855A.2546/2–2250: Telegram

The Secretary of State to the Embassy in Belgium

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243. For the Ambassador from the Secretary. The following personal message is to be given Van Zeeland as soon as possible:1

“Personal. My dear Mr. Foreign Minister:

“In replying to your personal message,2 I have carefully reviewed the various considerations involved in the discussions which began on January 30th. There are certain realities in the situation which I feel need to be mentioned.

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“First, I wish to express my Government’s appreciation as well as my own for the commendable manner in which Belgium has in the past and will, I am sure, in future make its contribution to the common cause of strengthening the security of the Western World. Under the 1944 Agreement Belgium has provided those tonnages of ore which have contributed, in a major way, to the present strength of the United States in the field of atomic weapons. To the extent that the United States is strong in atomic weapons, Belgium’s security is increased. The atomic weapons possessed by the United States contribute to the protection of all members of the North Atlantic Pact. To this end, Belgium has contributed her ore; and the United States has contributed its scientific manpower, its technological skills, its industrial organization, which in monetary terms now totals approximately five billion dollars. In this way, Belgium and the United States have in this field made their best contributions to the common goal of collective security.

“Second, you must be aware of the fact that the atomic energy effort of the United States is directed almost exclusively to the production of atomic weapons. Even in those areas where, as you have seen in the press, efforts are being made to build new types of reactors which may help solve some of the problems inherent in achieving atomic power, the primary emphasis has been on possible military uses, such as propulsion of naval vessels. Atomic power, I can assure you, is a long way off. That fraction of our present program which is concerned with research and development of prototype power piles is so intermingled with highly classified military work as to be incapable of separate identification. Much as it is to be regretted that the hoped for era of atomic power is not now at hand, one must recognize that this is so. Had our earnest endeavors over the last four years to achieve effective international control been successful, it is possible that atomic power would by now have been farther advanced. But in the present state of the world it is evident that our primary concentration and our best efforts must continue to be directed toward advance in the weapons field.

“Third, under section 9 of the 1944 Agreement Belgium will participate on fair and equitable terms in the utilization of uranium for commercial purposes when the United States and the United Kingdom decide to utilize uranium for this purpose. As is evident from the preceding paragraph, the United States and the United Kingdom have not yet arrived at that stage of development of the art at which a decision could be made to utilize atomic energy for commercial purposes. Mindful, however, of the commendable manner in which Belgium has made uranium available to us, we are prepared to render that measure of assistance, presently feasible, which will help to place Belgium in a position to take advantage of commercial applications as they may develop in the future. It is the considered judgment of our technical experts that the special assistance we have suggested would be of substantial help to Belgium in advancing her scientific and technical attainment, thereby placing her in a stronger and more advantageous position with respect to commercial applications as they may develop.

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“Fourth, I am aware that you are faced personally with a difficult problem in view of the forthcoming interpellation in Parliament which I understand is scheduled for March 7. The draft communiqué which follows has been drafted with this problem very much in mind. You will note that the communiqué makes reference to the establishment of continuous consultation through scientific attachés and to future talks. I wish to assure you that the United States looks forward to closer liaison in this matter and will welcome further discussions at a later date in order to examine means whereby a closer association may be brought about as soon as future developments may warrant.

“Fifth, in the light of the foregoing comments I recommend for your consideration the following joint communiqué:

‘Preliminary talks have now been concluded which commenced on January 30th among American, Belgian, and British representatives on matters connected with the Anglo-American-Belgian understanding governing the sale of Congo uranium ores to the United States and the United Kingdom. It is expected that further talks will be held from time to time.

‘The recent discussions were chiefly directed toward the determination of measures by which the United States and the United Kingdom can assist in placing Belgium in a position to participate on fair and equitable terms in the commercial utilization of Congo uranium ores when the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom decide to use these ores for commercial purposes.

‘The remote prospects for atomic power appear to preclude such a decision for a considerable number of years to come. Nevertheless, the three Governments concerned have examined means whereby Belgium can be placed in a position to take advantage of the benefits it is hoped will eventually accrue to the Belgian Government from the understanding referred to above.

‘This understanding came into being at a time when the three signatory countries were engaged to the extent of their available resources in a war of self-defense against the forces of aggression and totalitarianism aimed at the extinction of Western civilization. As a signatory, Belgium contributed in large measure to this common defense. The understanding, which sprang from wartime necessity as a military arrangement, runs until early 1956. It is incorporated in a Memorandum of Agreement dated September 26, 1944, the substance of which is given below:

‘The Belgian Government agreed with the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom as to the desirability during the war against Germany and Japan, as well as in the future, that all uranium ores wherever located should be subject to effective control for the protection of civilization. To this end, the Government of Belgium undertook to insure effective control of such ores located in all territory subject to the authority of Belgium.

‘The Belgian Government also agreed that Congo uranium ores should be made available to the United States and the United Kingdom through commercial contracts. The Belgian Government further undertook to use its best endeavors to supply such [Page 534] quantities of uranium ores as might be required by the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom.

‘To aid in the reopening and development of the Congo uranium properties, the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom undertook to facilitate the delivery to the producing company (the Union Minière du Haut Katanga) of such materials and equipment as the parties to the contracts thought necessary.

‘The arrangements made were subject to the right of Belgium to reserve such reasonable quantities of these ores as might be required for her own scientific research and industrial purposes, except that ores used for the production of power for commercial purposes should be subject to special provisions as outlined below:

  • ‘(a) At such time as the Governments of the United States and of the United Kingdom decide to utilize as a source of energy for commercial purposes ores obtained under this Agreement, the two Governments would admit the Belgian Government to participation in such utilization on equitable terms.
  • ‘(b) The Belgian Government would undertake that, in the event of its contemplating the use of such ores as a source of energy for commercial purposes, it would so use them only after consultation and in agreement with the Governments of the United States and of the United Kingdom.

‘Since 1947, representatives of the three Governments party to the Memorandum of Agreement just described, have consulted informally with one another from time to time on questions connected with (a) and (b) above. In the spring of 1948, the American and British Governments had occasion to assure the Belgian Government of their appreciation for the steadfast manner in which Belgium was carrying out its part of the understanding and of the determination of the United States and the United Kingdom to honor their obligation in connection with commercial application of atomic energy when this became feasible. The United States Government indicated it would welcome representatives of the Belgian Government to review the prospects for commercial application of atomic energy and to discuss matters connected with the use of radioisotopes.

‘In response to this invitation, the Belgian Government sent representatives to Washington, where they conferred during late August and early September of 1948 with officials of the Department of State and the United States Atomic Energy Commission. The British Government was represented at these informal talks.

‘In the course of the talks, experts from the Atomic Energy Commission reviewed for the Belgian representatives the state of progress made toward the commercial application of atomic energy, pointing out that such application seemed a matter of the distant future. It was also stated that the most immediate benefits of atomic energy were to be found in the development of radioisotopes for scientific and medical research and therapy.

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‘Although it was agreed that the time for the implementation of proviso (a) above was still remote, and therefore no assistance at this time was required by its terms, certain areas were suggested in which the United States and the United Kingdom could be of help to Belgium in keeping with the spirit of the 1944 undertakings. The field of radioisotopes, student training, and export licensing of atomic energy equipment purchased by Belgium in the United States were mentioned as examples.

‘In the past year and a half the United States and the United Kingdom have cooperated with Belgium in her development of the use of radioisotopes. The Atomic Energy Commission has given special consideration to Belgian applicants wishing to attend the Oak Ridge training courses in radioisotope techniques. As a result, Belgium ranks first in the number of its nationals to attend. Arrangements were also agreed upon in October 1949 whereby the United States is making available to Belgium valuable assistance in the radioisotope field through the Atomic Energy Commission working with Union Minière as the executive agent of the Belgian Foundation for Scientific Research.

‘The Atomic Energy Commission has also facilitated the visits of a number of Belgian scientists to unclassified areas of its installations. Funds available under the Fulbright Act have been used to defray the transportation expenses of a group of Belgians who came to the United States to attend the Oak Ridge courses and subsequently to pursue their studies at American universities.

‘During his visit to the United States last September, the Belgian Foreign Minister stated that it seemed advisable, in view of the swiftly-moving course of events, to review the provisions of the uranium understanding of 1944, especially with regard to matters concerning commercial applications of atomic energy. The Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom subsequently informed the Belgian Government that they would welcome a resumption of the talks initiated in the late summer of 1948, since they regarded the problems involved as continuing ones which could profitably be subject to periodic review.

‘It was against this background that the recently concluded preliminary talks took place. In these discussions, it was made clear that the prospects for the commercial use of atomic energy are still a matter of the distant future. Despite this fact, the representatives of the three countries agreed that Belgium should take those steps best calculated to prepare her to make use of the advantages it is envisaged will stem from the Anglo-American obligations with respect to commercial applications of atomic energy when such applications become feasible. The American and British representatives expressed the willingness of their respective Governments to cooperate with the Belgian Government toward the formulation and fulfillment of such plans.

‘In discussing measures of assistance which could be taken most effectively at this time, the representatives of the three countries were guided, inter alia, by these considerations: [Page 536]

  • ‘(1) At this time, the military applications of atomic energy, toward which United States and United Kingdom efforts are primarily directed, are technically inseparable from developments which may have commercial uses in the future.
  • ‘(2) It is recognized that under the 1944 arrangement, Belgium will enjoy a special position at such time as the commercial use of atomic energy becomes feasible.

‘In view of these factors and in light of the considered judgment of technical experts, it was decided that the most valuable contribution the United States and the United Kingdom could make for the time being would be assistance directed toward the formation in Belgium of a well-trained corps of scientists and engineers familiar with nuclear physics and with other disciplines which are basic to nuclear technology. To this end, the American and British Governments have agreed to:

  • ‘(a) Assist in placing selected Belgian students for advanced study and research in American and British universities;
  • ‘(b) Facilitate Belgian access to American and British declassified material;
  • ‘(c) Facilitate visits of selected Belgian scientists and engineers to unclassified work being carried out under the auspices of the United States Atomic Energy Commission and the British Ministry of Supply;
  • ‘(d) Assist Belgium to obtain certain equipment and materials needed for research in the scientific fields related to atomic energy;
  • ‘(e) Arrange for closer Belgian participation, as agreed upon from time to time, in the mutual exchange of technical information on the exploration, location, mining, processing and extraction of radioactive ores;
  • ‘(f) Arrange for closer consultation with Belgium concerning the distribution, as between the United States and the United Kingdom, to be made of any shipments from the Belgian Congo of such ores.

‘The three Governments have also agreed that to implement these measures, it would be desirable for the Belgian Government to add to its Embassy staffs in Washington and London officers with appropriate background and training in these scientific fields. These officers would maintain liaison between the official organization in Belgium responsible for the direction of atomic energy activities and the American Atomic Energy Commission and the British Ministry of Supply.

‘The assistance outlined above is regarded as an initial step toward closer cooperation among the three Governments in keeping with the spirit of the 1944 understanding. It is agreed that further talks will be held from time to time with a view toward devising means whereby a closer association may be brought about as soon as future developments warrant.’”

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For the Ambassador

Having in mind forthcoming interpellation in Parliament, Dept urges you stress to Van Zeeland that points of substance contained draft communiqué represent in our view a substantial beginning, beyond commitments under 9a, and is maximum US able to do at this time. Exact wording of course subject to agreed changes. US is prepared examine most sympathetically question of additional assistance as future developments may warrant. Passage of time may very well make this possible. Last paragraph of communiqué designed to foreshadow this possibility. You may, if you deem desirable, mention as example the possibility—not yet actuality—of declassifying design of standard low power research reactor of a type in which the Belgians have indicated an interest.

You may wish suggest Van Zeeland Dept would look with favor his coming to Washington in order to sign communiqué with Secretary of State and British Ambassador.

We consider our proposals contained (a) thru (f) above plus suggestion for liaison genuine help to Belgium. The proposed assistance is within limits set by the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Recent Fuchs matter has brought about indefinite suspension of US-UK-Canadian talks, thus ruling out for some months at least prospect for amendment of the Act from that quarter. In our judgment, any attempt to deal with this matter legislatively at this juncture would in all probability prejudice any prospect of relaxation of provisions of Act. Re para 2 urtel 239 Feb 16,3 if Van Zeeland persists in accepting evaluation from quarters other than duly constituted American and British authorities in this field chances of coming to any meeting of minds most unlikely.

In handing him my personal message, you are authorized to tell Van Zeeland orally that if he finds the joint communiqué acceptable in substance, he can expect our full support on the following:

From the moment future developments or any changes in the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 occur which may make possible further assistance along the lines proposed by Belgium, the United States will give most sympathetic consideration to her wishes.
Once Belgium has been able to define the program she wishes to undertake (explanations given us thus far are quite nebulous) on the basis of the assistance indicated above, the United States is prepared to give sympathetic consideration to making suitable financial contribution toward the support of Belgian activity in this field. The [Page 538] amount of contribution cannot now be indicated in the absence of knowledge as to the size of program Belgium may contemplate.

British here concur in all foregoing, subject:

minor amendments to communiqué not affecting substance, and
confirmation Foreign Office which will be passed British Ambassador Brussels.

  1. In telegram 288 from Brussels, February 24, not printed, Murphy reported that he had delivered the text of the Secretary’s message to Baron Hervé de Gruben, Secretary-General of the Belgian Ministry for Foreign Affairs. De Gruben had indicated that he would transmit the message promptly to Foreign Minister Van Zeeland who was on a short leave of absence at the suggestion of his physician. (855A.2546/2–2450)
  2. Supra.
  3. In paragraph 2 of telegram 239 from Brussels, February 16, not printed, Ambassador Murphy reported that Foreign Minister Van Zeeland had expressed the belief that commercial development of atomic energy was farther advanced than the United States and the United Kingdom had indicated to Belgium. Van Zeeland based this opinion on information which he attributed to “unimpeachable sources outside of Belgium.” (855A.2546/2–1650)