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January 31, 1977

Memorandum from Brazilian Foreign Minister Silveira to President Geisel on Jimmy Carter’s “Radical” Nuclear Stance

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


No. 24



Date: January 31 1977
Nuclear cooperation between Germany and Brazil. Position of the United States

Having in mind the American demarche regarding nuclear cooperation between Brazil and the Federal Republic of Germany, the contents of which I transmitted to you with Information no. 17, dated January 27 current, I deem it opportune to bring to your attention the commentary and observations below, as well as drafts of the documents that could constitute the Brazilian response to the diplomatic initiative of the United States.

2. Despite the fact that only ten days have elapsed since the inauguration of the Carter administration, it is already possible to identify some of the main lines of its efforts to curb the implementation of the Treaty on Nuclear Cooperation between Brazil and the FRG. It must be noted that such identification was possible despite the fact that the new Administration has completely changed the emphasis that the American government ascribed until then to such cooperation. While the Ford Administration had made clear in several ways that it approached the question with a critical eye, it did not attach maximum priority to the matter, either at the level of relations with Brazil or at that of the global American attitude about nuclear issues. President Carter, on the contrary, decided to promote a real revolution in the treatment of the question and radicalized it in a way that goes beyond what one could theoretically expect from a mere change of government. 

3. Such radicalization of the American attitude on this issue can be illustrated by the high level of its diplomatic efforts, by its high intensity and by its simultaneous operation in several political arenas, such as the bilateral relations USA-FRG, the predictable effort to revise the NPT, the bilateral relations USA-Brazil, the mobilization of the international press, etc. In view of the extent of these efforts, one can surmise that at some times the coordination among the American protagonists might fail, even though one should not count upon this possibility. For instance, the widely publicized interview of Mr. Nye to the “Estado de São Paulo” can be understood either as a gaffe stemming from inexperience or as a trial balloon aiming at accustoming Brazilian authorities and public opinion with the idea of guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel. 

4. Already in these first few days, it is clear that President Carter, Vice-President Mondale and Secretary of State Vance are directly and personally engaged in the current diplomatic operation which starts to create the expectation, at least in the United States, that it will have an easy, quick and inexorable outcome.

5. In this context, one should not dismiss right away the hypothesis that the new American government might be seeking a resounding diplomatic triumph that sets the tone of its foreign policy. Hence, we must be careful, in the defense of the national interest, to dress our position of resistance to the American initiative with forms that prevent a loss of face on the part of the new rulers of that country which would force them to radicalize even further its already imprudent attitude. Only for this reason I do not think we should, at least right away, stress the fact that by stepping into the bilateral relations between Brazil and the FRG, the USA performed a clear interference in the external affairs of the two countries. This initial Brazilian attitude would be, of course, entirely tactical and even capable of being later revised and should not in any event affect the substance of the Brazilian position.

6. I make this recommendation despite the fact that the Americans themselves only belatedly worried – and even so, in an ambiguous manner – about the same question of face, on the Brazilian side. I am not referring only to Carter’s attitudes and those of his followers during the electoral period but also to the delay of the American authorities in replying to the formal messages addressed to them at the inauguration of the new Administration and in raising the nuclear question, or any other, with the Brazilian government, while on the other hand they approached the German government almost immediately and brought to public notice, through the international and the Brazilian press, issues of our vital interest. 

7. The American demarche sought to create a pause in the relations between the two countries, generating a new diplomatic conjuncture. For tactical reasons toward Brazil and world public opinion, the Americans tried to give the impression that they were placing the Brazil-FRG agreement, and even their bilateral relations with us, in the context of their global nuclear diplomacy, but ascribing a topical rhythm to it that cannot, in fact, be in consonance with a general treatment of the question. Actually, the attitude of the Washington authorities tends to provoke a fading out of the other aspects of the bilateral relations with Brasilia, despite striving to look otherwise. Upon meeting the German resistance, the Americans understood that it was in their interest also to contact and pressure Brazil. For this reason they gave a different hue, albeit in an ambiguous way, to the attitude of the new Administration, previously totally opposed to the Memorandum of Understanding, since it would provide them with an instrument to facilitate the realization of their objectives in the nuclear field. 

8. The letter from the Secretary of State and the curious and original “verbal message” that accompanied it make up an unusual American strategy to be played out at least in two different levels, one close to public opinion and the other more secretive. In the former, illustrated by Vance’s letter, the tone is calm and even friendly; in the second, pertaining to the “verbal message”, which would not leave traces and whose terms could even be contested in the future, maximum demands are in fact made. So, while the USA seeks to build a conciliatory image before public opinion, it does not refrain from exerting diplomatic pressure in order to reach their objectives. Not everything, however, is effective in the American diplomatic offensive, in Vance’s letter or in his verbal message, and some of their contradictions and ambiguities may serve as points of departure for us in order to weaken the push of the American demarches. 

9. I believe that at this initial moment the Brazilian response should also unfold in two levels. We would respond to Vance’s letter with another letter, in a polite and friendly tone. The reaction to the verbal message would also be another verbal message, in which we would seek to preserve the substance of the Brazilian position, reformulate the terms of reference of the proposed consultations in order to adjust them to our position and make some procedural considerations. We would avoid, however, entering into a substantive debate for not only such messages are not an adequate vehicle for such a debate but also it would be utterly unwise either to confront our interlocutors with the reiteration of every detail of our position, which probably would exacerbate further the sensation of frustration of their endeavor, leading them to redouble their efforts, or to leave the mistaken impression that we might be relenting through the omission some of these particulars. Upon reading our verbal message, we would not neglect to add that we had replied to Secretary Vance in that way only by reasons of courtesy, that is, we eschewed the usual written form only because we had received a verbal message, but in order to prevent misunderstandings we would prefer in the future, in such a delicate matter, that at least communications by aide mémoire be used, according to international usage.

10. Thus, we would accept in principle the visit of the American emissary, albeit in different terms from those proposed, that is, to deal with the general issue of the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. At the same time we would act without haste since there is no urgency on the part of Brazil and that only for tactical reasons it is not convenient for us to defer excessively such a contact. We would also make clear at the opportune time that we would not discuss with the emissary a priori or unilateral formulations about matters agreed with third countries. 

11. At this time, I wish only to anticipate my opinion about what was put forth by the Secretary of State in his verbal message. The possibility of guaranteed supply of nuclear fuel in exchange for the indefinite postponement of uranium enrichment and reprocessing, besides being inefficient (because it encompasses only the part of the Brazilian program already agreed with the FRG) its progress is also unpredictable, since one cannot imagine how the international reality may evolve, politically or economically, and neither what conditions might be imposed, in the future, on such supplies. Paradoxically, in accordance with the American proposal of indefinite postponement, Brazil would have made huge investments at the cost of sacrifices that I do not need to characterize, only to find itself, at the end of the process, in a permanent situation of dependence. 

12. Neither would it be wise to accept formulas that would put us in an inferior situation vis-à-vis countries like Canada, the Netherlands, Sweden, Argentina, South Africa, Japan and others, which already possess their own nuclear capability for peaceful purposes. Brazil cannot allow itself, for reasons of its tradition and historical prospects, to be put in a political or legal status that prevent it from achieving a position of equality with any other country not militarily nuclearized. By the same token, formulas that tend to restrict Brazilian nuclear development, permitting the emergence of regional disparities, are not in our favor.

13. Another solution that has been aired in certain international fora for the question of supply of nuclear fuel is the internationalization or regionalization of its production. Such a possibility would undoubtedly create extremely difficult security and sovereignty problems, even in the case that the plant would be located in Brazil, only illusively diminishing dependence. The picture becomes clear by transposing the situation to any other kind of energy production, such as, for example, the case of Itaipu bi-national. 

14. I do not with to conclude without mentioning the fact that any solution besides the maintenance of the Brazil-USA agreement and its safeguards system will provoke, despite the intentions or the will of the governments, a serious deterioration of the relations between Brazil and the United States. There is, therefore, in my view, no other option but trying to lead the USA to accept the Agreement, just as the situation of the countries mentioned before, which possess their own nuclear technology for non-military purposes, is already accepted. 

15. I do not think that we can postpone for too long our first reaction to the American demarche. Therefore, I take the liberty to suggest the following measures related thereto:

a) to summon the American Ambassador to my office, or Ambassador Pinheiro would meet Secretary of State Vance; at that occasion my letter of reply to the Secretary of State would be delivered and the annexed verbal message read, to one or the other.

b) The German Ambassador would also be summoned to my office. I would first thank Ambassador Röding for the message from the German government delivered by him to the Secretary-general of the Ministry of External Relations on January 18 on the willingness of the German government to fully comply with the Agreement with Brazil. Second, I would inform him of the American demarche of the 27th, and would read to him the transcription of the verbal message from Secretary of State Vance and the Brazilian responses. Finally, I would tell him that the Brazilian government will fully honor its commitments with the FRG and, in this sense, it had transmitted to the American government the answer whose terms I also would disclose to him. 

(signed) Antonio F. Azeredo da Silveira
Minister of State for External Relations

Brazilian Minister of State for External Relations, Antonio F. Azeredo da Silveira, comments on the recently elected Carter administration’s nuclear politics. Silveira’s message to President Geisel displays Brazilian frustration over American interference in its nuclear program and relations with Germany.

Document Information


Centro de Pesquisa e Documentação de História Contemporânea do Brasil (CPDOC), Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV), Azeredo da Silveira Archive, AAS mre d 1974.03.26 pp.9014-9019. Obtained and translated by Fundação Getúlio Vargas.


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