429. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Argentina1

35248. Subject: U.S.-Argentine Nuclear Relations.

1. Summary. On February 6, Argentine Ambassador Aja Espil met with Ambassador Gerard Smith and Dr. Joseph Nye to review U.S.-Argentine nuclear issues. Aja Espil expressed his confidence that Argentina will ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco, as promised in the November 21 communiqué issued after the Secretary’s visit to Buenos Aires.2 End summary.

2. Ambassador Smith asked Argentine Ambassador Aja Espil to call on him in order to clarify Argentina’s stance on ratification of the Treaty of Tlatelolco in light of confusing reports emanating from officials of the Argentine Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA). Dr. Joseph Nye was also present.

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3. Ambassador Smith noted that both Argentine President Videla and Foreign Minister Montes had informed the President and the Secretary of Argentina’s intention to ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco.3 The November 21 bilateral communiqué noted this intention as well as the United States intention to ratify Protocol I of the treaty. During the Secretary’s visit,4 the U.S. had also agreed to assist Argentina in its research reactor exports to Peru by facilitating fuel transfers, and we had agreed to supply heavy water. Argentina was to move concurrently on full-scope safeguards. The U.S. had also explained the difficulties involved in the transfer of heavy water technology, which would entail a deferral of reprocessing. Argentina too had explained the difficulties it would face in deferring reprocessing, noting that it would be possible only in the context of regional equilibrium.

4. Ambassador Smith continued that we were surprised when the Argentine Atomic Energy Commission’s (CNEA) legal adviser, Martinez, told Congressman Moorehead, in the presence of Foreign Ministry Official Matas, that Argentina will not ratify Tlatelolco until the U.S. commits itself to the transfer of heavy water technology. Martinez’ statements were contrary to what Argentine officials told our President, the Secretary and Deputy Secretary, and contrary to the heart of the November 21 communiqué.

5. Ambassador Aja Espil explained that there are different opinions within the Argentine Government and that the Nationalists oppose all compromise, including Tlatelolco. Aja Espil reiterated the intention of both President Videla and the other members of the Junta to ratify the treaty. As of December, the Ambassador indicated, the Foreign Ministry was preparing a document on the steps required for Argentina to complete ratification. Aja Espil again played down Martinez’ views, and said that he (Aja Espil) knew Videla’s views. The Ambassador suggested that we discuss this subject again with Admiral Castro Madero, who should be visiting Washington on February 17, on his way back from Canada and enroute to the IAEA Board of Governor’s meeting in Vienna. Dr. Nye expressed the hope to see Castro here while Ambassador Smith looked forward to a meeting in Vienna.

6. Dr. Nye again outlined the three stages of our nuclear cooperation. In stage one, both the U.S. and Argentina will work to ratify Protocol I and the treaty, respectively. Stage two involves the supply of heavy water and fuel for a second research reactor to be sold to Peru. The latter will require an amendment of our bilateral agreement for cooperation. Full-scope safeguards will be necessary. Under stage 3, the transfer of heavy water production technology might be envisioned [Page 1078] under a major change in U.S. policy, and Argentina also would have to change its policy and defer reprocessing. “Regional equilibrium” would be necessary for any reprocessing deferral, the Argentine representatives had said. Nye stated that at no time did we link stage 3 to stage 1, as Martinez had.

7. Aja Espil stated that Martinez does not make policy.

8. Ambassador Smith raised the Argentine/Peruvian agreement and our earlier understanding that the second research reactor to be provided to Peru (10 megawatts) would use low enriched uranium (LEU). Smith observed that in December, CNEA officials had stated that highly enriched uranium was required. The Peruvians, on the other hand, informed us that the 10 mw reactor would be fueled with LEU.

9. Aja Espil was not briefed on the question of the 10 mw reactor for Peru. He promised to investigate. He inquired about the progress of the quadrilateral agreement (U.S., Argentina, Peru and IAEA) required for the transfer of the zero power reactor fuel to Argentina. Aja Espil was assured that we were close to an accord on the quadrilateral agreement.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780062–0871. Secret. Drafted by Fernando Rondon (ARA/ECA); cleared by Nye and Smith in draft; and by Oplinger, Louis Nosenzo (OES), Ronald Bettauer (L), Jeffrey Siegel (INR), Charles Van Doren (ACDA), Phyllis Oakley (ARA)/RPP), and Malcolm Barneby (ARA/AND) for information; and approved by Robert Zimmermann (ARA/ECA).
  2. The communiqué is printed in telegram 8813 from Buenos Aires, November 22, 1977. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D770432–0403)
  3. See Document 420.
  4. See Documents 426 and 427.