460. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Australia1

307827. For Asst Secy Pickering. Following Repeat Bern 6724 Action State info Bonn Buenos Aires 27 Nov 79.

Qte. Bern 6724. Subj: US-Swiss Nuclear Supply Consultations. Ref: (A) Bern 66342 (B) State 300937.3

1. C—Entire text.

2. Summary: Amb Gerard Smith and party accompanied by Amb Vine met with Sec of State Weitnauer, legal advisor Bindschedler, and other Swiss officials morning of Nov 26. End summary.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Argentina.]

7. Smith then turned to the problem of Argentina which, he said, could become another Pakistan unless it accepted a commitment to safeguard future facilities. There were hemispheric implications to which the US was keenly sensitive. Two years ago Argentina had assured the US they would ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco, [less than 1 line not declassified] they may not intend to do this but rather intend to keep their weapon option open. Smith said that the President had a personal interest in this problem and had asked Smith to speak to the Swiss.4 Given the propensity of the press in the US to discover and report on situations of this sort, Smith could not guarantee that the Argentina situation and US concern would not be dealt with in the American press. If so, the White House might have to take a position reflecting US-Swiss differences in approach.

8. Swiss side explained in detail the safeguards arrangements they had worked out, and emphasized that Switzerland had abided by all its NPT and NSG commitments in establishing safeguard and other controls on its supply of heavy water production technology. Switzerland believes one cannot ask for more than is required by Swiss obligations under international law. The Swiss could not accept as a given that Ar[Page 1134]gentina would not meet its commitments, and believed that their controls (which Bindschedler spelled out) excluded Argentina’s capitalizing on Swiss technology to produce unsafeguarded special nuclear material. Swiss were strongly of the view that Argentina could build a heavy water plant itself, and thus escape all controls, if Switzerland went too far with its conditions. Weitnauer noted that if there is press discussion in the US on this point, Switzerland can regard itself on safe ground. He noted that the Swiss have done their “utmost.”

9. Smith emphasized that the US was not suggesting an embargo on the sale of Swiss heavy water technology to Argentina. He urged that, as we work on development of a more comprehensive post-INFCE regime we not prejudice future negotiations by permitting Argentina to develop an unsafeguarded capability. He noted that Argentina is prepared to pay a half billion dollars more to buy reactors from the FRG in order to avoid the ful-scope safeguard required by Canada for the same transaction. (Von Arx noted Argentines had experienced huge overrun in earlier Canadian reactor sale, and that this had been reason they gave little credence to low Canadian bid.)

10. Swiss pointed out that Pakistan is clearly a special case where there is near term danger. They do not see Argentina as in the same category. Von Arx indicated that Switzerland had urged Argentina to ratify the Treaty of Tlatelolco but does not believe it will do so until Cuba does and the US ratifies Protocol I. He noted that Argentina has expressed concern that supplementary inspection rights held by OPANAL could threaten commercial secrets. Van Doren later returned to this subject and urged that Swiss make clear that they are proceeding on the understanding that Argentines will fulfill their public and private commitments to ratify Tlatelolco and promptly complete the safeguards agreement called for on that Treaty.

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Argentina.]

12. Comment:

[Omitted here is discussion unrelated to Argentina.] As to renegotiating their exchange of letters with Argentina, Swiss appeared immovable. They do not share US assessment regarding Argentina’s intentions and feel they have taken every step required of them to prevent misuse of technology they supply. But they did say they would continue to urge Tlatelolco ratification and would consult with FRG and compare notes on these respective safeguards approaches. They are, moreover, prepared to work with the US and others to develop a comprehensive system in which full-scope safeguards will be the future norm. Vine. unqte.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D790550–0428. Confidential; Exdis for Assistant Secretary Pickering. Drafted by Stephen V. Noble (OES); and approved by Lynn Turk (S/S–O).
  2. Telegram 6634 from Bern, November 21, informed the Department that “the decision not to issue public statement concerning Swiss safeguard requirements on supply of heavy water production plant to Argentina eliminates an almost certain drag on possible Swiss cooperation.” (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D790536–0418)
  3. See footnote 2, Document 459.
  4. Carter’s request was not found.