87. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Indian Nuclear Issues


  • India:

    • Ambassador Palkhivala
    • Mr. Gokhale, Minister
    • Mr. Rajan, First Secretary
  • U.S.:

    • Joseph S. Nye, Deputy to the Under Secretary for Security Assistance, Science and Technology (T/D)
    • Adolph Dubs, Deputy Assistant Secretary (NEA)
    • C. David Welch, Notetaker (T)
[Page 218]

Mr. Nye greeted Mr. Palkhivala, the Indian Ambassador, and his colleagues, Mr. Gokhale and Mr. Rajan. Mr. Dubs expressed regret at the serious injuries sustained by Indian Embassy employee Koteswar, who was stabbed by an unknown assailant.2 The Ambassador expressed thanks for the sympathy extended and said he feared that Koteswar might not survive, but he was young and strong and they had not given up hope. In addition, other members of the Embassy had received threats and this worried him. Nye sympathized and noted that no society is immune to terrorism today.

Ambassador Palkhivala said that he had come in to discuss with Nye the nuclear issues in our relations with India. To begin, he wanted to make several points.

First, India was not and did not intend to be, a co-sponsor of the non-aligned resolution on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy for Development. Nye expressed his gratitude for the Indian support of our opposition to this resolution.3 He added that the U.S. position on the South Asian Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (SANWFZ)4 should be understood in the context of our desire to maintain a consistency with President Carter’s support of nuclear weapons free zones in general and the Treaty of Tlatelolco5 in particular. The vote was well received by Pakistan;6 but we did not intend, he emphasized, for this vote to read as directed against India, with which we have excellent relations.

Ambassador Palkhivala thanked Nye for his explanation and said that the second point he wanted to raise concerned the pending license [Page 219] applications for Tarapur fuel.7 He noted there were two applications on file and that it was very urgent for action to begin on the one presented in January. The Ambassador noted that supplying fuel to Tarapur would not involve a “breach” of the pending non-proliferation legislation8 since this particular fuel supply would not last beyond the 18 month deadline (in both the House and Senate versions of the legislation) for the imposition of full-scope safeguards. A delay in the issuance of this license could involve very high financial costs for India if the fuel had to be shipped by air. If the license were not issued, blackouts9 in the Gujarat area could result. Most importantly, if this license were held up it could affect adversely the setting and tone surrounding President Carter’s visit. Tarapur could then turn into a serious political issue in India and would be used against the Desai government by the opposition. “In confidence,” he said, Prime Minister Desai had already received a question in Parliament on Tarapur and had responded to the effect that he expected “no problems” in getting the fuel. In sum, he said, there were three arguments favoring issuance of the license: one, the economic and energy reasons; two, the political weight given by the opposition to any actions on Tarapur; and, three, the need to assure a proper environment for President Carter’s visit.

Nye responded that we could fully appreciate the economic and political importance of Tarapur, but that he wanted to point out in a frank manner that there were views within the U.S. Government which questioned the technical imperatives of fueling Tarapur now.10 Nye admitted that these technical views ignored the larger, more important political arguments for granting the license. The Administration will proceed with processing the application through its various phases. The Ambassador said he had tried to convince Commissioner Gilinsky that the fuel fabrication plant at Tarapur ran on a precise schedule tuned to the fuel requirements of the Tarapur reactors. He had pointed out that any delay in fuel fabrication caused by a licensing delay would ultimately hamper the operation of the Tarapur power reactors. Nye said he would report this and would make every effort to expedite Executive Branch review of the license but he could not predict the ultimate outcome.

The third issue the Ambassador wanted to discuss was President Carter’s visit. He said that it was the GOI’s desire to have something said on the nuclear issue in a joint declaration. He reiterated India’s total agreement with the intent of the pending non-proliferation legisla [Page 220] tion and Desai’s strong support for the principle of non-proliferation. Desai had even pledged not to explode any more nuclear devices. Would the U.S. be receptive to language that supported India’s efforts and views in this area? In addition, he said, it would be very helpful to say that the US is not pressing for a full scope safeguards treaty and that, despite our differences, the dialogue between our countries is amicable and free of coercion.

Nye said that he understood completely the Indian concerns on full scope safeguards (FSS) and added that a mention of India’s support for the IAEA and the international safeguards regime would be suitable language for a declaration. He noted that there were two ways to approach Indian adherence to FSS. First, it could be done as a “treaty” through a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA covering all facilities (INFCIRC–153). Second, it could be done facility-by-facility (INFCIRC–66) through IAEA inspections, thus increasing incrementally the number of such facilities under safeguards. Nye stated that India could gradually approach FSS by the latter avenue and thus reduce the political visibility of the issue. Furthermore, India already had safeguarded facilities so this would not be a novel step. Moving towards FSS in this manner, he emphasized, could defuse the political invective while meeting the deadline called for in the pending legislation. Ambassador Palkhivala did not reply to this but said that anything such as a “treaty” would have to pass Parliament and would therefore invoke a political debate.

The Ambassador asked whether the international opposition to the Administration’s policy on FSS troubled Nye. Nye replied that those attitudes were changing; for example, Brazil has everything under safeguards and thus is in effect under FSS. Our differences with them are over the reprocessing issue. All NPT nations are under FSS, and the number of nations that do not adhere to FSS is small and shows signs of declining. Since FSS are applied by the IAEA, an international body, national sovereignty is respected; therefore, even nations with indigenously developed facilities have gone to FSS. We see these as positive developments, especially given the pending legislation’s requirements for FSS after 18 months.

Mr. Gokhale said that what really worried India was the discrimination inherent in the NPT and the political problems it conjures up in India. He asked whether a statement might be made before the visit that will counter the rumors and press stories (he cited a NYT editorial)11 that suggest that President Carter will deal with the NPT as subject of the visit. Nye said that the USG was cognizant of this problem. [Page 221] Gokhale added that India has shown commendable restraint in “passing on” nuclear technology and “there is recent evidence of this”. Any expression or recognition of this helpful attitude would assist India in preparing for the President’s visit.

Nye asked whether they meant a statement before the President’s trip. The Ambassador replied that this was not necessary but it should be reflected in any declaration. Dubs said we were preparing a draft declaration.12 The Ambassador noted that the American Embassy in New Delhi had been given an Indian draft and the Department presumably received a copy.13 Dubs added that we could consider making positive remarks along the lines suggested by the Ambassador in any comments to the press, preferably after the visit.

The Ambassador also asked about the return of spent fuel policy—should something be mentioned about this in the declaration? In response, Nye said we could mention something about Indian interest in the policy. As an aside, the Ambassador said India might be the first nation to take advantage of the new policy.

Mr. Gokhale asked for a clarification of the new fuel bank policies. Nye said this idea was being worked on in the context of our preparations for INFCE and that we would have more to say about it in Working Group 3 on fuel assurances. The fuel bank would be international in character and available to those nations that met certain non-proliferation obligations. Gokhale asked what that meant for Tarapur. Nye replied that FSS might be a condition, in which case the Tarapur situation would be unchanged. The key focus of the bank was on the guarantee of a reliable supply of nuclear fuel that would be insulated from capricious and arbitrary political cut-offs. International control over supply leverage would guarantee this to states accepting certain obligations.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Ambassador at Large and Special Representative of the President for Nonproliferation Matters (S/AS), Entry UD–07, Lot 81D155, Box 16, India 1977. Secret. Drafted by Welch; approved by Nye. The meeting took place at the Department of State.
  2. Silla Koteswar was attacked on November 28 outside the Indian Embassy in Washington. According to the report on the incident in the Washington Post, the Indian Embassy’s press counselor suspected it was an act of terrorism. See “Stabbed Diplomat Remains Serious After Surgery,” Washington Post, November 30, 1977, p. C2.
  3. UN General Assembly Resolution A/RES/32/50, Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy for Economic and Social Development, was adopted on December 8. An unknown hand wrote: “GSIO explains this Yugo-Pak resolution competes with a Finn resolution we favor” in the right-hand margin next to this sentence. “GS” presumably refers to George Seignious, Director of ACDA.
  4. See footnote 4, Document 82.
  5. The Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (also known as the Treaty of Tlatelolco) was signed in Mexico City on February 14, 1967, and entered into force on April 22, 1968. Protocol II, which called upon nuclear-weapon states to agree to respect the obligations set forth in the Treaty and to promise not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against Contracting Parties to the Treaty, was signed by Vice President Hubert Humphrey on April 1, 1968. Carter signed Protocol I of the Treaty, which bound overseas nations with territories in Latin America—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands—to the terms of the Treaty, which prohibited the manufacture, testing, storage, and use of nuclear weapons in Latin America, on May 26, 1977. For documentation on the Carter administration’s efforts to convince other Latin American nations to sign and ratify the Treaty, see Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. XXVI, Arms Control and Nonproliferation.
  6. See Document 4.
  7. An unknown hand underlined “pending license applications for Tarapur fuel.”
  8. See Document 6.
  9. An unknown hand underlined “blackouts.”
  10. An unknown hand underlined “now.”
  11. Not found.
  12. Not found. An unknown hand underlined this sentence, drew a line from it to the right-hand margin, and wrote: “GS—I’ve asked Dubs to discuss at 3:15 briefly.”
  13. Telegram 15378 from New Delhi, November 1, relayed the text of the Indian draft of a joint Indo-U.S. declaration. The draft proclaimed that India and the United States shared beliefs in democracy; the dignity of the individual; the right of self-determination; the importance of openness, decolonization, peaceful arbitration of conflict, and disarmament; and the need for a restructuring of the international economic order on a more equitable basis. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770401–0712) Regarding the final version, see footnote 13, Document 92.