[Page 571]

232. Telegram From the Embassy in Pakistan to the Department of State1

1734. For the Secretary from Byroade. Subject: Pakistan Nuclear Issues.

1. I was delighted to receive the text of your letter to Bhutto contained in State 033636.2 It was timely and should serve as an effective transition vehicle for you to start to deal with this delicate and important matter in the future.

2. I have delayed giving you a rundown on the Pakistani end of this problem, despite its importance, in view of your own heavy transition load and also my hope that any further attempt to handle this matter here in Pakistan could wait until after Bhutto’s election process is over. Your letter clearly recognizes this need for delay, and I am sure that this is wise. What follows in summary form is my view of the highlights as seen from Pakistan as to just how we got where we are on this problem. It also offers some thoughts for the future. It will not, I suspect, strictly duplicate the transition papers you must have received on this problem. To that extent I hope it will be helpful in rounding out the picture.

I. The Background

3. I do not know just what decisions Bhutto made after India exploded its nuclear device in 1974. I suspect, however, that he did just what any of us might have done had he been the political leader of Pakistan, i.e., call in his experts and ask them to set in motion steps that would allow him the eventual option to duplicate the Indian achievement. Such an approach would not mean that at that time he necessarily made the decision either to actually explode a nuclear device or follow through with an attempt to make nuclear weapons, as these decisions would not have to be made for some years. At that time rather he was keeping his nuclear option open.

4. There is no evidence to indicate, and indeed some to the contrary, that Bhutto considered as he moved forward that he was risking a major and serious confrontation with the United States. Kissinger had talked to him briefly about nuclear matters during his visit to the U.S. [Page 572]in early 19753 but it’s instructive to recall that as late as February 1976, when the two met briefly in New York, it was Bhutto himself who brought up the matter not Kissinger.4 Bhutto had of course watched carefully our reaction to the Indian blast. We had not only not done anything (I am not implying that there was much we could do) but we had not even taken a public position except in reply to questions. The Kissinger visit to New Delhi a few months later,5 when he acknowledged India’s predominant position in the subcontinent, almost certainly confirmed Bhutto’s impression that the U.S. not only had no problem with India’s nuclear capability, but also possibly had come to have greater respect for India as a result of it.

5. In any event, the Pakistanis continued their lengthy negotiations with the French for the acquisition of the reprocessing plant. When these were completed in March 1976 the facility was publicly billed by the GOP as a key element in its effort to develop its nuclear energy program, and this has been the Pak public stance ever since. There is no doubt, however, that Bhutto—aware, as he told me, of the importance of the need to restore public confidence in the wake of the Indian explosion—had got out the word that the purchase from the French was connected much more with national security and national prestige than with energy generation. It was accepted as such in Pakistan and, as Bhutto had correctly foreseen, proved a popular move.

6. We knew here in the Embassy only vaguely that these long-drawn out negotiations were going on between the Paks and the French. I now know as a result of my latest consultations that Washington had more specific information than we here due to USG participation in the London Suppliers Group efforts to draw up guidelines. As I understand it now, [less than 1 line not declassified] as to the details of the safeguards that would be used in the Pakistani case. The truth seems to be that our own position was becoming progressively more hard (and I think rightly so) on this question while the Pak/French negotiations were in process, and this to the point of having us say when the [Page 573]agreement was signed that the safeguards we ourselves have been associated with could not guarantee misuse of the facility.

7. During this period we here could sense a rapidly growing congressional, and public, concern about nuclear proliferation which eventually was expressed in the Symington Amendment.6 Feeling this coming, but without instructions, I nevertheless often talked informally to Bhutto on this subject, giving him my increasingly strong personal conviction that he was headed for real trouble on this issue, while pressing him to continue to think of alternatives to the route he was following. Although these informal conversations, along with Pak awareness of our (successful) efforts to turn off the Korean-French deal and of our equivocal position in the IAEA vote on the Pak-French safeguards, made it clear to Bhutto that we would not be happy with the reprocessing deal, he had no reason to expect as sharp a U.S. reaction as he got in a March 19, 1976 letter from President Ford in which the President took exception to the proposed agreement.7 His distress with it was compounded by its arriving nearly coincidentally with the signing of the agreement with the French.8 He complained to me, wondering why we could not have gotten in touch with him more quickly on such an important matter and his embarrassment over the position he was then in as regards the timing of the letter. I think this point was well taken, for we were at that time imposing new and tougher standards retroactively, and taking a more clear cut stand with the Paks than we had while their negotiations were proceeding.

8. After Bhutto’s March 30 reply to Ford9 there was no further communication between our two sides on the issue until Kissinger’s visit to Lahore in August,10 except for my own frequent but uninstructed assertions to him that this was a problem that would not go away and for which alternatives had to be found. The visit undoubtedly served to impress upon Bhutto more forcefully the gravity of the issue he faced. This positive accomplishment was however offset by the fact that it generated extensive worldwide press comment which undoubtedly increased the political hazards, both here and in France, as it raised the question publicly as to whether France or Pakistan would bow to U.S. pressure. This publicity also for the first time clearly linked [Page 574]the reprocessing and the A–711 issues which was indeed unfortunate even though it of course was a fact in the sense that we could not possibly move ahead with the A–7’s until the reprocessing issue had been satisfactorily resolved. The passage of the Symington Amendment in late June of course made the problem that much more difficult.

9. Soon after Kissinger’s departure, Bhutto made a completely new proposal to me obviously based upon his intense concern over the linkage of the A–7 and reprocessing issues, and his further reflection of the difficulties he was headed into with us in the nuclear field. He said we had to find some way to delink the aircraft and nuclear issues, stressing that he just could not afford politically to be charged with giving away the elements of Pakistan’s long term security for a few airplanes which would in a relatively short period of time wear out or become obsolete. He said if the two issues could be delinked, he would be prepared to make a formal side agreement, directly with us, adding almost any conceivable additional safeguard that we could think of to make certain that the plant was never misused. What he was saying in effect was that he could live with a “white elephant” (my words) but could not live with the political liability of “cancellation” of the French contract.

10. Our distaste for this proposal, for reasons which I better understand in view of my recent consultations was such that it was never given serious consideration. I fear that that same distaste may have served to obscure what I think was its real importance. Bhutto was surprised at the rigidity of the safeguards imposed by the French, and I believe he thinks the plant is pretty well bound up even now as regards its misuse. It would just never occur to him (nor indeed did it to me until I came to Washington and got educated) that the United States was not clever enough to find and apply additional safeguards which would be fool proof. My own conclusion, based on this and other factors, is that by offering to completely tie up the reprocessing plant, Bhutto in his own mind was telling us that he would give up his nuclear option in order to avoid extreme confrontation with the United States.

11. When I returned here from the States just before Christmas I had in hand excellent guidance to continue my talks with Bhutto. As I reported, my own conclusion from these talks was that Bhutto was [Page 575]ready to slide out of his nuclear arrangements providing we are prepared to assist him in making it as quiet and painless as possible under the circumstances and that we wait until after his election.

12. Yet I must add a word of caution about this judgment of mine. The Bhutto I have been dealing with up to now has had good reason to be extremely confident of his own political position. He has felt that he has done a good job in his first term and that he would be returned, particularly with his own Herculean electoral efforts, with a convincing mandate. He knows that whenever he gives on the nuclear issue it will hurt him domestically as he will be accused, no matter how he does it, of bowing to American pressure on this matter of extreme importance. This charge has particular force in Pakistan because of recollections here of earlier instances when the U.S. persuaded the Paks to take unpalatable decisions (e.g. in 1962); then in their view welched on implied commitments. I believe that Bhutto had in fact already made the decision that he could live with this setback after his next mandate. We are now faced, however, with the surprise that the opposition has been able to band together more effectively than anyone, including Bhutto, thought possible. While we still think he will win, we are no longer certain his mandate will be anything like a landslide. Bhutto, being the type of subcontinental politician that instinctively considers a 90 percent mandate to be about right, may come through the elections being far more cautious about taking political risks, and this of course could greatly increase our difficulty on this end.

II. Where Do We Go From Here

13. Tactics will be important as you start to grapple with this problem. Your letter to Bhutto seems to give full recognition of the desirability to proceed as quietly as possible and with a minimum of publicity at least in its initial stages. This would seem to indicate that the future talks could best be initiated through normal diplomatic channels.

14. We seem to be in a position where an indefinite postponement or cancellation of the deal would involve either the French or the Pakistanis backing down on this issue—or that they do so jointly. We here see great merits in the latter as probably the easiest for both the French and Pakistanis, and one that would tend to preserve our position as much as possible by leaving us out of any publicized decision. This recommendation is of course based upon incomplete information as I do not know how events since January 20, and particularly the Vice President’s talks in Paris,12 may have changed the situation.

15. In your letter to Bhutto, you spoke of our recognition of the importance of the legitimate needs of others being fulfilled as they [Page 576]forego capabilities for which we can see no valid basis. In responding to the carefully-conceived ambiguity of this phrase, Bhutto will be thinking in terms of possible U.S. package involving conventional weapons, including the A–7, assistance in the energy field, and stepped up economic aid. A comment may be in order about the proposed “package”, as it occurs to me that some may be under the wrong impression on this score.

16. I do not believe that Bhutto has in mind any package from us that would be announced simultaneously with a solution to the nuclear problem. His serious objection to linking the A–7 and reprocessing issues are an indication of that fact. If delinkage is to occur, I suppose from Bhutto’s point of view it would be ideal for our package to be announced first, but think he would accept the fact that we could not agree with this. I think that for planning purposes we could therefore assume that we would only have to agree privately in our confidential nuclear discussions about the steps we would be prepared to take afterwards, to be implemented and announced on a piecemeal basis. Publicly, when Bhutto announces he is at least indefinitely delaying the plant, he should be able to announce that alternative energy arrangements are being made. This would be the only public linkage, and even here any role of ours should it be announced at all would be as supportive of French assistance in this area.

17. The A–7 deal is the most controversial element in the package, and I am sure it will be a difficult one for you. I recognize that the administration is more concerned with the implications of arms sales than its predecessor, and I’m aware that there could be a charge by the uninformed of nuclear “blackmail.” This allegation ignores the chronology of the A–7/reprocessing plant connection and the fact that the linkage between the two issues was made not by the Paks but by us. The question of a new generation aircraft for Pakistan, their greatest military need, came to us long before the nuclear issue became a problem. It would have been the first item on Pakistan’s shopping list after the embargo was lifted in early 1975 except that President Ford cautioned Bhutto during his State visit at the time (1975) that our supply program could not start out with this item.13 If they waited until mid-1976 to formally ask us to sell the aircraft, it was certainly not because they saw an opening provided by our non-proliferation effort, but rather because they believed that over time our military supply policy had evolved to the point where such a request had become acceptable.

[Page 577]18. The Pak case for this type aircraft is militarily legitimate and can indeed stand close scrutiny. You should also know that since late 1975 the Paks have been under the impression that their request for the A–7 would in fact be approved, and that the only question remaining was one of timing. (A brief eyes only letter from me to you follows.)14 Even if the reprocessing deal can be forestalled without the A–7 as a key element in a U.S. package designed to head it off, it seems to me, in view of all the history of this case, that we can hardly be the instrument that forces Pakistan out of its nuclear option and then refuse to help them on conventional defense requirements as long as they remain modest and well below anything that would upset India’s dominant military position in the subcontinent.

19. I would hope that we would in addition to moving ahead with tangible, material elements in a proposed package, also be prepared to consider more sympathetically than we have in the past Pakistan’s efforts to win support for broader international assurances against what to the GOP is the very real challenge of a nuclear India. I have in mind particularly Pakistan’s moves at the UN to work out guarantees for the security of non-nuclear states and to have South Asia declared a nuclear weapons free zone.15 These efforts it seems to me are a further reflection of the type of legitimate needs Pakistan may feel it should have as it foregoes its nuclear option. We have not been forthcoming on GOP efforts on this score in the past, and I would urge that we seek to look at them more sympathetically in the context of your letter.

20. I continue to believe that we will get through this one, and that in one manner or another the reprocessing plant will not proceed. If this proves to be wrong we would be in the most serious kind of dilemma. The most extreme possibility would include failure on the diplomatic front, with Pakistan getting its reprocessing plant and our bilateral relations wrecked with the triggering of the Symington Amendment, and all in all, probably a significant realignment of Pakistan’s foreign policy. I hope that the background and thoughts I’ve outlined above can in some small measure be helpful in heading off such a disastrous outcome.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840077–2522. Secret; Priority; Nodis.
  2. Telegram 33636 to Islamabad, February 15, transmitted Vance’s February 14 letter to Bhutto. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840077–2520, N770001–0538) See Document 231.
  3. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–8, Documents on South Asia, 1973–1976, Document 189.
  4. Telegram 49421 to Rabat, March 1, 1976, reported on Kissinger’s February 26, 1976, meeting with Bhutto in New York. Near the end of the conversation, which centered on the subject of détente, “Bhutto suggested that an embryonic nuclear capability could lead India to agree to a nuclear free zone in the Indian Ocean, a concept New Delhi now opposes. The Secretary repeated U.S. concern over national reprocessing capabilities and pointed to a regional multinational plant as an alternative but Bhutto provided no evidence at all that Pakistan would consider foregoing the national option.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840095–1651)
  5. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–8, Documents on South Asia, 1973–1976, Document 180.
  6. See Document 6.
  7. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–8, Documents on South Asia, 1973–1976, Document 225.
  8. The French agreed in late 1975 to design a nuclear reprocessing plant. The French delivered the plans to Pakistan on March 18, 1976.
  9. Not found.
  10. Kissinger visited Lahore August 8–9, 1976.
  11. In February 1975, the United States lifted its 10-year-long arms embargo against Pakistan. (Bernard Gwertzman, “India Assails U.S. on Its Decision to Lift Pakistan Arms Embargo,” New York Times, February 25, 1975, p. 3). The Pakistani Minister of State for Foreign Affairs proposed purchasing U.S.-built A–7 fighter aircraft during a September 30, 1975, meeting with Kissinger. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–8, Documents on South Asia, 1973–1976, Document 210.
  12. Vice President Mondale visited Paris January 28–29.
  13. See Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E–8, Documents on South Asia, 1973–1976, Document 188.
  14. Not found.
  15. See footnote 4, Document 82.