73. Letter From Indian Prime Minister Desai to President Carter1

Dear Mr. President,

I thank you for your letter of the 4th May.2 I am encouraged by its warmth and friendliness to express myself fully and frankly on the various issues you have covered in it and hope that you will not mind if I do so at some length.

I welcome your suggestion that we should periodically exchange views on how to strengthen our bilateral relations and on larger questions of concern to the world community. Such exchange of views is bound to promote better understanding of each other’s point of view particularly when sometimes they may be at variance.

As you know, when India became independent, it chose to steer its policies, as far as possible, clear of the pressures of power blocs. Free from ideological and military groupings, nevertheless maintaining its own national stance, India has tried its best to play a helpful role in the fashioning of a world order which would permit nations diligently to work for their own development and in the process obtain maximum international cooperation consistent with their national dignity. We joined in the effort for the elimination of colonialism, economic exploitation and racial discrimination because these were factors which caused tensions and were apt to disturb world peace and stability. We have tried to adhere to this course and to see that generally our aims and objectives do not, in any way, come in conflict with the legitimate aspirations of other countries.

We have also realised, as members of the world community, the need for international cooperation in improving the economic well-being of the vast brotherhood of poverty-stricken and backward people spread all over the developing and under-developed countries of the world. They have suffered grievously from the ravages of history and per force had to lag behind while other countries developed, sometimes at their expense.

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I am very happy to find that in your letter, you have been good enough to recognise the validity of our quest for self-reliance as also our concern for correcting the imbalances between nations. I have always seen that the leaders of American public opinion believe that the enlightened opinion and national interest of the U.S.A. would be best served through the recognition of the realities of the situation prevailing in different countries, their inter se relationship and a realisation of its own significant role in the attainment of peace, prosperity and stability of the world community. I am happy to say that it has performed that role to a reasonable degree despite adverse factors and criticism at home and abroad. I particularly welcome, Mr. President, your enlightened approach to the problems that beset the world and demand solutions which in several cases cannot be kept pending except at national or international peril. I believe that notwithstanding occasional differences in economic and political approach to those problems, there is great potential for mutual cooperation to realise our shared goals. Indeed, I firmly believe that with the importance you attach to mutual understanding a new chapter is opened in our relations which would be based on the mutual confidence and appreciation of each other’s point of view and difficulties.

The U.S.A. commands immense resources of wealth, power and technology from which my country has benefited substantially. India’s progress in economic and technological self-reliance has enabled it to make available its own experience relevant for the developing countries. Without hesitation, we shall continue to place our capabilities at the disposal of the developing countries. We shall always cooperate with developed ones in order to ease the dangers of confrontation, reinforce the spirit of cooperation and build a network of harmonious relationships.

You have mentioned your concern about the danger of nuclear weapons. I am happy to see your interest and initiative in obtaining international agreement to safeguard the world against the dangers of dissemination of these terrible engines of mass destruction. We hope that your negotiations with the Soviet Union will not only lead to the arrest of the vast and, if I may say so, wasteful accumulation of nuclear weaponry but in course of time also result in total disarmament in this destructive field.3 We have an interest in securing the weaponry to constructive and developmental purposes, which nuclear energy can serve. While abhorring the use of atomic energy in quest of instruments of destruction, we are fully resolved to remove impediments in the exploration of that energy for peaceful purposes. Scientific progress [Page 186] has to be utilised for the welfare of mankind and it would be as criminally neglectful to fail to exploit it for that purpose as it would be wantonly inhuman to divert it for warlike aims. This to my mind has to be the cornerstone of our policy in the utilisation of atomic energy and I am sure you will appreciate the genuineness and sincerity of our conviction.

My Government is quite clear that we shall not use nuclear technology for warlike purposes whatever others may do and I have publicly reaffirmed this commitment. For us it is not a policy but an article of faith. But, faced as we are with gigantic problems of development and limitation of fossil fuel, we cannot but rely on nuclear technology and scientific progress to meet our future energy and developmental requirements. It is an instrument of industrialisation with immense potentiality. It was more than two decades ago that India embarked on a systematic programme of training our scientists in using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. We have invested a vast amount of scarce technological and financial resources on a carefully integrated programme for the use of nuclear energy for our developmental needs. We could not possibly abandon this investment towards national self-reliance, or even easily substitute it. We have, therefore, to persist in the course we set 20 years ago and I feel certain that those who have any lingering doubts about our intentions will realise, as the years roll by, that we have matched our actions with our intentions.

It is true that India did not sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty; we have made our reasons for not doing so clear more than once and I feel strongly that we are entitled to be believed that our objections are based on strong convictions. We also did carry out an underground Peaceful Nuclear Experiment in 1974. Here again I do not see why our bonafides are suspect. We have done nothing to follow it up on harmful lines. We have no hidden designs and our policy in this matter is an open book. We have subjected, wherever we were required to do so, our exploration of atomic energy to prescribed safeguards. We did not violate the Partial Test Ban Treaty to which we are a party and I am advised that there was no radioactive venting. This is in contrast to other countries which, before and after the Treaty continued to carry out atmospheric nuclear tests, releasing radioactivity which spread around the world.

I hope you will agree that discriminatory restraints are inconsistent with our national dignity and freedom to pursue our developmental goals through scientific progress is an undeniable national right and obligation. I see no justification for doubting that India is second to none in adopting a responsible attitude towards present and future world peace. That is fundamental of our foreign policy and the restraints which we have exercised in the transfer of sensitive technol [Page 187] ogy is proof enough that India in no way wishes to accentuate the dangers of proliferation of weapons.

As regards the Tarapur reactor, we planned it on the assurance of enriched fuel being made available for its requirements. We did so through a bilateral agreement which embodies full and adequate safeguards against any danger of misuse. It is vital to industrial production in the States of Maharashtra and Gujarat which at present receive a significant part of their energy requirements from the Tarapur station. We do hope, therefore, that the question of future shipments for Tarapur and the disposal of nuclear waste will be satisfactorily resolved and that it would free us from a real anxiety and threat to the well-being of a sizeable rural and urban population.

Mr. President, let me assure you that India will actively join in any form of discipline, devised through international agreement, which aims at real nuclear disarmament side by side with efforts to immunise the world against the dangers of nuclear misuse. I feel that discipline in the matter of non-proliferation must start with the countries which have already developed nuclear competence of a high order and as such pose greater danger and not directed to controlling the struggling ambitions, in developmental efforts, of countries like India.

We remain constantly aware of the problems in West Asia, for us a neighbouring region with which our own welfare is linked, and with which is bound up the prospect of peace in this part of the continent. Your basic approach to the problem is greatly to be welcomed, and we share your hope that a fair and just peace can be established. On Southern Africa, too, both our countries have tried to promote a solution that the majority will find acceptable and which would end the collective denial of human rights through racial discrimination. We have always felt that the American role could be most important and we are happy with the recent initiatives taken by your Administration.

I have noted with interest what you have said about demilitarization of the Indian Ocean.4 This is a matter of concern for us, and we shall certainly elaborate our thinking on the question so that this Ocean may remain free from the unpredictable military and political consequences of great power rivalries.

In the few weeks since the new Government took office in India, we have further invigorated our efforts in the search to strengthen confidence and co-operation with our neighbours. I am greatly encouraged by your approach to the process of normalisation in South Asia so that this region remains free from external interference. Any diver [Page 188] sion from this path of peace, stability and cooperation, can only add to the burdens of our people. It is, therefore, our sincere hope that there would be no induction, into this region, of arms supplies and sophisticated weapons which could revive tensions and rekindle irresponsible passions.

We are looking forward to the arrival of Ambassador Goheen who has a record of understanding and sympathy for Asia. I have no doubt that he will confirm the warm feelings and affection which the people of India have for the U.S.A. I have also every hope that his efforts will be constantly directed towards promoting the mutual interests of our two countries.

During her visit to India we welcomed Mrs. Lillian Carter as a true and committed friend of the people of India who have treated her as one of themselves.5 We are grateful to her for having stimulated your own interest in the struggle and achievements of India. While we shall maintain close liaison through our respective Ambassadors, I should like to urge that there can be no substitute for personal exchanges between national leaders. I am very happy, therefore, to extend our cordial invitation to you to visit India at an early date convenient to you. I can assure you that the Indian people will spontaneously demonstrate their regard for you and for the United States. It will be an occasion to reflect that these two large functioning democracies drawing strength and inspiration from their respective peoples can work together in close and constructive relationships not only for themselves but for the common interests of the community of nations.

With my best personal regards and wishes

Yours Sincerely6

Morarji Desai
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840077–0542. No classification marking. Carter initialed at the upper right-hand corner of the first page of the letter and highlighted several passages. Michael Hornblow, Acting NSC Staff Secretary, sent the letter to Tarnoff under cover of a May 24 memorandum recommending that it be sent to Goheen for his information. Hornblow also requested “recommendations on the timing and substance of a reply to this letter.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P840077–0541)
  2. Carter’s letter to Desai was dated May 2. See Document 69.
  3. Vance held talks with the Soviets in Moscow March 28–30, in large part to discuss SALT. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Documents 1723.
  4. At a press conference on March 9, Carter called for the demilitarization of the Indian Ocean. See Public Papers: Carter, 1977, Book I, p. 348.
  5. See footnote 2, Document 62.
  6. Desai handwrote the last sentence and closing.