129. Telegram From the Embassy in India to the Department of State1

3415. Subject: Deputy Secretary’s Talks on Nuclear Issues. Ref: State 046843.2

1. In the Deputy Secretary’s meeting this morning with FonSec J. Mehta, V. Shankar and Vellodi on nuclear questions three items were most noteworthy: (a) the stillborn scientific committee, (b) the GOI’s sense of grievance about the delays in Tarapur fuel supply, and (c) the critical place the nuclear issue now holds in Indian public opinion. Ambassador Goheen and Secretary (West) U.S. Bajpai were also present.3

2. Initially V. Shankar appeared to be bent on revivifying the idea of the scientific committee (understandably perhaps because he was its father). After discussion, all agreed that the PM’s judgment was right and that the committee should be allowed to lie stillborn; at the same time, its demise must be handled carefully so as not to highlight our differences and emphasis must be placed on the continuation of the bilateral dialogue. In other words we agreed to proceed in line with the guidance in the Deputy Secretary’s scope paper,4 as amended by reftel. To possible press inquiries the reply will simply be that there are still some differences with respect to the committee but the two sides are continuing their nuclear dialogue and still hope it may lead to useful results.

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3. Shankar and Vellodi then exposed the Deputy Secretary at some length to the bitterness which Indians feel about the delays in licensing of Tarapur fuel.5 Among the points they made were the following. The average Member of Parliament cannot comprehend the American distinction between the NRC and the Executive. Clearly the US is not acting in the spirit of the original Tarapur agreement.

4. Consequently there is a strong and widespread feeling that the USG is not fulfilling an obligation that it can and should fulfill. There is outrage that the NRC should question the adequacy of the assurances given by India’s Prime Minister. Moreover, the delay on the current application has forced the closing of the Hyderabad fuel complex since December 15. When and if the application is granted, the delay will compel India to bear the added expenses of lifting the fuel by air, as it also had to do with the last shipment. The US stand on re-processing has forced them to expend some $2 million on new storage arrangements for Tarapur, etc. Shankar, in particular, stressed the critical questioning that the government has been encountering in Parliament. He asserted that public attitudes toward our nuclear relationship are hardening (adversely) and that time is running out on our efforts to protect it and keep it alive.

5. Vellodi asked how the Deputy Secretary thought Congress might react to another Presidential waiver if that proves necessary. The Deputy Secretary avoided predicting how either the President or Congress might act if the NRC turns down the current application. He brought out instead that there was also strong public opinion bearing on these issues in the US.

6. CTB and SALT II. Vellodi spoke of the need on our side for some movement against vertical proliferation. The Deputy Secretary spoke with restrained optimism about our hopes for both SALT II and a CTB. Vellodi expressed dismay that no efforts have been made to [Page 355] inform the UN’s CCD on the progress of negotiations or when it might expect the CTB to come before it.6

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840128–1012. Secret; Immediate; Nodis.
  2. Christopher was in New Delhi February 28–29. Memoranda of conversation of his meetings with Indian officials were not found. Telegram 46843 to New Delhi, February 26, discussed the Department of State briefing memorandum for Christopher’s visit, noting “we believe it desirable to expand points to be made on nuclear non-proliferation to make more explicit that US would like to accomplish, though bilateral discussions, the review intended to be performed by proposed international safeguards committee.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790088–0571) The briefing memorandum was not found. Christopher also visited Islamabad March 1–2. See Documents 325 and 326.
  3. Telegram 3417 from New Delhi, February 28, summarized the informal meeting that Christopher and Mehta held before the larger bilateral meeting, during which Mehta noted the pressure that his government was under regarding the nuclear issue: “No Indian can understand how the PRC can have a nuclear license and India not.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840128–1805)
  4. Presumably a reference to Christopher’s briefing memorandum. See footnote 2 above.
  5. In a February 24 memorandum for the record of a meeting with Carter, Christopher noted: “In connection with the nuclear matter, the President said that he was inclined to give the Indians a limited amount of fuel under the proper circumstances. He asked about the action of the NRC and I told him it was difficult to predict the outcome although we were slightly optimistic. He asked whether Jerry Smith had a close reading of the NRC and I told him I thought that the NRC was an agency whose actions are particularly difficult to predict.” Christopher underlined the words “he was inclined to give the Indians a limited amount of fuel,” and, in the right-hand margin next to it, wrote: “Hold in reserve—We may need it later.” (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Office of the Deputy Secretary, Warren Christopher, Entry P–14, Lot 81D113, Box 1, Presidential Meetings)
  6. According to telegram 3643 from New Delhi, March 2, which summarized the MEA’s spokesman’s March 2 statements to the press, the Indian Government highlighted differences between India and the United States during the bilateral discussions. The Embassy found that such a tactic “would appear to be an effort by Indian side to emphasize for domestic audience that GOI presented strong positions during Christopher visit and that GOI is maintaining independent position on issues of importance to India. Spokesman’s line may also reflect reaction on part FonSec Mehta to recent public allegations that he is pro-US.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790095–0319)