287. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in South Africa1

188207. Subject: Soviet Demarche on Nuclear Weapons Development by SAG.

[1.] Summary. USSR has made demarches to USG, HMG, GOF, and FRG concerning a nuclear weapon development program by the SAG. Demarche was followed by article on TASS wire alleging SAG about to test a nuclear weapon. Ambassador is asked express U.S. concern at appropriate level of SAG. End summary.

2. Soviet Charge Vasey made oral demarche here on August 62 at which time he stated that the SAG is completing work on the creation of a nuclear weapon and that an underground testing facility has been built in the Kalahari for a weapons test. Soviet Charge expressed concern at these developments and asked the USG to use its influence with the SAG to get the SAG to refrain from any test as well as halt its program to develop a nuclear weapon. Charge referred to forthcoming TASS statement on subject; statement moved on TASS wire August 8. We understand that similar demarches were made to HMG, GOF, and FRG.

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3. Soviet approach called attention of USG, as a member of the Security Council bearing a responsibility for the maintenance of peace, to the completion of work on a nuclear weapon by SAG and charged that test area in the Kalahari is practically ready for underground experiments. Soviet Government believes possession of nuclear weapon by South Africa would aggravate situation in Africa, increase danger of the use of nuclear weapons, and provide justification for other countries to develop nuclear weapons. Soviets pointed out that if further nuclear non-proliferation occurs, world opinion will question value of NPT. They noted that South Africa’s nuclear capability is due to the help of other (unnamed) states. Soviets stated that this is a matter of extreme importance and urged USG to use channels at its disposal to deter the SAG from developing or testing a nuclear weapon.

4. Ambassador, or in his absence Charge, is requested to express USG concern about the Soviet allegation at appropriate level of SAG, perhaps to Foreign Secretary Brand Fourie. Regardless of accuracy of Soviet charge, we want to be on record as having missed no opportunities to caution SAG on potentially grave consequences of developing nuclear device. Ambassador should draw on following talking points:

—As you know, the Soviets have charged publicly that the SAG is about to test a nuclear device. You should also know that the Soviets have made a more specific charge to us in private, viz that the SAG has developed an underground facility in the Kalahari for the purpose of underground nuclear testing.

—Although we recognize the Soviets will seek any propaganda opportunity to serve their own ends, in light of the specificity of the charge, the fact that it was raised privately with us prior to its public release, and the close coordination of demarches with other Western governments, the US cannot dismiss such an allegation without an explanation from the SAG.

—The administration considers the proliferation of nuclear weapons to be a major risk to international peace and stability and is determined to do everything in its power to prevent a further spread of nuclear weapons capabilities. For this reason, the US would consider it a matter of gravest concern if there were any shred of truth to the Soviet allegation.

—We would like your comment on Soviet allegation. If there is any substance to the Soviet allegation, this would be a matter of grave concern to the USG. If there is no substance, it would be in your own interest to make a public statement refuting reports that SAG is developing a nuclear weapon. Announcement of SAG willingness to adhere to NPT would be the best way to allay fears that South Africa is moving toward a nuclear weapons program.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770287–0051. Secret; Immediate; Limdis. Drafted by J. Clagett Taylor (AF/S) and Richard L. Williamson (ACDA/NP/NX); cleared by Dennis Keogh (AF/S), Gary L. Matthews (EUR/SOV), Gerard G. Oplinger (PM/NPT), Lawrence Scheinman (T/D), John P. Boright (OES/NET), and Charles Van Doren (ACDA/NTB); approved by Seelye. Sent for information Priority to Moscow, USUN, Paris, Bonn, and London.
  2. For text of the oral démarche, see Document 288.