87. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • South African Nuclear Developments, Horn of Africa
  • SALT, Other Arms Control Matters


  • US
  • The Secretary
  • Marshall D. Shulman
  • USSR
  • Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin

SUMMARY: In a personal message from Brezhnev to President Carter, the Soviets voice concern about evidence of further South African steps toward developing and testing nuclear weapons. The Soviets are agreeable to consulting with us in New York on forthcoming US Special Session on Disarmament issues. They also propose resuming consultations on conventional arms transfers in Moscow in later March or early April. Dobrynin said the Somalis had approached the USSR for assistance in bringing about a mediation effort in the Horn. He asked whether Warnke was returning to SALT with new in[Page 294]structions. Dobrynin said he is being called to Moscow for consultations on US-Soviet relations, leaving Washington about March 16.

Ambassador Dobrynin came in at his request March 6, and the following subjects were covered:

1. Dobrynin delivered an oral note (in Russian, with translation attached) from Brezhnev to President Carter on the subject of South African nuclear weapon capabilities. The note cites new Soviet data that work is continuing in South Africa to develop nuclear weapons and prepare test explosions. It asserts that one test site is being completed and another has been started; that an industrial reactor is being built to produce weapons-grade plutonium, and a facility is being planned for the production of enriched uranium.

2. A second oral note2 (in Russian) conveyed Soviet agreement to engage in consultations on the UN Special Session on Disarmament, offering to meet in New York either in the course of the preparatory meeting, April 4–21, or immediately afterwards.

3. A third oral note3 (also in Russian) proposed to continue the consultations on the international sale and transfer of conventional weapons. It proposes the meeting be in Moscow at the end of March or the beginning of April, but expresses willingness to meet at any other place of mutual convenience. The note adds that there will be a change in leadership of the Soviet side; it will be headed by Lev Mendelevich, and his assistant will be P. I. Galkin.

4. Dobrynin informed the Secretary that he was being recalled to Moscow for consultations on the state of US-Soviet relations, and will leave on or about March 16.

5. On the subject of the Horn, Dobrynin said that the Somalis had approached the Soviet Union for assistance in bringing about a mediation effort, but had been told that no negotiations were possible until there had been a Somali withdrawal from the Ogaden. He added that he hoped the Horn problem would soon be over, and that this would help to improve Soviet-American relations. In his side comments, Dobrynin said the Soviet side was by no means happy with the course of events in the Horn, but also made the point that people who thought everything was done in accordance with a master strategic design in Moscow tended to underestimate the degree of improvisation involved. He added that the US seemed to be much more ideologically-inclined than the Soviet Union these days.

6. On SALT, Dobrynin inquired whether Warnke was returning to Geneva with new instructions, and was told that the matter was being [Page 295] considered at a meeting to be held shortly. In response to a further question about current newspaper stories on differences within the Administration on the subject of linkage, the Secretary reaffirmed the President’s intention to move ahead without delay in the SALT negotiations. Dobrynin was cautioned not to put undue emphasis on newspaper reports.


Oral Message From Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev to President Carter 4

We would like to draw your attention once again to the question on which we already had a frank and useful exchange of opinions last August,5 namely, to the question of preventing the realization by the authorities of South Africa of their plans to develop nuclear weapons.

We met with satisfaction your communication concerning steps taken by the United States to exert restraining influence on the government of South Africa. As you have informed us, South African authorities gave assurances to the US government that South Africa would not conduct any nuclear test explosions. It is also known that South African authorities made public statements to that effect. However, competent Soviet organizations have data that work is continued in South Africa to develop nuclear weapons and prepare test explosions. Equipping is being completed of one test site, and construction of another is under way. Information is also available that an industrial reactor is being built in South Africa for producing weapon-type plutonium and, in addition to a small facility already in operation, a new large factory for the production of enriched uranium is planned. Its construction will enhance to a considerable extent the potential of that country to produce nuclear weapons.

In view of the above, a question arises regarding further actions to prevent conducting nuclear tests and developing nuclear weapons by South Africa.

As we understand, possibilities of the United States to exert direct restraining influence upon that country are far from being exhausted. Naturally, the possibilities of the UN Security Council should also be used in this regard. We, of course, would be prepared to consider also [Page 296] other possible steps which, in the opinion of the US government, could bar the access of South Africa to nuclear weapons.

It is obvious that this question is a matter of immediate concern to our countries as permanent members of the Security Council which bear special responsibility for maintaining peace and international security.

It is necessary to take all possible measures in order to prevent the development of nuclear weapons by South Africa, to induce it to accede to the Treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and to place all its nuclear activities under the control of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

I hope, Mr. President, that you will consider my communication with understanding and, on your part, will share with me your thoughts on this question which, as you understand, becomes a matter of urgency.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 3, CV–Dobrynin, 3/6/78. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Shulman; approved by Anderson on March 16. The meeting took place at the Department of State.
  2. Not found attached.
  3. Not found attached.
  4. No classification marking.
  5. See Document 41.