152. Memorandum of Conversation1



New York, September-October 1966


  • Non-Proliferation Agreement (Part IV of IV)2
[Page 369]


  • US
    • The Secretary
    • Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, US Rep to UN
    • Ambassador William Foster,ACDA
    • Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson,S/AL
    • Ambassador Foy Kohler, Amb. to Moscow
    • Mr. William D. Krimer, OPR/LS, Interpreter
  • USSR
    • Andrei A. Gromyko, Minister of Foreign Affairs
    • Ambassador Nikolai Fedorenko, Ambassador to UN
    • Ambassador Anatoliy Dobrynin, Ambassador to US
    • Ambassador Alexey Roschin, Ambassador Disarmament Committee
    • Mr. Lev Mendelevitch, Deputy Delegate to UN
    • Mr. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

The Secretary raised the question of reaching an agreement on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He said that we believed very strongly that this problem was most urgent and important. The United States was opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons to countries not presently in possession of such weapons. We also believed that the Soviet Union was opposed to such proliferation. We had never discussed any arrangements providing for the delivery of nuclear weapons into the hands of any other state, neither in NATO nor anywhere else. This position of the US was really very old. Because of the very nature of these weapons we were determined to prevent their proliferation. We were somewhat puzzled over the difficulty of reaching agreement on this subject; we regarded the problem as being urgent and as one in which the passage of time was making it more and more difficult to come to an effective agreement. This was not really a problem between the United States and the Soviet Union. The true importance of the problem dealt with those states which did not now possess nuclear weapons, but were desirous of moving in the direction of acquiring nuclear capability. As time elapsed more and more obstacles were being raised by such non-nuclear countries. Some such states now say that they would not join in a non-proliferation agreement unless it also provided for agreement between nuclear countries for steps toward nuclear disarmament. While this in itself is desirable it should not be a condition of reaching agreement on non-proliferation. Some countries, such as India, for example, state that they must reserve the right to carry out nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes; well, if you have that capability you also have the capability of using a nuclear bomb. As Mr. Gromyko knew, some non-nuclear countries have said that they could not participate in a non-proliferation agreement unless they had nuclear guarantees from nuclear countries in the event of an attack. The Secretary thought that difficulties of this type will keep on growing with time. In the meanwhile, we know that some countries are, as it were, “seven months pregnant.” We thought that toward the end of the Geneva negotiations we had moved toward the [Page 370]prospect of an agreement between our two countries.3 At one of the last meetings Ambassador Roschin had said that the transfer of nuclear weapons to non-nuclear countries was the real heart of the matter. We agree that this is so. In the past a variety of issues had been injected into the negotiations which had nothing whatever to do with non-proliferation. But in the recent discussion between Mr. Fisher and Amb. Roschin, the Secretary felt that there was a possibility of moving toward an agreement.4 He wanted to emphasize the urgency and the danger involved in the time factor. A non-proliferation agreement was clearly in the interest of both countries; in this respect they had common interests. Perhaps a part of the difficulty consisted in both countries having become “frozen” to the texts of the proposed agreement; perhaps we could find new language to close the gap, which would offer the possibility of reaching agreement. We have not discussed this matter with our allies and any contacts between the two countries would have to be carried on on the basis of complete discretion; otherwise nothing could be accomplished. The Secretary would be glad to hear from Mr. Gromyko whether he thought Ambassadors Roschin and Foster could find some new language which might open the door to agreement. He was greatly concerned over the increasing difficulties presented by long delay in reaching agreement.

Mr. Gromyko said that non-proliferation was an old question, which had been discussed at great length, and yet, if the Secretary had not raised it at this meeting, he would have done so himself because of its importance and because it concerned all countries, nuclear as well as non-nuclear. We had already lost a great deal of time with detrimental consequences. Thus, for example, just one year ago the foreign minister of India had discussed non-proliferation matters in a very timid manner, whereas today India was taking a stronger position;5 the Secretary said he had noted the same thing. Later this point of view would become even more widespread and this could also be seen in the 18-Nation Disarmament Committee. Not only India, but other states also are beginning to tie non-proliferation to other questions such as halting the production of fissionable material, etc. The Secretary knew that if non-proliferation was tied to such matters there might not be any treaty at all. Mr. Gromyko wondered whether India and others proposing such tie-ins were serious or not, and whether a treaty with broad participation would be possible in view of such attitudes. He, too, therefore believed that there was no time to be lost in reaching agreement. As concerns the Soviet Government, [Page 371]it was ready to sign a treaty banning direct and indirect proliferation of nuclear weapons. He wanted to ask the question very clearly, whether the US was ready to say so in the treaty. He defined what he meant by saying that the treaty must contain a prohibition against non-nuclear countries producing or receiving nuclear weapons directly or indirectly. Nuclear countries must be forbidden to transfer nuclear weapons into the national hands of any non-nuclear country, directly or indirectly. He added that the Secretary knew what he meant by the word “indirectly.” He meant by that transfer of nuclear weapons through an alliance. If the treaty could contain such a prohibition, he would think that the major part of the difficulties was already behind us. It was true that there were some other points to be discussed also, but he did not now want to do so, they could be discussed later. He asked the Secretary to clarify the US position on these points and added that these questions should not be regarded as a matter in which one country would lose something while another gained, since both countries were equally interested in closing the door to nuclear proliferation. The problem was far too serious for considerations of tactics or prestige to be given any importance at all. This crucial problem affected the interests of nuclear and non-nuclear states alike.

In reply the Secretary stated categorically that as far as the United States was concerned, we shall not transfer nuclear weapons to non-nuclear countries; we shall not assist any non-nuclear country to develop or fire nuclear weapons; American nuclear weapons would be fired at the command of the President of the United States exclusively. If the United States joined in an alliance arrangement, nuclear weapons would still be fired only at the command of the President of the United States. If the Secretary understood Mr. Gromyko’s question concerning the transfer of nuclear weapons correctly, his answer was an unqualified yes, and Ambassadors Roschin and Foster could discuss the language with a view to eliminating any possible hidden misunderstanding. He again emphasized the point that if this was merely a question between our two countries, we would not need a treaty to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The very essence of the situation made it clear that both countries must be opposed to the appearance of nuclear powers; even the present five were too many. Mr. Gromyko interrupted to say that even one was one too many. The Secretary agreed and blessed Bernard Baruch for having seen this fact in his time.6 He said that if the US and the USSR could reach agreement on a treaty, while they would still be unable to force other countries to sign it, they would be in a much better position to influence them to do so. He pointed out that many of the arguments used by non-nuclear countries against non-proliferation [Page 372]were merely contrived pretexts, designed to hold their positions open for future negotiating purposes. He did not accept such arguments as genuine. The Secretary went on to say that he could not see why our two countries could not agree about the heart of the matter and then put their heads together to see what could be done to make other countries, which were presently merely “flirting,” sign the treaty.

Foreign Minister Gromyko asked for clarification. The Secretary had said that without the US Government, indeed, without orders from the President of the United States personally, American nuclear weapons could not be fired. Mr. Gromyko said that this was not the question here, although this, too, raised some other questions he would prefer to leave for another occasion. The main problem was to find out where we now stood. The Soviet Union proposed that the treaty prohibit non-nuclear countries from manufacturing and receiving into their national hands nuclear weapons from nuclear countries and further that they not be given access to nuclear weapons through blocs, alliances or military organizations. Conversely nuclear countries were to be forbidden to transfer nuclear weapons into the national hands of non-nuclear countries or to grant non-nuclear countries access to nuclear weapons through blocs, alliances or military organizations. Did the Secretary agree that these two conditions must be reflected in a non-proliferation treaty, or not? It seemed to Mr. Gromyko that these two conditions, concerning direct and indirect transfer must be included in such a treaty. He wanted to ascertain that position of the United States in this respect at the present time. He knew that the US was interested in a non-proliferation treaty and he was sure the Secretary also knew that the Soviet Union was interested in it. He was only trying to tie what the Secretary had said to the language of the proposed treaty.

In reply the Secretary asked Mr. Gromyko to go directly to the heart of the matter and to deal with it clearly. Unfortunately during the past two or three years a great deal of theology had accumulated around the use of certain terms, such as “give, dispose of, turn over to, contribute to the ability of non-nuclear powers to obtain the technology required” etc. The situation, on the other hand, was very clear. We should try to return to language which would cut through words and misunderstandings. We ought to see if such language could be found.

Mr. Gromyko said that he did not believe the difficulty to be a matter of theology or semantics only. He would ask the question in a different way. There had been plans in existence for the creation of a multilateral nuclear force or an Atlantic nuclear force, mixed manning of ships bearing nuclear weapons, etc. The Soviet Union regarded all such forces as being a form of access to nuclear weapons by non-nuclear powers. The Secretary was surely better informed than he as to the plans and status of such forces, but all of them, in the Soviet view, represented access of non-nuclear [Page 373]countries to nuclear weapons. The United States maintained that this was not the case, that you did not grant the Federal Republic of Germany or any other country access to nuclear weapons. Therefore he now asked whether these plans are still in existence or not, whether any plans the USSR considered to represent access are under consideration. Since the Secretary did not keep the Soviet Union informed of such plans and since the press also was not informed, he did not know. If there were no such plans in existence and if the United States was willing to accept a ban on direct and indirect proliferation, the Soviet Union would be fully satisfied and by these provisions in the treaty all loopholes would have been closed. It was this question that needed to be clarified. It was on this question that we stumbled two or three years ago and we have not been able to move ahead since. The Soviet Union was convinced that the United States would not lose by a non-proliferation agreement and Mr. Gromyko was willing to believe that the US was not interested in proliferation and that it did not dispute the Soviet Union’s interest in reaching a non-proliferation agreement. Why, then, could not a way be found to do so?

The Secretary replied that the US could not make the USSR the 16th member of NATO with veto power at the NATO table any more than the USSR could admit the US with veto power to the Warsaw Pact. What the two countries could agree to was a clear and precise ban on the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The United States was willing to sign an agreement not to transfer nuclear weapons into the control of non-nuclear countries, not to put any non-nuclear country in a position to fire nuclear weapons, to give assurances that such American weapons would be fired only at the order of the President of the United States, and not to help any other country acquire the technology required to produce nuclear weapons or to assist any other country in firing them; we had demonstrated our good faith in this respect by our attitude to France’s nuclear tests in the Pacific. The Secretary suggested that between now and the meeting scheduled for Saturday evening (September 24, 1966)7 Ambassadors Roschin and Foster and any advisers they wanted to assist them attempt to work out a text acceptable to both sides. The Secretary added that he had not mentioned further talks with the USSR to our allies at Geneva simply because we did not then think that we had come close enough to resolving the difficulties. If anything needed to be said now it would only be that the US and the USSR were discussing the very heart of the problem.

Ambassador Foster added that the Soviet Union had apparently been haunted by the specter of the FRG; yet, we had no intention of giving the Germans access to nuclear weapons for this would be contrary to [Page 374]the philosophy the US had been guided by for the past twenty years, namely that only we had the right to fire American nuclear weapons. We have no intention to give up this national control and we would not help any non-nuclear country obtain nuclear weapons, for we believe it to be contrary to our interest to increase the number of nuclear powers. The matter of reaching agreement on non-proliferation is most urgent, for the price of obtaining other countries’ consent keeps on going up day to day. Now may very well be our last chance to work out an agreement.

Mr. Gromyko restated his position to the effect that a general statement of intentions, without more precise definition, concrete obligations, would lead to a variety of interpretations of a specific act on the part of a signatory country. The US would tend to interpret its own acts one way and the Soviet Union another, and vice versa. We would then find ourselves in a trap and such a treaty would have been stillborn. Therefore it was not enough to prohibit just in a general way the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It would also be necessary to define channels, forms, concepts, etc. We should attempt to put this more precisely in the text of the treaty. This is a problem, which must be solved, no matter who puts their heads together.

The Secretary proposed that this question be considered again by looking at some language to be drafted before the meeting Saturday evening and Mr. Gromyko agreed.

The Secretary further proposed that the press merely be told that some preliminary discussions on questions of mutual interest had been held at the present meeting. Mr. Gromyko agreed.

  1. Source: Department of State, Conference Files: Lot 67 D 586, CF 84. Secret; Exdis. No drafting information appears on the source text. Approved in S on September 26. The conversation was held at the Waldorf Towers. Secretary Rusk and Foreign Minister Gromyko headed their respective delegations to the opening of the U.N. General Assembly.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 151.
  3. The Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee met in Geneva June 14-August 25.
  4. The discussions between Fisher and Roschin have not been further identified.
  5. The discussion in 1965 by Indian Foreign Minister Sardar Swaran Singh and the current Indian position on nonproliferation have not been further identified.
  6. See footnote 5, Document 97.
  7. For the record of the Rusk-Gromyko meeting on September 24, see Document 153.