245. Memorandum From Secretary of State Vance to President Carter1


  • Nuclear Cooperation Agreements with Egypt and Israel

We initialed identical nuclear cooperation agreements with Egypt and Israel in August 1976.2 It was our intent at the time to submit these agreements to Congress right away. President Ford, however, subsequently decided to withhold submission.

The agreements have remained in abeyance pending the Administration’s review of our non-proliferation policy and passage of the new non-proliferation law. Over this period we have assured the Egyptians, who have continued to press us on concluding an agreement, that we intended to do so as soon as practical.

Aside from the question of renegotiating our initialed agreements to reflect the requirements of the new law, the Egyptian and Israeli agreements have always been informally “linked” with a tacit understanding that they would be substantially identical and move forward in tandem. Several developments have occurred, however, which make such linkage doubtful.

For its part, Egypt appears ready to comply with the added non-proliferation conditions specified in the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act of 1978, but only so long as we guarantee it equal treatment with any agreement subsequently concluded with Israel. Israel, on the other hand, has not pushed us to conclude an agreement. Moreover, under the law we would insist on safeguards being applied to all of Israel’s existing nuclear facilities (including the unsafeguarded nuclear facility at Dimona). The Israelis have resisted this in the past and will probably continue to do so.

The Israelis remain interested in a nuclear cooperation agreement and they might seek to have you waive the full-scope safeguards re [Page 823] quirements both for the agreement and for export licensing purposes. Both waivers are subject to Congressional veto by concurrent resolution, and the export licensing criterion can only be waived on an annual basis. We do not favor such waivers because of their adverse impact on our entire non-proliferation policy, as well as on our policy in the Middle East.

Moreover, the law prohibits exports to any non-nuclear-weapon state found by the President to have engaged in activities since March 1978 involving nuclear material and having direct significance for the manufacture or acquisition of nuclear explosive devices, unless that state has taken steps which, in the President’s judgment, represent sufficient progress toward terminating such activities. If faced today with a proposed nuclear export to Israel, you might find it necessary, based on current evidence, to determine that the prohibition applied. Again, the law provides a waiver on non-proliferation or U.S. common defense and security grounds, which is subject to concurrent resolution Congressional veto, but we would be reluctant to recommend use of this waiver.

We believe we should now approach Egypt and Israel with identical agreements, which have been revised in accordance with our new law. We expect that this will likely result in an agreement only with Egypt in the foreseeable future. Egypt’s longstanding and favorable attitudes toward non-proliferation and Sadat’s enhanced image in the U.S. appear to make it possible now for us to consider moving ahead separately on an agreement on the assumption that an agreement with Israel will not be ready at the same time. The Egyptian’s concern about “equal treatment” could be handled in the context of an explicit statement that they will receive treatment no less favorable than Israel would receive under any subsequent U.S.-Israeli nuclear cooperation agreement.

Israel, or its American supporters, may oppose a nuclear cooperation agreement with Egypt for a variety of reasons, but especially if Israel sees little prospect for an agreement with us because of our new requirements. The consideration of a separate agreement with Egypt, therefore, could become a contentious issue on the Hill which we must be prepared to deal with if we are to fulfill our promises to Egypt. In addition, it is possible that criticism could come from other sources for initiating nuclear cooperation with non-parties to the NPT in a volatile region.

The United States’ commitment to nuclear cooperation with Egypt has been reaffirmed on several occasions, along with assurances that we will move forward with the agreement as expeditiously as possible. In this latter regard we are behind schedule in providing the Egyptians with our suggestions for revising or re-negotiating the existing agree [Page 824] ment to conform to the requirements of the new law. Ambassador Eilts is concerned that the delays which have already occurred in concluding an agreement are undermining Egyptian confidence in our intentions on an issue which they view as a major bilateral concern, especially when they appear ready to agree with our non-proliferation policies and are willing to concede our requirements. Egypt and Israel already agreed in 1976 to much more stringent controls, excluding safeguards, than exist in our other agreements.

In our judgment it is desirable to avoid delays on moving toward concluding an agreement with Egypt. In this context, we need your agreement that we will vigorously support an agreement with Egypt recognizing the possibility that it could become a controversial issue in Congress. No time is an ideal time for this, but the treaty signing seems likely to provide the best atmosphere in which to send this to Congress. If we do not move soon, we will not be able to complete Congressional review this session.

If you agree to move forward quickly on the re-negotiations, we would submit to both Israel and Egypt, within a month, identical draft revised agreements for their consideration. We will also indicate our willingness to send a U.S. negotiating team to conclude agreements at an early mutually convenient time.

Under our current perceptions, we expect that the agreement with Egypt could be ready for submission to Congress during the current session. We will, however, have some control over the timing of various steps in the progress toward concluding an agreement. We also hope that the issue will be insulated to a large extent from domestic politics since our position on both the Egyptian and Israeli agreements will be based squarely on our non-proliferation policy, the requirement of the law and the energy needs of the two countries.


That you agree to move forward quickly with renegotiating the nuclear cooperation agreements with Egypt and Israel, including a provision for equal treatment for both countries, understanding that Egypt will expect us to support our agreement with them even if we do not have a parallel one with the Israelis.3

  1. Source: Carter Library, Brzezinski Donated Material, Subject File, Box 20, Alpha Channel (Miscellaneous)—5/79–8/79. Secret. Carter initialed “C” at the top of the memorandum, indicating that he saw the document. The memorandum was found attached to a May 7 covering memorandum from Brzezinski to Vance, informing Vance of Carter’s approval of the memorandum and instructing him that it should “be held very closely and regarded as particularly sensitive.” (Ibid.)
  2. On August 4–5, 1976, Egypt and Israel initialed identical agreements with the United States to purchase atomic reactor plants which had been promised to both countries by President Nixon in June 1974. (“Egypt, Israel Agree to Buy Atomic Reactors From U.S.,” The Washington Post, August 6, 1976, p. A8)
  3. Carter approved the recommendation, adding the handwritten notation: “Don’t let Israel or a few Congressmen get into a position of controlling or vetoing our action. J.”