267. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union and the U.S. Mission at Geneva1

68654. Geneva for Ambassador Flowerree2 only. Subject: Sverdlovsk BW Incident.

1. (Secret-entire text).

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2. Summary and action requested. There is disturbing evidence pointing to the release of lethal biological agent as the cause of numerous deaths in Sverdlovsk, USSR, in April–May 1979. The intelligence community’s present conclusions and report have been sent to you septel.3 Ambassador Watson is instructed to raise this matter with Deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko as soon as possible. Ambassador Flowerree should inform Ambassador Issraelyan4 of the demarche promptly after it is made in Moscow. End summary.

3. We are deeply concerned about the incident in Sverdlovsk in April 1979 and its implications. We wish to make a serious effort to discuss this issue bilaterally in accordance with Article V of the Biological Weapons (BW) Convention.5 Speed is essential in view of the end of the BW Convention Review Conference on March 21, and our desire to give the Soviets as much time as possible to give us a considered response. It is in both our interests to have at least a preliminary response before the end of the Review Conference, since we will have to state at the conference that we have raised a compliance issue.

4. Ambassador Watson should personally make the following points as soon as possible to Korniyenko or, should he be unavailable, to another official on the First Deputy Minister or Deputy Minister level. Points should be provided in the form of a non-paper as well.

A.—The United States and the Soviet Union have a continuing interest in sustaining our mutual efforts to control the arms race.

B.—I have been instructed to raise a matter which potentially has extremely serious implications for the future of arms control negotiations between our countries and more specific bearing on the Biological Weapons Convention.

C.—Although no public announcement was made by Soviet authorities, for some time we have been aware of reports of an extraordinary outbreak of disease which was apparently pulmonary anthrax, which caused numerous deaths in Sverdlovsk in April 1979, and which resulted in the establishment of a quarantine.

D.—We have now received further information which indicates that this extraordinary outbreak appears to have been caused by the release of a quantity of anthrax agent exceeding that justified for prophy[Page 771]lactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes and that it originated at a military facility in Sverdlovsk.

E.—Article V of the Biological Weapons Convention provides that the parties shall consult and cooperate with one another in solving any problems which may arise. In accordance with that Article, the US Government is asking that the Soviet Government consult and cooperate with it and provide information to explain this outbreak of disease in Sverdlovsk in April 1979.

F.—We want to deal with this matter in the same serious way in which we have consulted on a number of questions involving compliance with arms control agreements in recent years. Because of the implications regarding compliance with the Convention itself and for other arms control negotiations, we are raising this matter directly with you and asking for prompt and full consultations. A simple denial in response to this present US approach will not advance the situation and will not serve our mutual interests.

G.—Since we are now in the process of consulting with you on a compliance related question, we will make a statement before the Review Conference concludes indicating that we are pursuing consultations in accordance with Article V. Any response you can make to our request for consultation and cooperation under Article V before the end of the Review Conference will be taken into account in determining the character of the statement we will make.

H.—Obviously, under these circumstance we would not be prepared to approve language in the final document of the Review Conference which states that no questions have arisen relating to compliance.

5. Embassy Moscow should inform Ambassador Flowerree immediately after Ambassador Watson sees Korniyenko. Ambassador Flowerree should then inform Ambassador Issraelyan of the demarche, and repeat points made in para 4 above.

6. For Geneva: We will provide additional guidance on RevCon and consultations with allies.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P990025–0588. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Mark Palmer (PM/DCA) and Martin McLean (EUR/SOV); cleared by Aaron, Robert Martin (INR/PMT), Brement, Shulman, Earle, Peter Wilson (S/P), Walter Slocombe (DUSD/PP), J. Taylor (S/S–O), John Pustay (JSC), R. McCrory (CIA), Kahan, and Barry; approved by Christopher.
  2. Charles Flowerree, U.S. Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament.
  3. Telegram 68653 to Moscow and Geneva, March 15, is in National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880025–0592.
  4. Victor Issraelyan, Soviet Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament.
  5. The Biological Weapons Convention, which was signed in April 1972 and entered into force in March 1975, prohibits the development and stockpiling of biological weapons that are intended for harmful use. Article V states that parties will work together in solving any problems pertaining to biological weapons that arise as a result of the convention.