39. Telegram From the Embassy in Switzerland to the Department of State1

453. US ASAT Two 004. From Buchheim. Mil addresses handle as Specat. NASA for Krueger. Subject: (U) ASAT Two Meetings, January 24, 1979.

1. (U) First plenary meeting of ASAT Two opened 3:00 pm, January 24, 1979, at U.S. Embassy, Bern.

2. (U) Ambassador Khlestov declined offer to take floor first, deferring to Ambassador Buchheim as host. Buchheim’s statement ASAT Two-003 (Bern 044).2

3. (S) Khlestov, referring to prepared text, stated that we have started bilateral negotiations on subject of anti-satellite systems and activities. This he characterized as a further positive development from preliminary consultations in June and as representing a higher and more responsible level of contact between our two countries. He expressed praise for Paul Warnke as one of initiators of the negotiations and noted with satisfaction that the leadership of the U.S. Delegation has now been entrusted to Buchheim.

4. (S) Khlestov said he had been glad to hear in Buchheim’s statement that U.S. is interested in an elaboration of the measures the sides are studying, which is the premise from which the Soviet side also pro [Page 87] ceeds. He observed that the extensive consultations in Helsinki3 had familiarized the sides with each other’s positions and sketched the general outlines of the problem. While not all elements had come through clearly in Helsinki, the Soviet side’s main conclusion was that positions of both sides coincide on a number of points and that both sides are striving toward a more complete understanding of each other’s views. Khlestov said he had so summarized in Moscow the results of the June session and that this report had met with a positive response.

5. (S) Khlestov said that, although a direction and common approach had emerged as a result of the Helsinki discussions, providing a basis for joint work, there still remain points to be clarified. Khlestov recalled that in Helsinki there had been problems with some elements of the US view which lacked clarity and others which were incomprehensible. The Soviet side is proceeding from the premise that the work of the session in Bern must lead to concrete, practical results and achieve specific and tangible forward movement. In order to effectively work toward this goal, Khlestov suggested that the sides should first work out definitions of terminology, as well as details and nuances of the issues.

6. (S) Khlestov repeated that Soviet side is most serious and will apply every effort to achieve concrete results in this session.

7. (S) Buchheim expressed interest in Khlestov’s suggestion that certain terminology should be clarified and asked whether Khlestov had a list of terms to suggest. Khlestov replied that he did not wish to enumerate at this time all the terms which need elucidation. However, noting again Soviet goal of achieving concrete results and necessity for defining terms as first step toward this end, he offered following formulation for defining “space objects”, calling it “a preliminary set of ideas” for further discussion. The term “space objects” includes the class of objects placed into orbit around earth or launched further into outer space, and in relationship to which one side is the state of registration under the 1975 Registration Convention.4 The term “space objects” includes the component parts of space objects, their means of delivery and its parts.

8. (S) Khlestov explained that this formulation reflected the Soviet desire to find objective criteria, based upon the 1975 Conventions to which both sides are parties, which would cover all space objects. He [Page 88] added that the Soviets had also tried to use the language of the outer space treaty.5 As points of reference, he cited Article I, Paragraph B, of the 1975 Registration Convention and Article I, Paragraph D, of the Liability Convention.6 Khlestov expressed the view that it would be easier to use a formulation already internationally tested and based upon language in legal instruments which both sides have signed.

9. (S) After first recalling the Soviet side’s preference for language characterizing certain acts as incompatible with peaceful relations between states rather than as hostile acts, Khlestov suggested in a preliminary way the following definition of which acts would be regarded as “hostile acts”: a hostile act is an act which the sides regard as a deliberate action upon a space object by any system or means, either in space or on the ground, which can lead to the destruction of a space object, its displacement from orbit, damage to it, or rendering unserviceable its onboard equipment.

10. (S) Khlestov repeated several times that these two definitions were purely preliminary attempts and not the final position of the Soviet side, and said that the sides together can arrive at more precisely formulated definitions. He suggested that U.S. Delegation formulate its own versions of definitions, and also requested Buchheim’s preliminary views on those Khlestov had just read. Buchheim stated that he would not address Khlestov’s preliminary formulations today but agreed that a productive way to begin these talks would be to pursue a clearer understanding of these two terms and, in the process, expose areas of early agreement, as well as areas the sides will have to argue about a little more. Buchheim and Khlestov agreed that next meeting would include discussion of those two terms.

11. (S) (A) Immediately following the plenary, Buchheim and Khlestov met, with Bradburn, Desimone, Mayorskiy, and interpreters present. It was agreed that the second plenary meeting would be on Friday, January 26, 1979, at 3:00 pm, at Soviet Embassy.

(B) Referring to the definitions discussed during the plenary meeting, Buchheim informed Khlestov that the U.S. side has studied [Page 89] further the desirability of using the term “hostile acts”, and reminded Khlestov that at Helsinki the U.S. side had mentioned two possible approaches, i.e., either (a) to simply list acts which the two sides would undertake not to carry out against a space object belonging to the other side, or (b) to list acts which should not be carried out against a space object of the other side, and label them as “hostile acts” or as “acts incompatible with peaceful relations,” or identify them with some other label. Following a longish discussion of the two approaches, both sides agreed to be prepared to address these alternatives at the next plenary meeting.

(C) Khlestov suggested that terminology formulations should be submitted in writing to make future work easier. He added that, since Moscow, and presumably Washington as well, were keeping an eye on the Delegations, such written contributions should be treated as informal working papers only and not as proposals or as documents formally tabled.

(D) Buchheim then asked, as a procedural question, whether Khlestov still wished to limit to private meetings discussion of the question of suspending ASAT interceptor tests, as he had preferred in Helsinki, or if this subject could now be raised in plenary meetings. Khlestov replied that it could be raised in either forum. Buchheim said that he would advise Khlestov in advance before raising the issue in plenary. Khlestov expressed appreciation for this courtesy.

(E) Khlestov promised working texts on “hostile acts” and “acts incompatible with peaceful relations between states” at the next plenary and expressed his hope that the U.S. Delegation would be similarly prepared.

(F) Khlestov asked why U.S. had proposed Bern as site for this round. Buchheim said USG had considered several possibilities and had concluded Bern to be most appropriate for this round.

12. (S) Comment. Khlestov’s approach to definition of “space object” (para 7 above) contains same substance as suggestion by Soviet side in Helsinki concerning the things against which each party would undertake not to carry out certain acts, that is, any object belonging to the other party which is in earth orbit or in a super-orbital trajectory, e.g., interplanetary probes, but not ballistic missiles. Our understanding is that the ASAT working group recorded interagency consensus in favor of such an approach. Unless advised otherwise by Washington, we will, in further discussions with Soviet side on scope of definition, adopt the view that an undertaking not to carry out certain acts would be an undertaking not to carry out such acts against objects in earth orbit and objects on trajectories more energetic than earth orbits, including interplanetary trajectories. In this regard, we assume that word “satellites” in phrase “ban on damage, destruction, and unauthorized [Page 90] displacement of each other’s satellites” in State 0176657 is intended to be construed in this more comprehensive way as to the trajectories of objects that are not to be attacked. (End comment).

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790037–0612. Secret; Immediate; Exdis. Sent for information Immediate to the National Security Council, the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
  2. Telegram 440 from Bern, January 25, reported Buchheim’s statement at the January 24 ASAT II plenary, in which he emphasized Washington’s desire to work with Moscow to limit anti-satellite weapons systems and activities and urged that an agreement be made that devised “practical measures to prevent an arms competition in outer space and thus to head off the known and unknown adverse consequences that could flow from such a competition.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790037–0035)
  3. See Document 33.
  4. The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space was promulgated by the 37-member United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space on January 14, 1975; the United States Ambassador to the UN, John Scali, signed it ten days later. Scali’s statement is published in the Department of State Bulletin, February 17, 1975, p. 232.
  5. The United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union signed the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, on January 27, 1967, and it entered into force on October 10, 1967. The Treaty prohibited the placement of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction on the moon and other celestial bodies, in orbit around the earth, or otherwise stationing them in outer space. Testing of such weapons on the moon and in outer space was also prohibited. The text of the Treaty is in Department of State Bulletin, December 26, 1966, pp. 953–954.
  6. UN Resolution 2777 (XXVI) creating the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects was adopted by the General Assembly on March 29, 1972.
  7. Not found.