454. Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Tarnoff) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Heavy Water Production Technology to Argentina

With reference to your August 7 memorandum to the Secretary2 on Canada’s recent decision not to go along with our request that it require Argentine deferral of reprocessing for the supply of heavy water production technology, we agree it is important to move ahead quickly to seek the strongest assurances the traffic will bear against possible misuse of the technology. We also agree that the Canadians would not likely reverse their decision and, therefore, that our approaches now should focus on other key elements on which we wish to see a common supplier position for supply of this technology.

We have already informed the Canadians, Germans, and Swiss that we attach considerable importance to continuing supplier discussions to ensure common supplier positions on measures in addition to requiring Argentine acceptance of NPT-type safeguards. We have also asked the Canadians whether they would require the reprocessing controls noted in your memorandum. We expect to discuss these matters in detail with the Canadians, Germans and Swiss later this week.

In our strategy for these follow-on discussions and demarches, we consider it important to emphasize those additional elements which are most realistically achievable recognizing that we have already spent considerable leverage and that our leverage among the three suppliers varies substantially. Their willingness to support stronger measures also varies substantially. As will be noted, we are particularly concerned that pressing the Canadians hard on reprocessing controls now could further drive the sale to the Swiss and Germans under less stringent controls and, thus, adversely affect US-Canadian relations without any non-proliferation gain. At the same time, we are concerned that pressing the Swiss and Germans hard on the matter would not only have very little chance of success but also diminish our chances of getting their agreement to key supplier controls.

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In this light, a prime goal of our approaches will be to ensure common interpretation of how the Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) Guidelines are to be applied to protect against Argentina later building unsafeguarded facilities with the technology and without violating any agreement. As you know, the Guidelines entail bilateral requirements for safeguards as well as controls over retransfer of the technology or produced heavy water and controls on facilities produced through the technology. Although not explicit in the Guidelines, we will wish to ensure that the suppliers include a presumption that any facility built within at least 20 years and using the same type of technology will be considered as built with the transferred technology and subject to the same conditions.

There may well be differences among the three suppliers and ourselves over how the NSG Guidelines are to be carried out. However, we hope to be in a strong position in this regard since we will be working from the Guidelines to which we can expect suppliers to adhere. We consider common interpretation on these bilateral requirements very important. Such requirements provide a safety net against Argentine construction of an unsafeguarded reactor in the event Argentina were later to withdraw from a full-scope safeguards agreement. (Such agreements normally contain withdrawal clauses.)

We plan to focus our approaches as well on the importance of requiring a provision that safeguards be applied on Argentine heavy water plants and heavy water to protect against the scenario of possible diversion to clandestine reactors. The IAEA is still developing aspects of such safeguards, and we will need to continue to work with the IAEA and other concerned countries to develop the most promising safeguards approach.

In addition, we intend to continue to urge supplier agreement to seek Argentine adherence to the Treaty of Tlatelolco in connection with their negotiations for heavy water production technology. Argentina has declared its intention to ratify the treaty and its ratification would, of course, add further political and legal inhibitions to possible misuse later of this or other technology in the nuclear area. Also, Argentine adherence is a necessary step to the treaty’s entering into force for Brazil and Chile.

This is not part of the NSG Guidelines, and other suppliers may well question whether this should be required in addition to Argentine acceptance of NPT-type safeguards. Also, the Argentines have made clear to us that they are not going to ratify Tlatelolco before they have concluded arrangements for the supply of heavy water production technology. We recognize that all the suppliers are not likely to require, and Argentina is thus unlikely to accept, Tlatelolco adherence as an absolute precondition for agreeing on heavy water production supply. [Page 1124] However, we believe we should continue to underline the importance of Tlatelolco adherence to the suppliers. Their pressing the point at all with Argentina could help assure favorable action by Argentina later on the treaty.

With respect to the reprocessing controls noted in your memorandum, as noted, we have already questioned the Canadians on this point and hope to get a readout from them later this week. If the Canadians were to include such a requirement in their proposal, we would be in a position to pursue it with the other suppliers. However, while we agree that this kind of control would be highly desirable, we do not believe that it is achievable. It would in effect grant the supplier of heavy water technology control over the reprocessing of essentially all nuclear fuel in Argentina, including fuel from the German reactor as well as indigenously supplied fuel in indigenously built reactors.

In the unlikely event that the Canadians were to agree to seek such a control, the Germans could and probably would argue that their commitment not to undercut the Canadians applied only to NPT-type safeguards and possible linkage to deferral of reprocessing, but not to this kind of extended “contamination.” It appears even more certain that the Swiss would not agree. Thus, the main result could well be to make the sale of heavy water production technology by the Germans and Swiss appear more attractive to the Argentines, thereby making us take the blame if the Canadians lose the sale (which appears probable). Such a result would seriously damage our relations with Canada without any non-proliferation benefit being achieved.

Finally, all three potential suppliers may view such a suggestion as going beyond the approaches we have been seeking thus far because of the extended contamination noted above. They are unlikely to be impressed with arguments based on our law which is, at any rate, ambiguous on this point. To make such controls a centerpiece of our next approaches, therefore, could well be at the cost of achieving some of the other highly important conditions outlined in this memorandum.

With these factors in mind, we believe our next steps should concentrate on those elements which have a realistic chance of being achieved not only with the Canadians but also with the Germans and Swiss. In view of the competition for supply of this technology, supplier agreement remains the key to securing additional assurances against its misuse.

Peter Tarnoff
Executive Secretary 3
  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Country File, Box 4, Argentina, 1/79–1/80. Confidential.
  2. See Document 452.
  3. Bremer signed the memorandum for Tarnoff.