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

7017. Subject: Reprocessing: Meeting With Zia.

1. In candid, frank 35 minute conversation July 9 with General Zia, I presented the case for postponement or cancellation of reprocessing contract with France per State 1585832 and Islamabad 6942.3 I stressed the immediacy of the reprocessing question and our interest in finding satisfactory answers, in the context of possible application of the Symington Amendment. In response, Zia made it clear that his was an interim government, temporarily holding power with the sole objective of organizing free elections and transferring authority to a popular government. In this context, the martial law government was not prepared to undertake major policy decisions. Zia said that he was very familiar with the reprocessing issue and that the Military Council had the question under intensive review. Zia stated that he would report our conversation to the Council, and that he could not speak further to the issue at this time, except to note his Martial Law Administration had committed itself, publicly and privately, to carry out all treaties, commitments and agreements undertaken by previous regimes.

2. At Zia’s request, MFA Secretary General Agha Shahi then intervened with a reiteration of standard GOP positions on reprocessing. Shahi summarized his points with three observations: (a) Pakistan’s professed intention to use the reprocessing only for peaceful energy purposes was assured by the safeguards agreed to and by Pakistan’s [Page 624] inability to withstand the external pressures and costs that would follow any diversion of plutonium for explosive purposes; (b) the US position against Pakistan’s reprocessing facility (especially the Symington Amendment) was fundamentally discriminatory, in that no penalties have been applied to reprocessing facilities in India, South Africa and Israel; and (c) the US had failed to come to grips with the security requirements of countries like Pakistan which were faced with potential nuclear threats from hostile neighbors.

3. Comment: Throughout, Zia was friendly and reiterated his strong desire for close relations with the U.S. However, it was clear that he was not at that moment prepared to engage in any substantive discussion on changes in Pakistan’s reprocessing policy. I am confident he fully grasped the significance of what I told him about the consequences of the imposition of the Symington Amendment should technology or equipment transfers continue. I am not however so confident that Zia is prepared to intervene decisively to change the course of the French-Pakistani accord in any way that would subject his interim government to criticism that he was tampering with an important political and security decision reached by his predecessor. I believe we have very few allies on the reprocessing issue in Pakistan, with the concerned career government officials firmly committed to purchase of the plant and the military hesitant to change a fundamentally important political decision during its temporary tenure. Unfortunately, in his waning days, Bhutto as part of his anti-American campaign had defined any postponement of the reprocessing contract as tantamount to cancellation, and it is in this context that Zia and his Military Council must weigh the request the United States has placed before them.

4. Assuming, as I think we must for planning purposes, that Zia subsequently will inform me no delay can be envisaged on Pakistan’s part in implementation of the contract, we must begin to plan carefully how the US should proceed. We will convey some thoughts for this contingency in a separate message.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770245–0423. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Immediate to Paris and Tehran.
  2. In telegram 158583 to Islamabad, July 8, the Department concurred with the Embassy’s July 7 request in telegram 6942 from Islamabad (see footnote 3 below) to approach Zia-ul-Haq in order to discuss bilateral relations in general and the reprocessing issue specifically. The Department informed the Embassy that there was “reliable information that the new government has approached the French requesting that the transfer of nuclear reprocessing equipment and technology be completed in the near future. It is important, since Zia may not be aware of the consequences of proceeding with the reprocessing deal, that you inform Zia that we will have to face the issue of the Symington Amendment in connection with prospective aid agreements coming up for approval within the next few weeks, if nuclear transfers continue.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770242–0388)
  3. In telegram 6942 from Islamabad, July 7, the Embassy suggested approaching Zia-ul-Haq with a message that urged the indefinite postponement or cancellation of the purchase of nuclear reprocessing technology from France, and make known that “unless this issue is satisfactorily resolved, we will be faced with a legislatively mandated cut-off of aid to Pakistan and a consequent downward spiral in our relations.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770241–0130)