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

194980. Cherokee Eyes Only for Dr. Brzezinski. Following repeat State 194980 Action Pretoria Info Paris Moscow London Aug 17.

Quote. Cherokee for the Ambassador from the Secretary. Subject: Possible South African Nuclear Weapons Program. Ref: (A) Pretoria 4021,2 (B) State 188207,3 (C) Paris 236254 (Notal).

1. As a result of information passed to US by Soviets (ref B), [10 lines not declassified].

2. Longer-range strategy for preventing South Africa from becoming a nuclear weapons state, as well as follow-on steps we and others might take to achieve that goal, are still under consideration here. However, the situation is sufficiently serious to justify immediate actions to warn the South Africans in unambiguous terms of the grave consequences of a nuclear test or other steps in the direction of acquiring nuclear weapons.

2 [3]. The following talking points should be used by the Ambassador in approach to Botha as soon as possible following rpt following specific separate authorization from Dept:

(A) We have noted your previous assurances that your nuclear program is devoted exclusively to peaceful purposes. However, the possession by South Africa of an unsafeguarded enrichment plant, and your persistent delay in adhering to the NPT, have always been grounds for concern. Now, on the basis of our independent investigation, we have substantial evidence which appears to be contrary to your assurances.

[Page 900]

(B) In light of the grave implications, the President has instructed me to make clear that the detonation of a nuclear device—whether a nuclear weapon or a so-called peaceful nuclear explosive—or any further steps to acquire or develop a demonstrated nuclear explosive capability would have the most serious consequences for all aspects of our relations, and would be considered by us as a serious threat to the peace. Under these circumstances, you should know that we do not believe that South Africa could continue to count on help from the Western powers in any field. You should also be aware of the possibility that the issue may arise in the UN Security Council on short notice with unforeseeable results.

(C) We have this matter under urgent consideration, and will raise with you in the next few days the steps we believe are needed to resolve this issue. However, in the immediate future, we believe it is in your own interest to put these concerns to rest. Assurances, such as those given on August 10 by Van Dalsen,5 cannot resolve these doubts. Instead, we believe you should find means to prove, in a publicly persuasive way, that you are not developing the Kalahari facility as a nuclear test site, and that your pilot enrichment plant is not and will not be used to produce enriched uranium for any explosive purpose.

4. If asked what the US proposes to do by way of a longer-range resolution, you should indicate only that we would be prepared to consider carefully any suggestions that the SAG may wish to make in the very near future as to how the situation could be brought to a satisfactory conclusion.

5. Begin FYI: We are consulting in strictest confidence with limited number of allies before deciding on next steps. We would welcome your comments and recommendations both on next steps and longer range strategy. Specifically, we are in touch with French6 whom we hope will make a parallel demarche. We are repeating to you relevant cable exchange with Embassy Paris.

6. You can expect to receive message authorizing you to proceed on this matter within next twenty-four hours. End FYI.



  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, State Department Out, Box 107, 8/16–20/77. Top Secret; Sensitive; Immediate; Cherokee; Nodis.
  2. In telegram 4021 from Pretoria, August 10, the Embassy reported on a conversation with South African Deputy Secretary Van Dalsen regarding the Soviet démarche: “In response to our concerns, Van Dalsen referred first to Defense Minister Botha’s statement to the press last evening: ‘Both the Prime Minister and successive Ministers of Foreign Affairs have already explained extensively and on a number of occasions that nuclear energy in South Africa will be used for peaceful purposes only. I have nothing more to add.’ Van Dalsen said he wondered where the Soviets had gotten the ‘romantic notion’ about a Kalahari test site.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770287–1301)
  3. See Document 287.
  4. In telegram 23625 from Paris, August 16, the Embassy transmitted Guiringaud’s initial reactions to Vance’s suggestions on approaching the South Africans on the nuclear test issue. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850056–2575)
  5. See footnote 2, above.
  6. In telegram 192561 to Paris, August 14, the Department transmitted a letter from Vance to Guiringaud requesting French support for a joint approach to South Africa for an onsite inspection. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850056–2570)