372. Telegram From the Consulate in Cape Town to the Department of State1

725. From Embassy Cape Town. From DCM. Subject: US-South Africa Nuclear Relations. Ref: (A) State 076829,2 (B) Cape Town 0671,3 (C) Cape Town 0154.4

1. S-Entire text

2. DCM on March 27 met with Fourie at latter’s request to follow up Ambassador Edmondson’s enquiry of March 18 about SAG reaction to scenario for achieving a nuclear agreement that was set out in Edmondson’s letter to Fourie of January 24 (refs B and C). DCM gave Fourie typed copy of informal listing of steps as amended ref A.

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3. Fourie began by referring to his letter of 12 October 1979 (79 Pretoria 9380)5 in which he explained that SAG assumed progress could be achieved in steps as long as no steps were irrevocable until corresponding steps were taken by the U.S. He also quoted from that part of the letter which states: “The Republic of South Africa is not in principle opposed to accession to the NPT, provided of course its basic requirements could be met.” He said that our request in the proposed scenario that SAG “agrees and announces its intention to accede to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and negotiate a full-scope safeguards agreement as proposed therein” (State 09602)6 is stronger than he had phrased it in his October 1979 letter. Nonetheless, pursuant to Edmondson’s letter of January 24, he is authorized to tell us that the SAG could accept the following language: “The SAG intends to accede to the NPT provided its basic requirements can be met.”

4. Fourie then listed what he said were two principal matters to be addressed before proceeding further. The first concerns the note at the end of the 1978 Joint Minute (78 Pretoria 3662),7 which states: “The South African representatives also wished to discuss the consequences of U.N. economic boycott, should it be instituted. The U.S. representatives stated that their brief was limited to nuclear matters. The South African representatives thereupon indicated that this issue would be raised with the United States Government at the appropriate level.” Fourie said that the SAG believes the time has now come to discuss this issue “at the appropriate level.” They want to do this before proceeding to the next points.

5. DCM asked Fourie if their concern was UN action linked to nuclear issues. (Note: Foreign Minister Botha reportedly was somewhat vague on this point in his meeting with French Foreign Minister Francois-Poncet in February—Cape Town 589.)8 Fourie replied no, their concern was broader than that. Their view is that a total economic boycott would adversely affect all activities in South Africa, including nuclear ones. Their nuclear program depended not just on the availability of nuclear fuel, but on a wide range of other supplies and services [Page 1113] that would be hurt by a general economic boycott. Thus, SAG believes assurances given in Joint Minute about USG not permitting international action which would prevent implementation of an overall nuclear settlement applies to UN general economic boycott. Moreover, Fourie added, the SAG views our nuclear discussions in the wider context of “easing our bilateral relations and the international situation involving South Africa,” and an economic boycott would not do that. DCM said that SAG would want an authoritative USG response on this issue, but that we both knew that our bilateral relations and the international situation involving South Africa concerned other important issues in addition to nuclear one. Fourie nodded.

6. The other principal matter that Fourie said should be discussed before proceeding further concerns agreement on what would constitute safeguards, as mentioned in step A of the Annex to Edmondson’s letter of January 249 and to step B regarding a safeguards development project at Valindaba. SAG is concerned about maintaining the secrecy of its process in negotiating and carrying out a safeguards agreement. It is encouraged by what was stated in the Joint Minute about a periphery approach, and believes there needs to be more detailed discussion of this matter to be clear we agree on what constitutes periphery safeguards.

7. Fourie said he had no other items to raise concerning the proposed scenario. Item C in the Annex regarding technical cooperation toward achieving reduction in enrichment level for Safari was agreeable; South Africa was already doing that on its own and would welcome technical assistance. SAG did have some questions about certain matters—e.g., the timing of the congressional review process for the supply of fuel to Koeberg, the irreversibility of a favorable congressional determination, and the need to negotiate a contract for supply of Safari fuel when an agreement to supply already exists. The SAG wonders if this latter item is not a new element not included in the Joint Minute. Fourie wondered how long the process would take.

8. Comment: SAG now has brought front and center the linkage of nuclear matters to the issue of general economic sanctions that Pik Botha raised only weakly with Ambassador Smith in 1978 (78 Pretoria 3611)10 but to which he has reportedly been giving greater emphasis [Page 1114] in Europe recently (Cape Town 589).11 Ambassador Edmondson, who returns to Cape Town on April 3, will want to comment on how seriously SAG is prepared to go for such big stakes at the risk of ending our nuclear dialogue and all that could mean for UN action against nuclear cooperation with South Africa. SAG’s attitude seems derived in part from assessment that with recent favorable impression in Western countries of direction of change in Southern Africa and with other domestic and foreign preoccupations in Washington, the risk is worth exploring. It is worth keeping in mind that SAG’s typical diplomatic strategy is to delay and divert decisions it does not wish to make, but not to close doors.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P870058–0050. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. In telegram 76829 to Cape Town, March 22, the Department notified Edmondson that he should continue to be the point of contact with Fourie. Additionally, the Department wrote: “Also, with respect to subpara C of that listing, to avoid any possible ambiguity or disconnect with our annex to letter, we suggest that the following sentence be added after the second sentence: ‘But in any event these steps would be taken no later than immediately upon SAG announcement in step 4.’” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 70, South Africa: 1/80–1/81)
  3. See footnote 5, Document 371.
  4. See Document 371.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 370.
  6. See Document 370.
  7. See footnote 2, Document 343.
  8. In telegram 589 from Cape Town, March 12, the Embassy reported on the February 20 conversation between Botha and François-Poncet. Regarding UN action linked to nuclear issues, the Embassy wrote: “The SAG is ready to sign the NPT subject to receiving certain assurances. When asked what assurances were wanted, Botha replied that the SAG wanted assurances from the US that no compulsory economic sanctions would be applied against South Africa if there was a draft resolution in the UN Security Council to break all economic and nuclear relations with South Africa.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P870058–0031)
  9. See Document 370.
  10. In telegram 3611 from Pretoria, June 27, 1978, the Embassy reported on Smith’s discussion with Botha: “Botha made weak plea for broader assurance against UN action than I was instructed to give (and of which I advised him verbatim). Botha did not give impression such broader assurance will be made a condition of a nuclear settlement but this cannot yet be ruled out. He expressed disappointment and subject was quickly changed.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840150–2336)
  11. See footnote 8 above.