288. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1

189626. Subject: Soviet Demarche on South African Nuclear Program.

Soviet Charge Vasev on August 6 delivered to White House an oral message from Brezhnev to the President concerning alleged South African plans to develop a nuclear weapon. Text follows:

Begin text.

We would like to draw your attention to a matter which, in our opinion, is of quite considerable importance from the point of view of its consequences to the development of the international situation and deepening of detente. This matter concerns the Soviet Union and United States as permanent members of the Security Council who carry a special responsibility for the maintenance of peace and international security.

According to information received, the Union of South Africa (USA) is completing work on the creation of a nuclear weapon and the carrying out of the first experimental nuclear test. In the desert of Kalahari there has been built a testing area which is practically ready for the carrying out of such experiments underground. These facts, giving witness to the possibility of creating nuclear weapons in the USA, cannot but arouse serious concern. It is clear that if this state, which conducts a policy of apartheid with regard to the African population of its country, and does not observe the decisions of the United Nations, acquired nuclear weapons, then this would sharply aggravate the situation on the African continent and, as a whole, would increase the danger of the use of nuclear weapons.

The emergence of such weapons in the hands of the USA would undoubtedly be used by certain other countries for the justification of creating their own nuclear explosive devices. It is not difficult to see what harm this would cause to the treaty on nuclear non-proliferation and how essentially it would weaken the policy (framework) of nuclear non-proliferation, the strengthening of which the joint efforts of the USSR and the United States have been directed. No one doubts that the USA can create nuclear weapons only thanks to the help of other [Page 897] states. It is also known that the USA was given access to the latest research in the nuclear field, that it received and continues to receive nuclear equipment and materials. The “London Agreements” demand, as is known, the observance of a number of conditions aimed at the banning of the use of those materials, equipment and technology received for the creation of nuclear explosive devices. World public opinion will rightly ask: Since these agreements have failed to prevent the emergence of nuclear weapons in the USA, then what value do they have?

The Soviet Union considers this a matter of extraordinary and urgent importance (in which there should be taken) all efforts for the prevention of the USA conducting nuclear tests and creating its nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union intends in the nearest future to publish an appropriate statement, having in mind to draw the attention of governments and public opinion to the dangerous plans of the USA. As far as the United States is concerned, they, as we understand, have at their disposal the necessary channels and possibilities for the rendering of a direct restricting influence on this state.

Addressing ourselves directly to you, Mr. President, we take into account the great attention which you personally give to the problem of restricting the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Between the Soviet Union and the United States cooperation is developing along the line of strengthening the treaty on nuclear non-proliferation. These states have taken on themselves certain obligations in the agreement on prevention of nuclear war. Now a situation has arisen when it is urgently necessary, even at once, to undertake energetic efforts toward the goals of preventing the emergence of new nuclear states and barring the proliferation of nuclear danger.

I hope that this appeal of mine meets, Mr. President, with your understanding and that the American side will take correspondingly effective measures. On our part, we would like to find out the view of the United States concerning the questions mentioned above. End quote.

Comment: All references in note to “USA” stand for Union of South Africa and not rpt not United States. Draft reply from President to Brezhnev is now being prepared and we will send final version to you as soon as it is cleared.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840076–0459. Confidential; Cherokee; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Matthews (EUR/SOV); cleared by Marshall Shulman (S/MS), William Hyland (NSC), Thomas G. Martin (S/S), and William H. Luers (EUR); approved by Christopher.