460.008/1–1651: Circular airgram

The Secretary of State to Certain Diplomatic and Consular Offices 2


Depcirgam Aug 16, 1948, 12:50 p. m. (copies of ref airgram were sent for info to those Missions receiving this airgram as indicated at the conclusion hereof)3 described the necessity for establishing export controls in certain Western European countries to prevent the shipment of atomic energy items to destinations within the Soviet bloc, including China. The suggested controls were similar to those already in effect in the US and which the UK and Canada were then about to adopt.

The request for cooperation in effecting these parallel controls was limited to those WE countries where the items proposed for control were domestically produced. The program, as it is now in effect in the US, Canada, the UK and most of Western Europe, is based on two lists known as AEC Lists A and B compiled by the Atomic Energy Commission.

List A comprises atomic energy items subject to formal export regulations issued publicly by the Atomic Energy Commission pursuant to its responsibilities under the Atomic Energy Act of 1946. Included in this List are atomic energy raw materials such as all forms of uranium and thorium metals and compounds; facilities capable of producing fissionable material such as nuclear reactors, isotope separation equipment and electronuclear machines including cyclotrons, betatrons, synchrotrons, etc; and other directly related facilities such [Page 686]as radiation detection instruments and their components, mass spectrometers and mass spectrographs including components, leak detectors, and vacuum diffusion pumps of certain dimensions. List A is an unclassified document.

List B includes those items which have some general industrial application but which also have utility in the atomic energy field. Export of these items from the US is controlled by the Atomic Energy Commission in collaboration with the Department of Commerce through use of the licensing authority of the latter, supplemented by the voluntary compliance of US manufacturers.

List B contains such items as various forms and compounds of beryl, certain fluorine compounds, artificial graphite, certain types of diffusion pump oils, rare earth metals and compounds, heavy water, various types of vacuum pumps, induction furnaces, vacuum gauges, etc. This List has never been published, and has been handled on a restricted basis since wide dissemination is considered undesirable. Our Missions concerned, however, have been authorized to make this List available on a confidential basis to the authorities of govts to which they are accredited.

AEC Lists A and B should not be confused with either US Lists 1A and 1B or International Lists 1, 2 and 3 covering the control of strategic and industrial items which would contribute to the Soviet military potential. The handling of Lists 1A and 1B as a part of the negotiations with Western European countries for control of East-West trade was at first a prime responsibility of the Economic Cooperation Administration and more recently of the Department.4 The International Lists are those accepted by most of the Atlantic Pact countries working together in this field through the Paris Consultative Group and its working committee known as the Coordinating Committee (COCOM). Although some of the items on AEC Lists A and B are also included on the East-West trade lists referred to above, the control program involving the AEC Lists has been and is being handled by the Department in cooperation with the Atomic Energy Commission on a separate basis.

The attainment of a complete embargo to Soviet destinations of all items on both AEC Lists A and B has become all the more essential in view of the critical international situation arising from the Korean war. The fact that the Soviets have been able to produce an atomic explosion makes particularly significant any items exported to the Soviet bloc which could further the Russian atomic energy program.

The Department, therefore, is taking preliminary steps with a view toward persuading those WE countries which have already instituted some form of export controls over domestically produced atomic energy [Page 687]items, to expand their controls to cover atomic energy items entering those countries for transshipment purposes. If, as anticipated, the countries in question do take the necessary action to prevent the possible transshipment of atomic energy items through their respective jurisdictions to the Soviet bloc, it follows that the Soviets may well seek transshipment channels through other countries where no controls presently exist. Thus the object of this airgram is to request each recipient Mission listed for action at the conclusion hereof to determine with respect to its particular country:

Whether a transshipment problem as described above already exists or is likely to exist in future;
If so, whether the establishment of transshipment controls by the govt concerned would be feasible.

No formal approach on this subject to a govt should be made now, although a Mission at its discretion may sound out govt officials informally and discreetly to the extent it is felt necessary for reporting to the Department on the two questions raised above. (Please report by priority despatch marked “For the Office of the Secretary, S/AE”.)

In the event that controls in a particular country do seem indicated, the Department will instruct the Mission to make the necessary approach and will furnish it with copies of the complete AEC Lists A and B. It is requested that action be taken on this airgram as promptly as possible.5

  1. Sent to 32 posts for action and to 26 posts for information.
  2. Foreign Relations, 1948, vol. i, Part 2, p. 739. The list of missions is not printed.
  3. For documentation on East-West trade, see pp. 993 ff.
  4. The replies to this circular were summarized and compiled in a memorandum of June 6, 1951, prepared in the office of Mr. R. Gordon Arneson, Special Assistant to the Secretary of State for Atomic Energy Affairs. The memorandum, not printed, noted that European posts generally had reported that transshipment controls might be feasible, whereas posts in the Middle East and Far East generally did not consider such controls a realistic possibility. (Atomic Energy Files, Lot 57 D 688)