65. Editorial Note

On March 27, 1977, the Department of State alerted multiple posts, including the Embassy in New Delhi, that President Jimmy Carter intended to announce nuclear power policy decisions related to an ongoing policy review. The Embassies were instructed to explain to senior government officials that although Carter’s announcement focused on U.S. domestic nuclear power issues, it also had international ramifications. The Department noted that the statement announced a domestic moratorium on reprocessing and recycling of plutonium and, conjointly, increased restrictions on supplying nuclear fuel to countries that reprocessed spent fuel or showed indications of developing nuclear weapons capability. (Telegram Tosec 30017/67973 to multiple posts, March 27; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840076–0698, N77002–0195)

In response to the Department’s instructions, Deputy Chief of Mission David Schneider informed Indian Foreign Secretary Jagat Singh Mehta on March 28 that “the US was consulting with only a small number of important states in advance of the President’s announcement and went over orally the talking points in the Department’s instructions.” Mehta replied that “the US presentation would require considerable internal GOI examination. It would be difficult, he said, for the GOI to comment before April 1, particularly since a new government had entered into office only two days before.” To the Department, Schneider commented: “While in an initial statement PriMin Desai indicated some flexibility regarding testing, I doubt that there will be a basic change in Indian nuclear policy.” (Telegram 4381 from New Delhi, March 28; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850056–2232, N770002–0212) On March 24, Desai made a brief statement regarding future Indian nuclear policy, the transcript of [Page 164]which was sent to the Department in telegram 4323 from New Delhi, March 26. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770104–0566)

In a March 29 memorandum, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher informed President Carter that “our Embassy in New Delhi has supplied a cautious reading of Prime Minister Desai’s press statement that: ‛We do not believe in nuclear weapons at all. That policy stands. I do not know whether it is necessary to have a nuclear explosion for peaceful purposes, but if it is not necessary it should never be done.’” In the left-hand margin next to the quoted excerpt of Desai’s statement, Carter wrote: “We may use India’s position, if favorable, to influence the French/Pakistan sale.” Christopher continued: “Following a meeting with Foreign Secretary Mehta, our Embassy cabled that they doubt there will be a basic change in Indian nuclear policy. We need to test this judgment and to influence the new government in the right direction.” (Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Subject File, Box 18, Evening Reports (State): 3/77)

On April 1, Schneider met with Mehta, Indian Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Homi Sethna, and Secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Mullath Vellodi in order to discuss Carter’s upcoming nuclear policy statement. Schneider reported: “Their concerns turned out to be not so much related to the President’s general proposals as to GOI problems regarding Tarapur. They seem to be worried about the implications of extended discussions on general policies for finding an early way to keep Tarapur in operation.” After discussing storage pools for spent fuel at Tarapur, Vellodi “asked about the implications of the President’s announcement for Indian programs in the area of plutonium reprocessing, peaceful nuclear explosions, the use of plutonium in the Indian nuclear program and fast breeders. The Foreign Secretary asked what could India do about programs and facilities to which it had devoted resources and which might be affected by policies falling from the President’s announcement.” Schneider “replied that the President’s announcement would have implications for some of these matters and I believed that more specific questions such as these would be addressed at a later stage.” (Telegram 4686 from New Delhi, April 1; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850056–2624, N770002–0371)

Carter gave his nuclear power policy statement on April 7. In comments to the press on the same day, he twice singled out India as an impetus for the new restrictions. Carter said that “we have seen recently India evolve an explosive device derived from a peaceful nuclear powerplant, and we now feel that several other nations are on the verge of becoming nuclear explosive powers.” Later in the press conference, when asked whether some nations were seeking reprocess[Page 165]ing technology in order to attain nuclear weapon capability, Carter answered: “Well, without going into specifics—I wouldn’t want to start naming names—I think it’s obvious that some of the countries about whom we are concerned have used their domestic nuclear powerplants to develop explosive capability. There is no doubt about it. India, which is basically a peaceful nation, at least as far as worldwide connotations are concerned, did evolve an explosive capability from supplies that were given to them by the Canadians and by us.” The transcript of the press conference and the text of the policy statement are in Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, pp. 581–588.