75. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Jagat Mehta, Foreign Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs
  • V. Shankar, Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Government of India
  • M.A. Vellodi, Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs
  • A. Madhavan, Joint Secretary, America Division, Ministry of External Affairs


  • Tarapur

When the Ambassador returned to carry out the second stage of his instructions with the Foreign Secretary2 he found Shankar and Vellodi also waiting to receive him. Mehta started out saying there would have to be consideration of the matter the Ambassador had raised. They were getting further elaboration—not negotiating. The Ambassador said that when the Foreign Minister met Secretary Vance the two might talk about how to set up the machinery to carry on discussions.3 The Ambassador then said that the first thing he wanted to say—and this was not a precondition—was that he was sure the GOI understood that should India move to a second device this, in effect, would mean the end of nuclear cooperation. This was not a condition; it just reflected the state of opinion in the United States. The Ambassador then said that our negotiations would be on two levels. First were matters such as disposition of spent fuel and working out the storage problem for which arrangements were in process. Vellodi interrupted to say that disposal of spent fuel was directly related to reprocessing. He reviewed the history of the construction of the Tarapur reprocessing facility which he said was done with the knowledge and approval of the US and as a part of the agreement. He cited the history [Page 193] of USG consideration of the design of the plant and the understanding that before reprocessing there would be a joint determination of safeguardability. He then pointed out that the IAEA in September had asked the US about safeguardability but received no reply. The GOI wanted us to know that as far as disposal of Tarapur spent fuel was concerned it became pertinent only if reprocessing does not take place. The Ambassador agreed that this could be discussed in the course of negotiations. Shankar remarked that it would be better to have the agreement on Tarapur on the agenda. The Ambassador concluded that he would report that this was an important thing the GOI wished to take up. The Ambassador then said there was another point he wished to raise concerning the future negotiations. Should, for some reason, such as a second nuclear explosion, there be a need to terminate our agreement, we would like to be sure that the current safeguards would be continued. He said that he believed the Indians were in fact continuing the safeguards on Canadian facilities. Furthermore, the US would want some adequate safeguards on the US heavy water in CIRUS and RAPP.4 The Ambassador said that our vote in the IAEA on Soviet heavy water for RAPP would be contingent on the assurance of safeguards covering the heavy water we have supplied to CIRUS and RAPP.

The Ambassador then turned to more general policy questions in the future negotiations saying that we hoped that the GOI will forego peaceful explosions, that India would consider full scope safeguards, and that the GOI would adopt export guidelines at least comparable to those of the London suppliers group.5 Finally, the Ambassador invited Indian participation in the fuel cycle evaluation program6 and handed over the latest US paper on this.7

There ensued a series of Indian questions and comments on the Ambassador’s presentation. Shankar asked which subjects of negotiation would be peculiar to India and which would be of universal application. The Ambassador replied that the only subjects peculiar to India were those related to the specific situation at Tarapur and the US heavy water. Shankar then referred to Tarapur and asked to what extent the existing agreement had been implemented, to what extent had it not been implemented, and were there any grounds for its reconsideration. The Ambassador replied that the USG had gone through a major review of policy and we needed to discuss how our [Page 194] new perceptions fit Indian policies. Shankar asked if it was the US purpose to modify the objectives and considerations of US-Indian nuclear cooperation. The Ambassador replied that this was not our purpose if examined broadly. Much time had elapsed since our agreement was signed. India has moved in the direction of breeder reactors and reprocessing. We asked that India be aware that we now realize plutonium will be difficult to keep out of the hands of unscrupulous people. On a worldwide basis we need more time. We do not intend to lay down the law but we need time to consider what to do about the problem.

The Foreign Secretary intervened to say that it was most important that the Tarapur power production program should not be interrupted for direct or indirect reasons. Some things must be renewed, others reconsidered, but Tarapur must stay in operation. Mehta said that there were implications that the President’s policy would have a different bearing on different countries. He mentioned the principal reasons for India’s objection to NPT (discrimination against certain countries) and said that they should be borne in mind should, in the process of our policy review, there be any nuances of discrimination. The Ambassador replied that in his talks with the President and Joseph Nye there had been a definite desire to treat India as we would treat other countries. There was no disposition to be discriminating or punitive in the White House or the Department. There were, however, in the Congress and the general public people who were disposed in that direction.

Shankar then raised the problem of what he called public psychology in India. India had kept to the agreement it had signed. If an agreement, which was concluded to produce power for the benefit of people, must be reopened, then there will be a real public opinion problem in India. He also described it as a political problem—both internally and internationally. Shankar also said the Prime Minister did not want to place limits on the right of scientific inquiry, on utilization of important sources of energy and the use of science for the betterment of the people. He asked how much would our proposals impose limits of this sort. Shankar also asked why it was that Indian assurances of peaceful development of atomic energy had not been accepted. Why must India give additional safeguards which will impinge on science?

The Ambassador replied that he could understand why these questions were raised because of delays on the US side. The Indian explosion came as a great shock to the US and this was compounded as some US heavy water was used in the device. India may say there was nothing specific in an agreement against that but nevertheless this had a very heavy impact in the US. The Foreign Secretary asked if India had not had a PNE would it have made any difference. The Ambassador answered in the affirmative citing the very strong congressional reac [Page 195] tion even among India’s friends. Shankar asked what factors were responsible for the timing of the US initiative and the Ambassador answered, the new President and his new policy. He then spoke of the President’s desire to consult openly in advance of decisions. Shankar asked if a logical follow up would not be the cessation of all nuclear tests. The Ambassador answered that the President had proposed this and Shankar rejoined that they had heard of a new US test the other day. Shankar said this was one of the things that rankled in the Prime Minister’s mind. He believed example was better than precept.

Vellodi asked about the factual situation regarding nuclear export legislation on the Hill.8 He said it was the GOI understanding that the bill could pass by September or October and asked what timeframe for discussions did we have in mind. Was it our intention to hold discussions in the interim period before passage of legislation? He also asked whether, in view of the administration’s provision in its proposed legislation for renegotiation of proposed contracts, our objective in discussions would be renegotiation of the Tarapur contract. The Ambassador replied that it was important that we talk together and see if we can move toward cooperation. It would help the President’s legislation if we could say we were having serious discussions with India. The Foreign Secretary also asked what time frame we had in mind for negotiations. The Ambassador said he had no instructions but that Nye wanted early talks about setting up negotiations. Shankar asked if our interim shipment was linked only with India’s willingness to have discussions. The Ambassador replied that he had already reported that the Prime Minister was willing to have discussions so that the President could make the recommendation to the NRC right away and the NRC could issue the license. He did not know how long this would take but understood the more acute time problem related to storage.

Vellodi then began a discussion of US heavy water, saying we had already exchanged much information on this. In regard to CIRUS he said the necessary information has been provided concerning whether it is possible to know that US heavy water is still there. The situation regarding US heavy water in RAPP was different. When India needed heavy water it made an agreement with the Canadians. They did not have sufficient heavy water so they obtained it from the US. There was no ambiguity here. The GOI treats the heavy water as Canadian and understood that Canada would either substitute that water or India would return it to Canada. It was later agreed because of practical difficulties, that instead of shipping the US heavy water from India [Page 196] the Canadians would replace it in the US. Vellodi confirmed that the GOI was having discussions with the IAEA on Soviet heavy water and so far no final agreement had been reached. The Ambassador said that he had understood the US heavy water in CIRUS could be moved to RAPP and put under safeguards there. He said the CIRUS heavy water was very sensitive in the United States.

As the conversation drew to a close, the Ambassador said that his feeling was that from the standpoint of State, ACDA and the White House, there was a real disposition to try to meet and talk with India in terms of equality and good faith. He hoped the GOI would exploit that situation and help move us forward from the difficulties of the past. The Foreign Secretary replied that at this stage the Foreign Minister is away, and the Prime Minister is going to London. They may talk about this subject there. He said “the question has been raised with the Prime Minister . . . the answer can be given only after the Prime Minister’s return on June 17. But then there would be the Indian budget.” It would also be necessary for the Cabinet to consider the issue. The Ambassador promptly and firmly replied that he had been asked to get the assurance of the Prime Minister regarding safeguards on Tarapur and Indian readiness to enter into discussions.

He had already transmitted that assurance to the USG.9 Mehta answered that India was not going back on that. The only matter was the time schedule. After some discussion of negotiations on technical matters regarding Tarapur and general policy negotiations, Shankar said the former should be taken up immediately but the latter should wait until the GOI has political guidance.

Shankar said that there were bound to be discussions on this subject in Parliament since it is a public matter. There would be pressure on the Prime Minister to commit himself to a course from which he might have to depart during discussions. Shankar said he doubted the Prime Minister would want to have serious discussions when Parliament was in session. It will adjourn on August 5. The GOI would like to approach negotiations as free from “complications” as possible.

As the conversation closed the Ambassador left his talking paper which summarized the second stage of his instructions with the Foreign Secretary.10

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material North/South, Thornton Country File, Box 93, India: Nuclear: 5/77–4/78. Confidential. Drafted by Schneider on June 3. The meeting took place in the Office of the Indian Foreign Secretary.
  2. See footnote 2, Document 74. For Goheen’s discussion of Tarapur with Desai, see Document 74.
  3. Vance and Vajpayee met on May 31 in Paris during the CIEC. Telegram 132120 to New Delhi, June 8, summarized the meeting. While discussing general energy policy, Vajpayee addressed the nuclear issue, explaining: “The Prime Minister was opposed to development of nuclear weapons but there was a strong commitment to the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Vajpayee reviewed Tarapur history, noting there was a clear U.S. commitment to supply uranium. India was ready to talk, but the manner in which fuel had been withheld raised questions of attaching new conditions to a contractual obligation.” Vance stressed “the desirability of beginning discussions promptly.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770204–0734)
  4. See footnote 3, Document 70. Rajasthan Atomic Power Project (RAPP) was a nuclear power station of Canadian design and Indian construction. RAPP’s two reactors came online in 1973 and 1981, respectively.
  5. See footnote 6, Document 70.
  6. See footnote 4, Document 74.
  7. Not found.
  8. See Document 6.
  9. In telegram 7675 from New Delhi, May 27, Goheen transmitted Desai’s assurances, made during their May 27 meeting, regarding India’s nuclear program. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850056–2642, N770003–0536)
  10. Telegram 8040 from New Delhi, June 6, contains the text of the talking paper that Goheen left with Mehta. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770200–1036)