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April 30, 1985

Information to the Chief of DEC, 'Nuclear Energy. Brazil-Argentina Relations.'

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


Information to the Chief of DEC


Nuclear Energy. Brazil-Argentina Relations.

This February, Argentinian President Raul Alfonsin mentioned to then elected president Tancredo Neves its intention to promote a meeting with Latin American presidents to discuss relevant affairs to the region, among them the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. He emphasized that technicians from the National Commission of Atomic Energy (CNEA) were then studying formulas that could be used to implement Latin America’s own safeguard system. Afterward, last March, president Alfonsin made his intentions public in a press conference in Argentina.

2. The president’s statements had immediate repercussions in the international press, which commented the possibility of a Brazilian-Argentinian agreement on reciprocal inspections to nuclear facilities. From this point of view, the Washington Post dedicated an editorial to the topic.

3. The possibility of an understanding between Brazil and Argentina regarding nuclear inspections spiked the interest of several diplomatic missions in Brasilia. In late March and throughout April, the Division of Energy and Mineral Resources was contacted by Canadian, Japanese, Australian, Dutch, Chilean, Pakistani, British and American diplomatic employees inquiring if there were any concrete negotiation between the two countries on those affairs. The American official (the Embassy’s scientific attaché) even said that his Government would receive well the news of an understanding between Brazil and Argentina on reciprocal nuclear inspections.

4. Due to the nature of Brazil-Argentina nuclear relations and the implications to Brazil of an eventual Argentine initiative on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, the following considerations are necessary:


5. As known, until now Brazil and Argentina have shared common principals on nuclear energy in the international system (from uranium mining to atom fission and fuel reprocessing), not only through technology transfer, but also through autonomous researches. The later option, which aims at developing its own technology, or reproducing unavailable technological processes through its own means, is carried out without international control both in Brazil and Argentina. In order to assure such liberty, both countries rejected the Non-Proliferation Treaty on Nuclear Weapons (NPT) from 1968, which requires the application of international safeguards to all facilities in countries that do not possess nuclear weapons and have signed the document. Brazil did sign and ratified the Treaty of Tlatelolco (1967), but has not applied it, because the country did not waive the Treaty’s option of complying with all its clauses. Argentina has not ratified the Treaty yet.

6. The refusal of joining NPT and the development of nuclear programs out of international control have and still create pressure on Brazil and Argentina to submit their nuclear researches and facilities to said controls. Such pressure by developed countries – in special the Unites States – range from denying access to what is considered “sensitive” materials and technology (basically, uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing) to insinuations that the Brazilian and Argentinian autonomous programs have military purposes due to the rivalry between them. In November 1983, the Argentinian announcement that it had autonomously developed the technology for uranium enrichment in its Pilcaniyeu facilities fed new alarmist versions of a potential nuclear race in South America.


Itamaraty in contact


7.With the purposes of protecting the autonomy of the Brazilian nuclear program against aforementioned pressure, and presented with indications that developed countries were making the access to nuclear technology more and more difficult, Itamaraty kept informal contacts with Argentinian officials (Minister Saraiva Guerreiro and Chancellor Caputo meeting, in Buenos Aires in December 1983) to know if they were receptive to a joint high-leveled statement on non-proliferation. Essentially, such statement would reinforce that both countries, without waiving the right to fully access and use nuclear technology, did not contemplate the idea of developing and producing nuclear explosive devices from their respective nuclear programs. Follow-up conversations with the Argentine foreign ministry showed that the government agreed with the joint statement suggested by Brazil. On such occasion, however, mandates were almost over in Brazil and there was not a consensus from the Brazilian party, so the matter, which had always been informally discussed, was left up in the air.


President Alfonsin’s initiative


8. Now, the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is brought up by the Argentinians through the announcement of President Alfonsin’s intentions of proposing a regional mechanism of control. There were many motivations for the president to reopen the non-proliferation issue related both to internal and foreign politics. President Alfonsin’s presence at a meeting in New Delhi last January, accompanied by Mexican and Tanzanian presidents and Greek, Swedish, and Indian Prime Ministers to sign a joint statement in favor of nuclear disarmament, shows Argentina’s clear intention to adopt a relevant role in the international disarmament scenario. A natural follow-up of president Alfonsin’s presence at the New Delhi conference was the launching of a disarmament initiative at regional level.



9. However, it is possible that the internal reasons for the Argentinian project were the most relevant, since they reflect immediate realities and worries. Indeed, when proposing a regional system of auto- control, President Alfonsin would indirectly grant more legitimacy to the Argentinian nuclear project – and in special to its autonomy – protecting the program from suspicions over military intentions. That was reinforced by the Argentinian frustration over the Malvinas War and the following announcement of successfully developing technology for uranium enrichment. The adversities faced by the Argentinian program due to lack of financial resources and increasing obstacles to acquire nuclear technology and materials abroad could be more easily overcome in a trustful and respectful atmosphere created by an Argentinian initiative towards non-proliferation in Latin America.




10. Regardless of President Alfonsin’s motivations to launch this initiative, it is currently interesting to Brazil to get better informed about it, so to duly anticipate possible consequences. A better knowledge of President Alfonsin’s project will give Brazil the following advantages:


- The possibility of influencing how this project is developed, in order to protect our interests;


- Avoiding costs of a negative response from Brazil in case Argentina’s proposal is formulated on maximalist terms, which would be hardly accepted by Brazil.

11. The possibility of Argentine officials creating difficulties to Brazil in a such a sensitive issue such as nuclear affairs - as, for example, the consequences of a negative answer to a non-proliferation treaty – is reduced due to the excellent relations currently maintained between the countries, however, the hypothesis that there may be an embarrassing situation for us cannot be overlooked. It is convenient to remember that a regional safeguard mechanism – at the moment, as we know, to be developed by CNEA’s technicians – can include a series of reciprocal concessions that Brazil may not be ready to offer. Anyway, a system of such nature would go much further than any joint statement imagined by Itamaraty and about which Brazilian nuclear entities have not been possible to reach a consensus.



12. On the other hand, there are signs that the abovementioned mechanism is being developed as an alternative safeguards system which would allow the Argentinian government to show some flexibility against American pressure without abandoning its fundamental position of not signing NPT and not ratifying the Treaty of Tlatelolco. That flexibility would be necessary as a way to raise financial resources to continue the Argentine nuclear program within the scenario of refinancing the country’s external debt.



13. Before the circumstances and scenarios abovementioned, it would be useful if Itamaraty – accompanying the Argentinian disposition to discuss nuclear affairs that interest both sides in an informal and exploratory way – discussed the matter with the purpose of getting more contextualized information on President Alfonsin’s project, at the appropriate level and moment. This way, we would have better conditions to alert them about possible inconveniences this project may raise to Brazil at the right moment.





The document reports the Brazilian government’s concern in regard to President Alfonsín’s imminent proposal to create a mechanism of regional nuclear control in Latin America.


Document Information


AHMRE. Critical Oral History Conference on the Argentine-Brazilian Nuclear Cooperation, Rio de Janeiro, March 2012.


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Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY)