80. Letter From President Carter to Indian Prime Minister Desai1

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I read your May 16 letter with great interest.2 I appreciate both its warmth and its candor.

It was very kind of you to invite me to visit India, and I am happy to accept your invitation. I intend to limit travel abroad during the first part of my Administration, but I will place India high on my agenda for foreign trips. In the meantime, is there any chance that you might be able to come to the United States—perhaps early next year? You have many admirers here, and I can assure you a warm welcome. I especially look forward to a meeting with you and hope you can come.

In the spirit of our earlier correspondence, I would like to share some thoughts with you on nuclear questions. I was deeply impressed by your letter, and by what you have said publicly on a number of occasions regarding your strong and principled opposition to nuclear weapons. Clearly, we share the fundamental goal of preventing what you so aptly term “nuclear misuse”. India’s eagerness to find ways to reduce the danger of a nuclear holocaust is very heartening to me. At the same time, I fully understand your position that India must use nuclear technology to meet its future energy and developmental requirements, and your resistance to discriminatory arrangements.

All nations share a moral responsibility to do what they can in this critical cause. We are currently working on a key step toward the objective of reducing the dangers of nuclear war—a total nuclear test ban arrangement.3 Like the 1963 treaty to end atmospheric testing, a comprehensive test ban would be a non-discriminatory multilateral understanding. In view of the leading role that India has historically played in this question, I would hope that you will work closely with us in reaching a comprehensive test ban.

On Tarapur, I was delighted with your forthright and positive response to Ambassador Goheen, whom I had personally asked to discuss this with you.4 Your prompt assurances to me that India would [Page 205] maintain international safeguards on Tarapur, would not use material supplied by the United States in a further nuclear explosion, and would enter into negotiations on nuclear matters were extremely encouraging. On the basis of your response, I authorized a recommendation that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issue the long-pending license for enriched uranium fuel. I am pleased the shipment is now on its way.

The new US nuclear export policy, which will be a major element in our discussions, is designed not only to reduce the risk of possible misuse of civil nuclear technology for military purposes, but also, equally important, to ensure its fullest possible application for economic and scientific advancement. Along with the vast majority of nations, the United States sees the International Atomic Energy Agency’s safeguard system as a means of promoting worldwide confidence that nuclear materials are not being misused. Comprehensive IAEA safeguards do not in any way impair a nation’s ability to develop and use nuclear technology for civilian purposes; if your technical people have any doubts on this matter, we will be glad to address them in our discussions.

To demonstrate our own support of the IAEA safeguards system, the US is itself currently negotiating arrangements for these controls on all American civilian nuclear installations. This is the identical responsibility that would be undertaken by non-nuclear weapons states, but I recognize that, psychologically at least, we are asking others to do more than we are able to do ourselves. This frankly disturbs me, but I see no alternative until we and the Soviet Union are able to move along the road toward nuclear disarmament. We cannot afford to put off establishing as many global norms as are realistically possible until political conditions are ripe for nuclear disarmament. Comprehensive IAEA safeguards are among the most important norms for preventing nuclear misuse.

A related point concerns the International Fuel Cycle Evaluation Program.5 I have proposed this as a way for interested countries to consider how best to enhance the use of nuclear power in achieving development and energy goals, while minimizing the technical possibilities for misuse of this technology for military purposes. As one of the world’s leaders in nuclear technology, your country has much to offer in making this important program a success. I very much hope that India decides to join in this cooperative effort. Public discussion of highly technical aspects of this proposal has perhaps caused some misunderstanding. We are not trying to force others to abandon expensive investments in their nuclear power programs. We are seeking [Page 206] through the Fuel Cycle Evaluation Program to develop safer technology to reduce the chances of proliferation and improve the safety and economic performance of future fuel cycles.

I have written at length on the nuclear question because I feel, as you do, that it is crucially important for humanity. India has an opportunity to set a principled example for others to follow in the interest of our shared objectives. I would hope India exerts its traditional role of moral leadership in this vital area.

Turning briefly to another subject, I would like to ask for your help in dealing with an aspect of economic development that is much in the forefront of my thinking: the need to focus primary attention on improving the lot of the rural poor. I have been struck by the emphasis your government is placing on increasing employment and raising the living standards in the countryside, where the vast majority of your people live. Since India has much expertise in rural development, I think American specialists would gain from exchanging views with your experts so that we would have the benefit of your experience, counsel, and cooperation in shaping our own assistance programs for the developing countries. If you think this idea worth pursuing, Ambassador Goheen could work out the details with the appropriate people in your government.

I also want to keep you abreast of progress in our talks with the Soviets concerning arms control in the Indian Ocean.6 As you know, delegations met in Moscow last month, and a second meeting is scheduled for September. The initial session was concerned mainly with questions of definition and setting forth opening positions; the negotiations were serious and gave me grounds for cautious hope. The two sides agreed that our initial efforts should be directed toward a stabilization of the military situation to prevent the development of an escalating arms race in the Indian Ocean. The precise nature of the stabilization agreement and possible subsequent reductions in forces will have to be determined in the later meetings.

In closing, let me say again how pleased I was with your letter. I also want to thank you for the warm reception that you and other members of your government accorded Ambassador Goheen. I am encouraged by Secretary Vance’s good meeting in Paris with Foreign Minister Vajpayee7 and by reports of the constructive manner in which our representatives at various multilateral gatherings are working together. I am heartened by the way that dialogue between India and the United States is developing, and I sense a growing mutual trust [Page 207] and confidence between us. This is as it should be between countries with so many shared interests and values.


Jimmy Carter
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Brzezinski Office File, Country Chron File, Box 17, India: 2–8/77. No classification marking.
  2. See Document 73.
  3. U.S.-Soviet exploratory discussions regarding a comprehensive test ban treaty were held in Washington June 13–16, followed by U.S.–U.K.-Soviet discussions July 13–27 in Geneva. See Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation, Documents 162 and 165.
  4. See Document 74.
  5. See footnote 4, Document 74.
  6. See footnote 3, Document 79.
  7. See footnote 3, Document 75.