113. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in the Soviet Union1
68654. Geneva for Ambassador Flowerree only. Subject: Sverdlovsk BW Incident.
1. (Secret—Entire text).[Page 246]
2. Summary and action requested. There is disturbing evidence pointing to the release of lethal biological agent as the cause of numerous deaths in Sverdlovsk, USSR, in April–May 1979. The intelligence community’s present conclusions and report have been sent to you septel.2 Ambassador Watson is instructed to raise this matter with deputy Foreign Minister Korniyenko as soon as possible. Ambassador Flowerree should inform Ambassador Israelyan of the démarche promptly after it is made in Moscow.3 End summary.
3. We are deeply concerned about the the incident in Sverdlovsk in April 1979 and its implications. We wish to make a serious effort to discuss this issue bilaterally in accordance with Article V of the Biological Weapons (BW) Convention. Speed is essential in view of the end of the BW Convention Review Conference on March 21, and our desire to give the Soviets as much time as possible to give USA considered response. It is in both our interests to have at least a preliminary response before the end of the Review Conference, since we will have to state at the conference that we have raised a compliance issue.
4. Ambassador Watson should personally make the following points as soon as possible to Korniyenko or, should he be unavailable, to another official on the First Deputy Minister or Deputy Minister level. Points should be provided in the form of a Non-Paper as well.
A.—The United States and the Soviet Union have a continuing interest in sustaining our mutual efforts to control the arms race.
B.—I have been instructed to raise a matter which potentially has extremely serious implications for the future of arms control negotiations between our countries and more specific bearing on the Biological Weapons Convention.
C.—Although no public announcement was made by Soviet authorities, for some time we have been aware of reports of an extraordinary outbreak of disease which was apparently pulmonary anthrax, which caused numerous deaths in Sverdlovsk in April 1979, and which resulted in the establishment of a quarantine.
D.—We have now received further information which indicates that this extraordinary outbreak appears to have been caused by the release of a quantity of anthrax agent exceeding that justified for prophy[Page 247]lactic, protective, or other peaceful purposes and that it originated at a military facility in Sverdlovsk.
E.—Article V of the Biological Weapons Convention provides that the parties shall consult and cooperate with one another in solving any problems which may arise. In accordance with that article, the US government is asking that the Soviet government consult and cooperate with it and provide information to explain this outbreak of disease in Sverdlovsk in April 1979.
F.—We want to deal with this matter in the same serious way in which we have consulted on a number of questions involving compliance with arms control agreements in recent years. Because of the implications regarding compliance with the Convention itself and for other arms control negotiations, we are raising this matter directly with you and asking for prompt and full consultations. A simple denial in response to this present US approach will not advance the situation and will not serve our mutual interests.
G.—Since we are now in the process of consulting with you on a compliance related question, we will make a statement before the Review Conference concludes indicating that we are pursuing consultations in accordance with Article V. Any response you can make to our request for consultation and cooperation under Article V before the end of the Review Conference will be taken into account in determining the character of the statement we will make.
H.—Obviously, under these circumstances we would not be prepared to approve language in the final document of the Review Conference which states that no questions have arisen relating to compliance.
5. Embassy Moscow should inform Ambassador Flowerree immediately after Ambassador Watson sees Korniyenko. Ambassador Flowerree should then inform Ambassador Israelyan of the démarche, and repeat points made in para 4 above.
6. For Geneva: We will provide additional guidance on Revcon and consultations with Allies.
- Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P880025–0588. Secret; Niact Immediate; Nodis. Sent immediate to the Mission in Geneva. Drafted by Mark Palmer (PM/DCA) and Martin Mclean (EUR/SOV); cleared by Aaron (NSC), Robert Martin (INR/PMT), Marshall Brement (NSC), Shulman (S/MS), Earle (ACDA), Peter Wilson (S/P), Slocombe (DUSD/PP), John Taylor (S/S–O), J.S. (Pustay), McCrory (CIA), Jerome Kahan (PM), and Robert Barry (EUR); and approved by Christopher (D).↩
- See footnote 1, Document 111.↩
- On March 17, the Mission in Geneva reported that when informed of the démarche, “Israelyan’s only reaction was to bemoan the fact that this development would further complicate the already difficult task of agreeing to a final declaration for the BW Review Conference. He also said that he had not been informed by Moscow of the US démarche.” (Telegram 4292 from the Mission in Geneva, March 17; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P870149–0757)↩