295. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassies in South Africa, France, and the United Kingdom1

197389. Eyes Only—Amb. Bowdler, Amb. Hartman. Subject: Possible South African Nuclear Weapons Program. Eyes Only—Charge Streator, Asst Secy Moose. Ref: (A) State 194980,2 (B) Pretoria 4211.3

1. Report in reftel B has been reviewed at highest levels. Notwithstanding its preliminary nature and possibility that it may be followed up with more considered SAG response, given its negative thrust and the need for positive U.S. action prior to upcoming Lagos Conference4 we have decided that further intervention is required now. Therefore, please deliver following message from the Secretary to Foreign Minister Botha.

2. Begin text:

Dear Mr. Minister:

President Carter and I have been closely following the dialogue between our governments concerning allegations of a nuclear weapons program in South Africa. Ambassador Bowdler has already conveyed to you the nature of our concerns.

In your conversation with him, you asked to be provided with the evidence that had led us to express doubts about the purposes of the Kalahari facility. Our experts have concluded, on the basis of experience with analogous installations, that the most likely purpose of a facility—like the one in the Kalahari—is to conduct underground tests of nuclear explosive devices.

The facility that concerns us is located in the southern part of the Kalahari desert, about 100 km south of Botswana and 145 km east of Namibia at approximately 27–45 S, 21–27 E. It consists of:

(A) A drill rig and associated facilities;

(B) A square lattice tower in a cleared area enclosed by a wall, about 1 km from the drill rig;

(C) An area, about 3 km from the square tower, containing a pad; this area is connected to the tower area by power or communications lines;

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(D) A secured housing area 15 km from the tower area, containing approximately ten buildings;

(E) A hard-surface airstrip approximately 1,600 meters long and 3 km from the housing area. In addition, the entire area is surrounded by an outer patrol road.

We are prepared to show you photographs from which this data is derived.

I believe the only way to resolve existing doubts is to permit a prompt visit by a small U.S. technical team to inspect the location in the Kalahari desert, which we have identified as a possible nuclear test site. I believe that it is in both of our governments’ interest that this visit take place no later than Sunday, August 21, before the start of the Lagos Conference, where some will seek to exploit politically, to our mutual disadvantage, the uncertainties raised publicly by South Africa’s nuclear activities. Our experts are prepared to leave for South Africa at a very short notice.

I hope that with your government’s cooperation we can quickly put this matter to rest.


Cyrus Vance. End text.

3. For Paris: Ambassador should convey substance of reftel B (being repeated septel) to Soutou and provide him a copy of the above text. You should note that we have given careful consideration to Giscard’s concerns that the precedent of demanding an inspection might be cited against us elsewhere. On balance, we have concluded that urgency of the situation demands that we ask for an inspection privately, without public fanfare. You should indicate that we would welcome a parallel approach by the GOF and would also welcome possible French participation if the SAG does invite an inspection team.

4. For London: Ambassador should convey to FCO gist of South African reaction to our demarche (reftel B), indicate U.S. Ambassador has been instructed to approach SAG with message from Secretary to Foreign Minister, and provide text (2 above). U.K., may find it useful in formulating its own demarche.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840083–0351. Secret; Cherokee; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted and approved by Tarnoff.
  2. See Document 290.
  3. See Document 294.
  4. See footnote 3, Document 285.