287. Memorandum From the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Ford1


  • FRG Reactor Sale to the USSR

The US has refused to grant an exception in the International Coordinating Committee (COCOM) which would permit a West German firm to sell a nuclear power reactor to the USSR. Nuclear reactors are on the COCOM embargo list and, under the COCOM unanimity rule, the US has an effective veto on granting an exception. Our position in COCOM has been to condition approval of the FRG application on acceptance by the Soviet Union of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards on the reactor. At our request, Chancellor Schmidt asked the Soviet leaders in Moscow last October to accept IAEA safeguards on the reactor, but the Soviets refused, arguing that safeguards are not required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty for weapons states. All other COCOM members are prepared to approve the FRG reactor sale.

The sale of this reactor to the USSR is of particular importance to the FRG because part of the generated power would be transmitted to West Berlin and the FRG. Not only would this arrangement help to satisfy a need for more power in West Berlin but it would also involve Soviet participation in a tangible link between Berlin and the FRG. Schmidt, who has mentioned this project to you, personally attached great importance to it, as do Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders who have undertaken to negotiate with Poland and the GDR the requisite rights-of-way for the power transmission.

The question is whether we should continue to insist on safeguards and block the sale or modify our stand and grant the exception. [Typeset Page 886] The NSC Verification Panel has prepared an analysis and options paper dealing with this issue (Tab B).

The Strategic Issue

The strategic issue is very largely confined to such indirect assistance as the proposed sale might provide to Soviet military programs through transfer of western technology. Soviet stockpiles and production of fissionable material are considered more than adequate for both military and civil requirements. The probability of diversion of the fissionable reactor products to Soviet military programs is therefore considered to be very low.

The technology involved in the FRG reactor is unclassified and dated (pre-1968). However, if the FRG sale becomes a precedent for further sales of reactors of a more advanced design, there is some concern that the interrelationship between commercial and military nuclear systems technology could permit, through person-to-person contact over a lengthy period of time, inadvertant Soviet access to information which could be helpful to them—particularly to their naval nuclear program. But for this particular reactor sale, there is no real concern about the transfer of any significant technology or know-how.

The Safeguards Issue

The most important point, however, is that even if there were a technology transfer problem, insisting on safeguards would not solve it. The acceptance of IAEA safeguards by the USSR as a condition of sale would have no significant effect in reducing or controlling the risk that unclassified but strategically sensitive technology and engineering know-how would be gained by the Soviets.

Our national policy both in COCOM and our own nuclear export programs has been to require the application of IAEA safeguards to all nuclear sales, including nuclear weapon states, even though the latter are not required to accept safeguards under the NPT. We have felt, inter alia, that this approach reduces the discriminatory aspects of the NPT to which many non-nuclear weapons states object. However, since the purpose of COCOM is specifically to protect western strategic interests by common agreement on embargoes to Communist countries, it is probably unsupportable logically and politically to attempt to obtain adherence to United States policies by other western nations through COCOM.

Agency Positions (Tab C)

ERDA has no objection to the FRG sale provided safeguards are applied.

DOD concluded that the technology involved would probably constitute a minimal threat to national security, but DOD would none[Typeset Page 887]theless condition approval of the export both on acceptance of safeguards and completion of a study of the broader implications of nuclear trade with the USSR.

ACDA has not made specific recommendations but urges that our position on the reactor sale be consistent with our objectives at, and timed with respect to our actions in, the nuclear suppliers conference.

CIA believes that the adverse impact on U.S.–FRG relations of a U.S. veto outweighs the substantive dangers of technology transfer, diversion, or any compromise of our non-proliferation stand.

State recommends a modification of existing U.S. policy within COCOM so as to require the acceptance of IAEA safeguards by the recipient country only in cases where the nuclear export concerned would create a substantial risk of diversion of fissionable materials to non-peaceful uses. The practical effect of the recommended change in policy would be to remove the IAEA safeguards requirements as a condition of U.S. agreement in COCOM to the export of nuclear power reactors or slightly enriched fuel to the Soviet Union, but to retain it in the case of all such sales to Communist non-nuclear weapon states. The PRC is a special case since it is a weapon state but does not possess a substantial plutonium production capability. The proposed approach does raise the possibility that some future nuclear exports might pose different risks vis-à-vis the PRC than in the USSR, and hence result in “discriminatory” treatment. However, this does not appear likely to arise in the foreseeable future and could be handled on a case-by-case basis.

For the specific FRG reactor case at hand, State recommends that there be further bilateral discussions with the FRG in which we would urge them to explore with the Soviet Union some arrangement under which the substance of safeguards would be realized without actual inspection on Soviet territory. However, State does not propose that this arrangement should be a U.S. condition for COCOM approval.


I believe we are in an untenable position in blocking the FRG sale. We should, however, require the USSR to supply the uranium for the fuel and to provide a peaceful uses assurance, which is consistent with the COCOM practice regarding end-use assurance. For our more general policy in COCOM, we should insist upon IAEA safeguards as a condition of export only where the risk of diversion of fissionable materials can be persuasively argued to exist (always in the case of non-nuclear weapons states). Where other strategic concerns such as technology transfer justified a veto, we would continue to disapprove COCOM exceptions.

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In withdrawing our COCOM veto we will face some concern from our own nuclear industry that a precedent is being established whereby European reactors can be sold to the USSR without safeguards while our domestic regulations still require a similar U.S. sale to be safeguarded. To consider this problem a review is needed of our present policy toward nuclear exports to Communist countries. The draft NSDM approves the FRG sale and directs such a study.


That you approve the NSDM at Tab A.

  1. Summary: Kissinger requested Ford’s approval of U.S. acquiescence in the sale of a FRG nuclear reactor to the USSR.

    Source: Ford Library, NSC Institutional Files (H-Files), Box 60, NSDM 298—FRG Reactor Sale to the USSR. Secret. Sent for action. Tab A is Document 288. Attached but not published is Tab B, an undated paper entitled, “Options Paper—Proposed FRG Nuclear Reactor Sale to USSR”; and Tab C, consisting of memoranda from ERDA Administrator Robert Seamans, Clements, Acting ACDA Director J. F. Lehman, Colby, and Ingersoll, May 14, 14, 12, 12, and 16, respectively. A stamped notation on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. Ford initialed his approval of Kissinger’s recommendation. In October 1974, Schmidt and Kissinger exchanged correspondence about this sale; both letters are in telegram 233648 to Bonn, October 23, 1974. (Ibid., National Security Adviser, Presidential Country Files for Europe and Canada, Box 6, Germany—State Department Telegram from SECSTATE—NODIS (1))