corporate entity in South Africa.

The South African representatives came to this country via London where they made preliminary contacts with the United Kingdom authorities. During the week of June 7 they held some meetings with United States and United Kingdom, representatives of the Combined Development Agency, which were attended by personnel of the Atomic Energy Commission, the Embassies, and an observer from this Department. The South-Africans began these talks by affirming that they did not consider that the change in government affected their mission, which was exploratory and factfinding. Their report would be transmitted to Pretoria and the next stage would presumably be tripartite negotiations in South Africa after their government had considered that report.

As a result of the talks here, the South Africans are taking with them an outline of the prices, quantities, and terms on which the Agency would wish to secure South African uranium. I believe that the Commission can furnish you with complete details. It is understood that these preliminary talks are not binding on either party.

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It may be that the South African government may eventually wish to make stipulations of a political character or ask for compensations other than financial, although, I repeat, there has been no sign of this thus far. We strongly believe that it is to the interest of all concerned if the arrangement can be concluded within the terms of an ordinary commercial contract. However, if we have to, we would be prepared to consider some kind of diplomatic agreement in consultation with the appropriate committees of Congress.

We do not know whether the accession of the violently Nationalist Malan government will facilitate or hinder a commercial agreement. Dr. Malan, himself, favors the separation of South Africa from the British Commonwealth. However, the narrowness of his majority will undoubtedly limit what he can do in this respect, especially since we learn that General Smuts has now decided to accept an opposition seat and will doubtless combat such policies. On the other hand, the Afrikaaners’ separatist policy may cause South Africa to view a joint uranium agreement with the United States and United Kingdom, in a somewhat different light than if it were an enthusiastic member of the Commonwealth. I should add that although Malan is likely to be lukewarm on the Commonwealth affiliation, he and his party are, if anything, more violently opposed to Communism than the United Party.

As you will observe, we are still proceeding step by step in this matter, although the outlook seems favorable. I shall certainly keep you informed of any future foreign policy aspects of the negotiations.

Sincerely yours,

Robert A. Lovett
  1. Not printed.