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March 21, 1977

Brazilian Embassy Cable, Brazilian Ambassador to Bonn Reports on Soviet Pressure on West Germany

This document was made possible with support from Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)

Cable no. 319 dated 3/21/1977


From the Brazilian Embassy in Bonn to the Stat Secretariat

319 21 5:00 hs. The weekly magazine Der Spiegel published the following article in to-days issue, under the title “Pincer move”: “After the United States, it is now the Soviet Union’s turn to exert pressure for Bonn to revise its controversial atomic agreement with Brazil. The German government wishes to gain time until the first Schmidt/Carter meeting in May. The visitor’s arguments were known to the Secretary of State Peter Hermes. However, the message was such a shock to him that he hastened to transmit what he had heard, keeping the highest secrecy, to his Minister and to the Head of the government. The visitor was the Soviet Ambassador in Bonn, Valentin Palin, and what he expressed at the start of March to the Auswartiges Amt was something the German government had until then only heard from Americans. The Soviets now were expressing the same concerns: the Germans must distance themselves from compliance with their agreement with Brazil. Just like Washington, Moscow was criticizing not the supply of nuclear plants, but the export of facilities for the enrichment and reprocessing of fuel. The following week, Undersecretary of State Warren Christopher also showed up before Hermes on the same subject. The American repeated the urgent injunction from Carter to the effect that Bonn should not send to the South American country any factory for uranium enrichment nor any plant for the reprocessing of nuclear fuel. The Bonn rulers found themselves unexpectedly in the midst of a situation that the FRG had not experienced in the 28 years of its existence: both superpowers pressure Bonn for fears about their already shaken nuclear power monopoly. In the biggest business deal of the German history, the Bonn government neglected to reflect on global political effects. Now the Western Germans are in a quandary. Initially, both Russians and Americans had accepted the contract signed between Bonn and Brasilia in the summer of 1975. Only after Carter walked into the White House and started to try “to put the atomic genius back in the bottle” the atmospherics changed for Bonn. Now the Russians found it convenient to emphasize to Bonn the atomic solidarity of the superpowers. Moscow recognized that Carter’s nuclear thinking is not a whim but a new American political dogma. The new Soviet demarche in Bonn aims to signal to Washington Moscow’s agreement with the second motive of improving the conditions for a Russian-American agreement on the limitation of strategic arms (SALT). For this reason the Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrey Gromyko, instructed his man on the Rhine to explain in clear terms, but without passion, that the Soviet government shares the American reservations against the agreement with Brazil. Moreover, Palin recommended, under Moscow’s orders, that the Germans take seriously the strong objections from the Americans. Palin based the unusual action by the Kremlin in support of the White House on the “global responsibility” of the superpowers and their common concern with the proliferation of atomic weapons. By the way, the Russians were not interested in publicity for the renewed partnership of the usually adversarial victorious powers. They had much interest in discretion. Contrary to the propaganda that usually follows similar weighty initiatives, the Soviet press had up to now kept silent about the episode. Seemingly – and this is the interpretation of experts at the Auswartiges Amt about the uncommon restraint from Moscow – the Soviets do not want to be seen in the Third World as accomplices of the United States, as atomic imperialists aiming to exclude others from technological and economic progress. In a lightning trip to the American capital, Gensher attempted, on the week-end before last, to sound out whether the pincers movement by the two world superpowers could be broken in Washington. However, the German did not achieve any progress either with President Carter or his colleague Vance. His argument that the contract with Brazil involves the credibility of the FRG in the world did not convince the Americans. Gensher’s conversations confirmed what earlier the correspondence between Schmidt and Carter already foreshadowed: both partners are talking past each other because they start from different premises and represent “two schools of thought”, to use the expression from one of Schmidt’s advisers. While the Germans keep the hope that the Americans, through a stringent control of exported German nuclear goods, in the end will come to be persuaded to approving the agreement, the United States does not want in any circumstance to talk of controls; it wants to forbid beforehand any export of the controversial merchandise. In this way, in his letter to the President Schmidt praised the control that had been agreed between Brasilia and Bonn and which, according to the Chancellor, excluded any misuse of the nuclear plants for military purposes. Unmoved, Carter expressed once again his belief in the atomic threat to the world. While a compromise between these two opposite conceptions seems unimaginable, the Bonn rulers continue to proclaim unperturbed that they will honor the agreement with Brazil. With a “water bath” policy they want initially to gain time. For the moment, the issue is the delayed supply of the plans for the construction of a pilot plant for the reprocessing plant. Bonn wants to convince the Brazilians that the documents will be delivered as agreed in the contract, but only a little later than previously convened. The time thus gained would be used to convince the Americans of the supposed inoffensiveness of the deal. This ignores the objection raised by Carter that a pilot plant already contains enough fissionable material for the construction of a bomb. The decisive showdown between Bonn and Washington will come in principle in May, when Chancellor Schmidt will meet the American President for the first time at the economic summit in London. All Bonn’s hopes are concentrated in that moment. According to a declaration by one member of the government, “everything hinges on whether the Chancellor will be able to impress President Carter as he managed to impress his predecessor Ford”. The meeting will take place on May 8, the thirty-second anniversary of German capitulation”. 

Antonio Carlos de Andrada

The Brazilian Ambassador in Bonn reports on a Der Spiegel article, which states, “After the United States, it is now the Soviet Union’s turn to exert pressure for Bonn to revise its controversial atomic agreement with Brazil.” The article shows US-Soviet solidarity against Brazil and Germany’s cooperation in developing nuclear weapons.

Document Information


Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil (CPDOC), Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV), Azeredo da Silveira Archive, AAS mre pn 1974.08.15 pp. 589-591. Obtained and translated by Fundação Getúlio Vargas.


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