855A.2546/1–1050: Telegram

The Ambassador in Belgium ( Murphy ) to the Secretary of State

top secret

41. For Under Secretary eyes only. Deptel 22, January 6.2

1. Though I know Department has background fully in mind, I venture first to review it for convenient reference and in order Department can judge my reasoning leading up to tentative recommendations at end of this telegram.

2. As Department is aware, Belgian motivation for talks goes back several years and Department will recall principally negotiations leading to Spaak’s statement in Senate July 3, 1947,3 and Spaak representations to Secretary Marshall October 3, 1947.4 At this time [Page 494] pressure came principally from Communists. By time Secretary Marshall’s reply (Deptel 348, March 9)5 was handed to Spaak Soviet policy had so discredited Communists in Belgium and his position had become sufficiently strong that he seemed satisfied. He remarked internal political aspects of situation were calmer and he was no longer so badgered on question. Though Communist press continued its monotonous attacks other parties did not seem unduly concerned doubtless encouraged by formation of Brussels Pact leading to Atlantic Pact and therefore appreciating that strategic uses for uranium were paramount. After prolonged crisis last summer, new government was formed made up with exception of Prime Minister Eyskens6 and Minister Labor Béhogne,7 of right wing PSC and Liberals with Van Zeeland8 as dominant member of government. Van Zeeland having been out of office twelve years was anxious restore political prestige and was, therefore, more vulnerable than Spaak, and though having wide appreciation and grasp of world affairs, he has perhaps a slightly different point of view than Spaak on subject of uranium as affecting internal political position. As indicated during his visit to Washington9 and as subsequently reported, he wishes to get more for Belgium out of 1944 agreement for his own internal political prestige. On August 18, for first time in Embassy knowledge, a PSC senator joined Communist in sharply questioning government on uranium (Embtel 1145, August 19).10

3. Concurrently wide publicity given Blair House talks11 augmented by apparent attempt keep them secret from world caused considerable worsening of this situation and it may be that statement by Eyskens in Senate last summer that “no secret treaty” on uranium existed may also have adverse influence on position of present government on the subject of uranium (as Embassy pointed out it believes Eyskens would have been well-advised to have merely referred to Spaak’s abovementioned statement of July 3, 1947).

[Page 495]

4. Other event of direct bearing on subject was President’s announcement that Russia has atomic bomb. In minds of many Belgians, including Sengier12 and Robiliart,13 who have hitherto been opposed to building of reactor in Belgium and have done their best to drag their feet to that end, announcement of fact that Russia has bomb has tended to remove objection to building of such reactor, namely, danger that scientific information obtained in Belgium might leak to Russia which they feel now unfortunately has the necessary information.

5. Re Sengier’s letter to Carroll Wilson contained in Embtel 1656, December 9,14 stating Belgian delegation will not deal with commercial contracts, Sengier explained last summer, as previously reported, that he had confidence of Spaak and question remained to be answered did he have confidence of Van Zeeland. Sengier’s position was that 1944 agreement consists of three sections: first and last deal with relations between governments, central portion re commercial contracts being Sengier’s province. Sengier says he has been driving this home to Van Zeeland and he thinks with success; and in that letter states Van Zeeland fully approves manner in which Union Miniere and African Metals have been conducting mining and commercial matters and Van Zeeland feels nothing should be modified on methods or principal dealings with Combined Development Agency.15 I assume Department reference telegram was sent prior to receipt of Embtel 14, January 5,16 quoting Sengier’s letter to Lilienthal January 517 reiterating he was sending Robiliart in his (Sengier’s) place on Belgian delegation to assure that arrangements he had made with Van Zeeland and Wigny18 are duly respected; namely, that existing commercial contracts for raw materials and agreement made on isotopes are not to be interfered with by delegation (I might mention in passing that Sengier’s very emphasis on this point, both in these letters and in conversations with me, may indicate his concern that it may not be easy to hold Van Zeeland to his promise, but this is merely a hunch on [Page 496] my part). In any event, I believe that Sengier will do his utmost to this end.

6. I feel, however, Sengier would be relieved if rise in price satisfactory to Van Zeeland could be arranged since I assume it is on this point which he fears he is open to criticism from Van Zeeland (as indicated by last paragraph of his letter January 5 reading “the question of price will remain permanent difficulty. One could discuss for years to come what is ‘fair’ price to be paid for such rare valuable material. My attitude has always been (see my letter of August 16 to Mr. Wilson19) that we should get a price not lower than price paid to other suppliers for contracts involving more or less comparable top wages. For instance, Canada and possibly South Africa.”)

7. I have no knowledge of these price differentials, but assuming they are significant, I don’t doubt Belgian delegation will use this for bargaining and, hence, inclusion of point four in agenda.20

8. Whether Sengier would like increase in price in interests of his company—and profit motive is rarely absent from Belgian thinking—I do not know, but when he returned from Washington in January of 1949, he expressed himself as entirely satisfied with the new price. Since then, however, he has learned we are making presumably extensive arrangements for obtaining uranium from South African gold tailings presumably at far higher cost and he may feel he is pervious to charge of not having obtained enough from us, possibly combined with mixed feelings at prospect of ceasing to play principal role as supplier of uranium. These feelings are not easy to define and may spring from hurt vanity since I understand we feel he has shown most understanding and cooperative attitude, and I know he has taken pride and pleasure in feeling he was playing important role in cooperating in such paramount factor in our defense and that of western Europe.

[Page 497]

9. Re last paragraph Department reference telegram, I agree political considerations and public relations of Belgian Government (specifically Van Zeeland’s political position) outweigh economic aspects, but if in terms of point four of agenda an increase of unit price is stipulated in contract and surplus deposited to Belgian “public interest fund”, this would, in my opinion, go long way toward ameliorating political aspects. In other words, the political and economic aspects are closely tied together as the Belgian delegation may assert and not without reason.

10. If, as stated by Silvercruys (see memorandum on conversation December 221) this increase were only used “to defray transportation and living expenses of those Belgian scientists and technicians who might come to United States” a reasonable increase would seem to me to be politic. Silvercruys reference to strengthening of “Belgian science in this field” smacks of constructions of reactor. I assume Department still would like for security reasons to prevent the construction of one in Belgium despite Russian bomb.

11. Presumably drain on uranium, should Belgium launch into extensive atomic power project would be a graver consideration. French reactors and reported construction of reactors in Norway and Sweden are increasingly bringing home to Belgians feeling that they, principal suppliers uranium to United States, are missing boat.

12. No doubt French are ambitious to become center for European atomic energy and draw in smaller countries on “joint” effort. While not wishing to give too much emphasis to Joliot’s22 influence and his contention that Europe is running danger of becoming completely subservient to United States in new all-powerful science of atomic energy, I think this idea may have some effect and seems to have been back of Dautry’s23 proposals to European movement cultural conference at Lausanne December 8.24 In this connection, Freson25 mentioned that a French company has succeeded in outmaneuvering an American company and obtained a concession to refine large thorium deposits in [Page 498] India. Embassy previously learned this from Gustafson26 and that same company obtained similar concession Brazil, giving French near monopoly on thorium which offers great prospects in “breeding” as well as near monopoly in rare earths which occur in thorite deposits. Accordingly, the Department has doubtless weighed these factors and may come to conclusion that aiding Belgium in constructing reactor would be means of keeping Belgium out of French atomic orbit and correspondingly free from French requests for uranium; in short divide and rule and cut our possible future uranium losses.

13. In summary, therefore, I think should it develop that (a) proposed “Belgian public interest fund” is for expenses scholars visits to United States, it would be well for us to increase price uranium to this modest end; (b) if we are no longer greatly concerned on secrecy and do not fear Belgian drain on uranium mentioned above, we might well also go as far as to give enough to enable Belgium build or contribute toward building an experimental reactor (having in mind there is already a primitive one in France and more advanced one under construction there and two reported under construction in Scandinavia). The foregoing would, I think, quiet Belgians and the amount they want may not prove excessive. Furthermore, in last analysis, Belgians have the uranium. If they want to build reactor here or in Congo, they eventually will do it with or without our aid and know-how.

14. It will be recalled Van Zeeland suggested possibility building reactor in Congo, but I fear this may not prove workable compromise since it would mean transfer most of Belgium’s very limited number of physicists to that colony.

15. As Gustafson quite rightly suggested during recent visit to Brussels, we could take line that what Belgium contributes in granting lower price than other suppliers of uranium can be considered as Belgian contribution to MDAP for which Belgium might claim credit. I fear, however, though his reasoning is sound, it may unfortunately not adequately meet Van Zeeland’s political problems and aspirations.

16. On balance, therefore, and assuming AEC has adequate funds, I feel if reasonable concession on price plus reasonable amount additional scientific information will satisfy Belgians, this is line to take; but Department will realize I have before me only limited picture as seen from Belgium.

  1. Telegram 22 of January 6 read in part as follows: “In preparing for Belgian talks now scheduled begin Jan 30 Embs views requested what constitutes Belgians main motivation for talks and what their essential objectives are.” (855A.2546/1–650) For documentation on the background of the talks under reference, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, pp. 419 ff.
  2. In the statement under reference, Premier Paul-Henri Spaak stated that during the Second World War, Belgium had concluded arrangements respecting uranium with the United States and the United Kingdom, arrangements under which Belgian interests were safeguarded. For the text of Spaak’s statement, see telegram 1071 from Brussels, July 4, 1947, ibid., 1947, vol. i, p. 825. For text of the Memorandum of Agreement Between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Belgium regarding the control of uranium, September 26, 1944, see ibid., 1944, vol. ii, pp. 10291030.
  3. For memorandum of the Spaak–Marshall conversation of October 3, 1947, see ibid., 1947, vol. i, p. 841.
  4. For text of telegram 348 to Brussels, March 9, 1948, see Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 693.
  5. Dr. Gaston F. Eyskens.
  6. Oscar Béhogne.
  7. Paul Van Zeeland, Belgian Foreign Minister.
  8. In a conversation with the Secretary of State in Washington on September 16, 1949, Van Zeeland indicated that while he did not wish to take up the question of uranium at that time, he reserved the right to do so at some later date (memorandum of conversation, not printed, by Douglas MacArthur, 2nd, Chief of the Division of Western European Affairs; Department of State Atomic Energy Files).
  9. Not printed.
  10. On the evening of July 14, 1949, President Truman met with the Secretaries of State and Defense, the Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, other officials in the Executive Branch, and a Congressional delegation at Blair House to discuss cooperation with the United Kingdom and Canada in the field of atomic energy. For the record of that meeting, see Foreign Relations, 1949, vol. i, p. 476.
  11. Edgar E. B. Sengier, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Union Minière du Haut Katanga.
  12. Herman Robiliart, Union Minière official; deputy to M. Sengier.
  13. Sengier’s letter of December 9, 1949, to Carroll Wilson, General Manager of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, is not printed.
  14. The Combined Development Trust was established by the Agreement and Declaration of Trust, signed by President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill on June 13, 1944; for text, see Foreign Relations, 1944, vol. ii, pp. 10261028. The CDT (subsequently renamed Combined Development Agency) operated under the direction of the United States-United Kingdom-Canadian Combined Policy Committee. Its function was to secure control and insure development of uranium and thorium supplies.
  15. Telegram 14 from Brussels, January 5, is not printed.
  16. Sengier’s letter to David E. Lilienthal, Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, is not printed.
  17. Pierre Wigny, Belgian Minister of Colonies.
  18. Sengier’s letter to Wilson, August 16, 1949, is not printed.
  19. The agenda proposed to the Department of State by the Belgian Embassy on December 2, 1949, read in agreed translation as follows:

    • “1. Determination of the methods whereby Belgium may benefit from the progress made in the industrial utilization of atomic energy, as such progress is achieved.
    • “2. Determination of the means of associating Belgium actively in scientific and technical research to the extent which security and essential military secrets permit.
    • “3. Association of Belgium in all negotiations having to do with the use and distribution of the ore among the contracting parties of the 1944 agreement.
    • “4. Increase of the unit price stipulated in the contract, the surplus being deposited into a Belgian public interest fund.
    • “5. Formulation of a joint declaration on the results of the negotiations.” (Department of State Atomic Energy Files)

  20. The memorandum of the conversation between Baron Silvercruys, Belgian Ambassador in the United States, and Under Secretary of State James E. Webb, December 2, 1949, is not printed.
  21. Professor Frédéric Joliot-Curie, French High Commissioner for Atomic Energy.
  22. Raoul Dautry, Administrator General, French Atomic Energy Commission.
  23. Reference is to the European Cultural Conference in Lausanne, Switzerland, December 9–12, 1949. Among the recommendations of the conference was the establishment of an all-European Institute of Nuclear Physics.
  24. Secretary General of the Belgian Inter-University Institute of Nuclear Physics.
  25. John K. Gustafson, Director of Raw Materials Operations, U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.