332. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Middle East, Arms Control



    • Secretary Cyrus R. Vance
    • Ambassador Malcolm Toon
    • Mr. Paul Warnke
    • Assistant Secretary Arthur Hartman
    • Mr. William Hyland
    • Mr. Leslie Gelb
    • Mr. William D. Krimer, Interpreter
  • USSR

    • Foreign Minister A.A. Gromyko
    • Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers L.V. Smirnov
    • Deputy Foreign Minister G.M. Korniyenko
    • Ambassador A.F. Dobrynin
    • Notetaker—Name Unknown
    • Mr. V.M. Sukhodrev, Interpreter

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to non-proliferation.]


Gromyko suggested that the subject of non-proliferation required some discussion.

The Secretary said he would be happy to start. As he had indicated the other day, the question of non-proliferation was a matter of major concern for our government, for the Carter Administration.2 As a consequence of the priority we attached to this issue, we had begun a study immediately upon taking office. That study was about to be completed. We would be prepared to discuss such things as international fuel assurance arrangements, international spent fuel storage and strengthening IAEA safeguard arrangements. As a result of the study, we had come to the following conclusions, which would be announced very shortly: First, we would indefinitely defer commercial fuel reproc[Page 837]essing; Secondly, we intended to restructure our breeder reactor program in such a way as to stress designs other than plutonium-related; Third, we would redirect the funding of nuclear research and development programs in such a way as to concentrate on alternative nuclear fuel cycles that would not involve materials that could be used for weapons purposes; Fourth, we planned to increase US production of nuclear fuels. We believed that these steps will be constructive and that they should be discussed in international fora, to see whether international action could be taken to strengthen control on sensitive technology with the objective of stopping further proliferation. That in brief was where we stood today. We would, of course, continue to urge those who had not signed the NPT to sign and ratify the treaty in view of its great importance. We would continue to encourage widest possible use and adherence to the treaty and urge strengthening and improving safeguards for enforcing sanctions against violators of such a treaty.

Gromyko said that he had listened to the Secretary’s communication on this issue with interest, and so had his colleagues. Soviet views on this issue were as follows: the task of preventing nuclear war demanded most insistently that insuperable obstacles be placed in the path of the spread of nuclear weapons. Above all, this was the task of making the NPT, already in effect, truly all-embracing and universal. It was well-known fact that countries such as the Peoples Republic of China and France were outside the treaty; so were a significant number of other countries. The Secretary knew this well and also surely knew that there were some countries that were very close to starting the building of their own nuclear weapons. The Soviet Union was prepared, together with the United States, to continue efforts aimed at insuring that these and all other states so far outside the treaty become parties to the treaty. Why could not our two countries think of some new forms of influencing them, perhaps even on a trilateral basis (i.e., the US, the USSR, and UK) or on a bilateral basis only, with the Soviet and US governments approaching the governments of non-participating countries to speed up adherence to the treaty. Speaking quite frankly, Gromyko would say that the Soviet side had not yet observed any energetic measures on the part of the United States to exert its influence in the right direction. It was quite true that occasionally some statements were made urging adherence, but this was only a small part of what could be done. He would not say that the United States had acted wholeheartedly in this matter so far. The danger remained that non-nuclear countries which received nuclear materials from other countries would utilize such materials for purposes of weapons development. The Soviet Union was resolved to make sure that international cooperation in this field and in the field of peaceful nuclear explosions not become another channel for nuclear weapons proliferation. He was [Page 838] convinced that this was not a commercial question, but a major question of policy.

By way of example, Gromyko thought it would be appropriate to mention the current nuclear deliveries by the FRG to Brazil and by France to Pakistan, deliveries that could not but give rise to concern. In the Soviet view, what was needed was effective nuclear control over any receiving country. The Soviet Union had advocated and now advocates all-embracing improvement of the system of control in this field, and was prepared to cooperate with the United States and others.

The Secretary interrupted to say he appreciated hearing this from Gromyko. As Gromyko would know, we had worked with Brazil, Germany, France and Pakistan to see to it that sensitive materials and information transfers through creating processing plants not be brought to fruition, and that other measures be taken to guarantee fuel supply so as to eliminate the danger in this area.

Gromyko said it would be hard for the Soviets to believe that the United States was not able to bring greater pressure to bear on Brazil in these matters. Had the Brazilian leaders really come to the conclusion that they could not live without nuclear weapons? He thought the Brazilians must be fully aware of the fact that their action might set off a chain of events, thereby worsening the situation. Of course, he knew that some positive statements were being made in the US from time to time, say every six months or so, but it seemed to him that the United States was not fully using its options to bring pressure to bear. Perhaps the new Administration would need some time before it could do more in this respect.

The Secretary said he disagreed with the Minister. His deputy had gone to Brazil to discuss this issue.3 We had asked Brazilian leaders to stop their arrangement with Germany and find an alternate solution. We had told them we would guarantee fuel supply. As a result of this maximum pressure, Brazilian-US relations had become quite strained. It was difficult to see how we could have done more.

Gromyko said that, of course, the Secretary was a better judge of what could be done. He would suggest that in addition to the contacts we had on this subject within the framework of international organizations, it would be useful to hold Soviet-American consultations on the whole complex of the problem of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. It was true that we had not had too much contact in this respect. Some meetings were held a long time ago and at infrequent intervals. In the course of such consultations, the Soviet Union and the United States could agree on joint action in the direction of improving the already op[Page 839]erating London understanding between the exporting countries, in which the Soviet Union, the United States and others were active. In the course of such consultations we could also review the effectiveness of IAEA functions, and discuss the question of sanctions. We had a great deal to do.

The Secretary said that he would welcome that.

Gromyko said that was very good. He would ask that both sides specifically reflect on when they could consult on setting a specific schedule.

The Secretary agreed to do that.

Gromyko said he wanted the US Government and President Carter to know that the Soviet Union attached signal importance to the entire issue of non-proliferation. The Soviet leadership liked it when the President, or the Secretary, or others, stressed the importance of this issue in the view of the United States.

The Secretary said that was very good. The President will be very pleased to hear of this Soviet position.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to non-proliferation.]

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 8, Vance to Moscow, March 28–30, 1977. Secret; Nodis. Drafted by Krimer; and approved in draft by Hyland. The meeting took place at the Kremlin. The memorandum of conversation is printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 20.
  2. On March 28, Vance told Brezhnev and Gromyko that Carter “felt that we must be bold and vigorous in achieving control over nuclear weapons,” that “in the very near future we would announce certain policy decisions concerning nuclear non-proliferation,” and that the United States “shared Soviet concern about the dangers of proliferation of nuclear weapons, and we believed that the actions which we are about to take would constitute a major step forward toward this end.” The memorandum of conversation is printed in full in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, vol. VI, Soviet Union, Document 17.
  3. See Document 404.