Argentine-Brazilian Nuclear Rapprochement: Executive Summary

May 16, 1996

David Albright and Kevin O’Neill

Institute for Science and International Security

In conjunction with Israel government officials at the Ministry of Defense and the Israel Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) organized a seminar entitled Argentina and Brazil: The Latin American Rapprochement on May 16, 1996 at Israel’s Soreq Nuclear Research Center. The purpose of the seminar was to convey the history, development and implementation of bilateral nuclear inspections between Brazil and Argentina to senior Israeli government officials, experts and advisors. The seminar was attended by about 50 people, including, senior officials from the Israeli Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israeli intelligence agencies, and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), including AEC Director General Mr. Gideon Frank and several of his key aides. Also attending were distinguished members of the academic and business communities who serve on important government committees. The status and profile of the seminar was enhanced by the AEC’s decision to schedule the event to commemorate the opening of the Shalheveth Freier Center for Peace, Science and Technology. Shalheveth Freier, who recently passed away, had headed both the Soreq Center and the AEC. After his retirement, he served as a highly respected informal ambassador for Israel, and was always interested in the relationship between science and statesmanship. The Freier Center will be located adjacent to the Soreq Center. It is designed to expand the scope of Israel’s scientific and technological activities in support of peace and peace-making in the Middle East. Over time, it would evolve to also accommodate innovative applied research aimed at facilitating regional cooperation between Israel and its neighbors. Presentations at this seminar were made by direct participants in the development and implementation of the bilateral regime in Latin America. Argentine Ambassador Julio Carasales, formerly with the Argentine Foreign Ministry, gave a first-hand presentation of the evolution and development of the nuclear rapprochement between Argentina and Brazil. Dr. Marco Marzo, a Senior Planning and Evaluation Officer with the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for the Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC), which administers the regional safeguards regime negotiated by the two countries, gave an insider’s view into how ABACC operates, its relations with the IAEA, and its capacity to carry out different types of inspections. University of Virginia Professor John Redick, who assisted in arranging for Carasales’ and Marzo’s attendance, outlined the history of events and important factors that led to the rapprochement. ISIS President David Albright discussed the role of Brazilian scientists in building the rapprochement. Additional remarks were made by Dr. Uriel Halavee, the Director of the Soreq Nuclear Research Center; Dr. Ariel Levite, the Deputy Director and Head of Arms Control at the Israeli Ministry of Defense; and Mr. Gideon Frank, the Director General of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission.


The seminar was arranged into two primary components. In the morning, Redick and Carasales gave presentations on the historical development of the Argentine-Brazilian nuclear rapprochement, including the creation of ABACC. Albright and Marzo followed these presentations with commentary and observations, which in turn led to a broader discussion involving many of the seminar’s attendees. In the afternoon, Marzo gave a detailed, technical presentation on the design and implementation of Bilateral Inspections in Brazil and Argentina. Halavee opened the seminar by welcoming the attendees and officially inaugurating the Shalheveth Freier Center. Levite then introduced the seminar by remarking on the value of hearing a success story, like the one in Latin America, which has not been heard enough. Levite observed how appropriate it was to conduct this seminar as the inaugural event of the Shalheveth Freier Center, because Freier always stood for combining vision with realism in seeking inter-relationships between scientific, diplomatic, military and political approaches to security. Levite then stressed that the seminar was about Latin America and not the Middle East, and that the Latin American experience does not contain a recipe for dealing with the Middle East situation. However, he said, that experience does contain certain aspects that could be applied here.

Morning Session—Evolution of the Argentine-Brazilian Nuclear Rapprochement

Professor Redick gave an overview of the historical development of nuclear relations between Argentina and Brazil. His presentation covered the characteristics of the bilateral relationship between these two countries, described their nuclear capabilities and policies, and explained the reasons why both countries moved together to resolve mutual suspicions through a bilateral inspection system. He said that Brazil and Argentina were historic rivals, but had not fought a military conflict since the 1820s. However, Redick said, Argentina’s and Brazil’s nuclear programs could have exacerbated this rivalry and led to outright conflict if they had gone ahead and built “peaceful” nuclear explosives. He then remarked how democratization, economic integration and presidential initiatives contributed to the depth and speed of the rapprochement. He observed that, despite the historical rivalry between the two countries, Argentina and Brazil shared suspicions of the international non-proliferation regime that led them to seek an alternative, bilateral approach to reducing tensions. Redick remarked that both Brazil and Argentina initially shared similar negative views of the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which created a Latin American Nuclear Weapons Free Zone, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These shared views ironically contributed to their first tentative steps toward nuclear rapprochement, as they increasingly turned towards each other for legitimacy and support against the international community. The process, according to Redick, began slowly. The first formal nuclear cooperation agreement between the two countries, signed in 1980, remained limited in scope, and it was not until democratization took hold in Argentina in the mid-1980s and subsequently in Brazil before the pace of the rapprochement increased. Civilian presidents used the rapprochement to make a clean break from their military predecessors during the transition to democracy. In particular, highly visible state visits by Brazilian President Sarney to Argentina’s unsafeguarded Pilcaniyeu gaseous diffusion plant in July 1987, followed one year later by Argentine President Alfonsin’s visit to Brazil’s unsafeguarded Aramar centrifuge plant, lent important political and symbolic support to the rapprochement process. Redick emphasized the important role that these visits played in accelerating the rapprochement. The pace of the rapprochement at the end of the 1980s was also quickened by information, scientific and technical exchanges between the two countries. In 1985, Argentina and Brazil had established a Joint Committee on Nuclear Policy to enable the two countries to inform each other of significant developments that might otherwise lead to suspicion. Importantly, scientific and technical advisors preceded and accompanied their respective Presidents on their frequent visits to unsafeguarded nuclear sites, thereby enhancing confidence building and adding substance to symbolism. Increasingly through the end of the decade, Redick said, scientists from the two countries visited each other’s facilities, and cooperation on civil research projects became more routine. Redick related how the pace of the rapprochement further increased following the election of Argentine President Menem in July 1989 and Brazilian President Collor de Mello in March 1990. In November 1990, Argentina and Brazil signed the Declaration on the Common Nuclear Policy, which renounced both nuclear weapons and peaceful nuclear explosives and established a framework for a regional safeguards system. In July 1991, at a Ministerial meeting in Guadalajara, they signed the so-called “Bilateral Agreement,” which created ABACC and set up a regional inspection system. Both countries ratified the Bilateral Agreement by the end of the year. This was subsequently followed by the “Quadripartite Agreement” between Argentina, Brazil, ABACC and the IAEA. This agreement, ratified by Argentina in 1992 and Brazil in 1994, effectively placed all nuclear facilities in the two countries under “full-scope” IAEA safeguards. Taken together, the inspection regime created by these two agreements is as rigorous as the NPT regime. Redick made several other observations. He remarked that the rapprochement in the nuclear sector, which was a highly charged issue, was used by the leaders of both countries to build cooperation in other economic and social areas. In turn, broad cooperation accelerated the rapprochement on the nuclear side. Redick further concluded that presidential leadership was also key to driving the cooperative process. Other government agencies, notably the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, played important roles in cementing this new relationship. Redick said that the bilateral relationship between Argentina and Brazil showed how regional efforts could supplement or substitute for international controls in regions where mistrust of the international regime runs high. Further, he said that regional systems can serve as a mechanism to build acceptance in the region of international norms. The term rapprochement, Redick concluded, characterizes not only the Argentine-Brazilian bilateral relationship, but also the countries’ changed attitudes towards the international nonproliferation regime. Argentine Ambassador Julio Carasales gave the second presentation of the morning’s principal session. Now retired, Carasales position as a senior member of Argentina’s foreign service enabled him to provide a first-hand account of Argentina’s perspective of the rapprochement with its South American neighbor. Nuclear cooperation, said Carasales, was formally established by the signing of a limited cooperative agreement in 1980. Further efforts stalled, however, with both governments distracted by domestic problems and (for Argentina, at least) by the Malvinas/Falklands War. It was not until the mid-1980s, with the establishment of democratic governments in both countries after a long period of military dictatorship, that the rapprochement process was reinvigorated. According to Carasales, Argentina and Brazil initially sought only to increase security by increasing trust and transparency. Neither country envisioned the development of a regional safeguards regime. From 1985 to 1989, the rapprochement was “purely bilateral,” he said. During this period, as the transition to democracy in each country took hold, the pace and depth of the rapprochement increased. Carasales emphasized the importance of technical exchanges and political visits to the process, noting that Presidents Alfonsin and Sarney visited each other’s unsafeguarded facilities four times during a two year period. As the atmosphere of trust and confidence grew, it became possible for a formal inspection system to develop. Beginning in 1989, Carasales said, the rapprochement transformed from a purely bilateral approach to one with international implications. One of the reasons for this transformation, Carasales said, was a recognition by both countries that strictly bilateral arrangements could not satisfy the international community that the nuclear programs in Argentina and Brazil did not involve nuclear explosives. Ambassador Carasales noted several other important lessons of the Latin American rapprochement. First, he argued that similar nuclear policies and levels of fuel cycle development facilitated the process of improving relations. He also noted how cooperation in the nuclear sector both amplified and was encouraged by deeper economic integration and warming political relations in other areas. Like Redick, Carasales emphasized the role that the transition to a civilian government in both countries played in the development of the bilateral relationship. Formal state visits to nuclear facilities lent important symbolism to the rapprochement and showed support for improved relations at the highest levels. Ambassador Carasales noted also that the international community played an important role in improving relations. He said that both countries became aware over time that access to important technologies would be facilitated by an easing of the rivalry on the continent. However, he argued that the international community’s role was not fundamental to the development of the bilateral system. According to Carasales, the principle motivation for improving relations came from within Argentina and Brazil and not from the outside. Ambassador Carasales emphasized that the Latin American model could not be transplanted directly to other regions. He noted, however, that the path taken by Argentina and Brazil, characterized by a series of small steps that sought to improve transparency, confidence and trust among regional rivals, might be adapted to other regions when conditions were right. He also stressed the need for all regional parties to be sincere in their intent to improve relations. Marco Marzo and David Albright then commented on Redick’s and Carasales’ presentations and informally conveyed their own views on the nuclear rapprochement. Marzo clarified some of the differences between Argentina’s and Brazil’s nuclear programs. In particular, he sought to explain the different motivations for pursuing nuclear capabilities, the reasons for seeking indigenous production capabilities, and the reasons behind the particular fuel cycle strategies that the two countries followed. He also sought to convey his impressions of the role that both the military and public opinion played in nuclear developments in Brazil. Albright focussed on the role that scientists played, particularly in Brazil, to bring about more open nuclear programs in Latin America. He remarked that scientists, including government advisors, such as Jose Goldemberg, and outside critics played complementary roles in bringing Brazil’s secret nuclear programs under civilian control. For example, critics successfully characterized the Brazilian centrifuge program as a nascent nuclear weapons program by arguing that the military would not otherwise resort to such secrecy. During the transition to a civil government, these scientists worked successfully to bring the program under civil control through constitutional provisions requiring the Brazilian Congress to approve developments in the nuclear field. Ultimately, these scientists sought to create a more open system of government which could balance civil and military priorities. Government advisors, such as Goldemberg, played key roles in implementing the decisions of President Collor in 1990, who decided to end the Brazilian nuclear explosives effort and to created both regional and full-scope international inspections.

Discussion following the morning session

The morning presentations generated much discussion among those attending the seminar. Seminar attendees were especially interested in the step-wise, iterative nature of the nuclear rapprochement, and wanted more information about how that relationship developed. One attendee asked about the role of technical exchanges in building the rapprochement. Marco Marzo noted that the initial reduction in nuclear tensions between Argentina and Brazil was accompanied by the series of reciprocal visits of nuclear scientists to each other’s nuclear establishments. According to Marzo, these technical exchanges enabled nuclear scientists in both countries to get to know each other on a professional level. Marzo noted that the technical communities were very small in both countries, and as they continued to work together they became more familiar with each other on an institutional and personal basis. He remarked that this degree of familiarity was key to the rapid development and implementation of the regional safeguards system by these scientists after the Bilateral Agreement was signed in 1991. Another attendee asked for an explanation of the Treaty of Tlatelolco’s entry into force provisions. Carasales explained that Treaty becomes binding on all signatories when all of the countries in Latin America have ratified the treaty and when the nuclear weapons states accept treaty protocols that restrict the transportation and basing of nuclear weapons in the region. However, Carasales noted, individual countries could waive these provisions and enable the Treaty to enter into force on its own territory. In addition, since both Argentina and Brazil signed the Treaty of Tlatelolco early on, they understood that they had agreed not to do anything against the interests of the treaty. Questions were raised about the degree to which Argentina and Brazil had fully accepted the NPT regime. Redick and Carasales both noted that Argentina had decided to join the NPT following the implementation of the Quadripartite Agreement. This decision was taken, they said, because Argentina would then be able to avail itself more broadly of nuclear technologies from foreign suppliers. It also saw its chance to affect the scope and nature of the regime as a full participant in the 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, where the Treaty was extended indefinitely. Marzo gave the Brazilian perspective on NPT accession. He said that Brazil remained outside the NPT because of political considerations. Brazil still objects to the discriminatory nature of the Treaty, and has a long and vocal history of opposing it. In practice, however, Brazil’s outside status makes no difference. Indeed, because it has renounced peaceful nuclear explosives and accepted IAEA inspections through the Quadripartite Agreement, Marzo said that Brazil’s commitment to nonproliferation already goes beyond what the NPT requires.

Afternoon Session—ABACC: Designing and Implementing Bilateral Inspections in Argentina and Brazil

The afternoon session was principally devoted to Marco Marzo, who gave a first-hand, detailed description of the development and implementation of the regional safeguards regime set up between Brazil and Argentina. During his presentation, he spoke about the organizational arrangement of ABACC, as established by the Bilateral Agreement. He further described the basic structure of the regional safeguards arrangement as outlined by the Common System for Accounting and Control (SCCC). He then described in some detail the implementation of the SCCC by ABACC. Marzo also explained the Quadripartite Agreement signed by Argentina, Brazil, ABACC and the IAEA, which established “full-scope” safeguards, and described in some detail how the IAEA and ABACC work together to implement this agreement. Marzo commented that the implementation of the bilateral inspection regime was proceeding smoothly and with the full cooperation of both Argentina and Brazil. He stated that ABACC was fully involved in making regular inspections at more than 60 facilities in both countries. In 1995 alone, he added, 144 total inspections were completed. Inspectors had largely completed initial inspections to verify facility designs, and were now increasingly conducting initial inventory and regular inspections at these facilities. Marzo remarked that the implementation of the Quadripartite Agreement would give the IAEA the independent capacity to verify ABACC’s findings, thereby effectively placing all facilities in Argentina and Brazil under IAEA safeguards. He noted, however, that ABACC and the IAEA were only beginning to establish their working relationships. For example, the rights of IAEA inspectors are still being worked out. On the operational level, Marzo noted, there was also some tension and redundancy. However, Marzo was hopeful that ABACC and the IAEA would be able to resolve these differences. Marzo noted some of the IAEA’s concerns. In particular, he said, there was a tension between the requirements for the IAEA to independently reach its own conclusions, and for both agencies to coordinate their inspections so as to minimize duplication. Marzo said that the IAEA did not want its relationship to develop with ABACC as its relationship with EURATOM had developed, noting that the IAEA enjoys little flexibility in its relationship with EURATOM. Marzo pointed out, however, that while the IAEA - EURATOM relationship largely excludes national governments, the IAEA - ABACC relationship, by virtue of the Quadripartite Agreement, specifically must consider the views of Argentina and Brazil. Marzo also described some of the unique features of how ABACC inspects nuclear facilities. He said that it was common practice for an inspection team to include an expert in the particular technology or process being inspected, such as reactor operations, gaseous diffusion or centrifuge enrichment, and an expert on safeguards techniques. This way, an inspection team considers both the functional and safeguards angles when visiting a facility. Marzo noted that this feature was uncommon in the IAEA, with the notable exception of the IAEA Action Team on Iraq. Marzo also described how ABACC chose its inspectors. He said that the ABACC inspectorate consists of 70 experts, about 35 from each country. These experts are drawn from lists proposed by the national governments, which is approved by ABACC’s four-member Commission. When it comes time for an inspection to take place, the ABACC Secretariat then selects two inspectors from the list to carry out the inspection. Marzo also explained that the inspectors were not part of ABACC’s permanent staff. Rather, in another feature unique to ABACC, the inspectors were detailed from their home governments, as needed. Further, Marzo remarked, inspections were conducted on a cross-national basis, with Argentine inspectors conducting inspections in Brazil, and vice-versa.

Discussion following Marzo’s Presentation

Officials attending the seminar were intrigued by Marzo’s presentation. They were particularly interested in the inspection system and the ways in which inspectors were drawn from their home governments and selected for a particular inspection. These officials contrasted this arrangement with the IAEA, where considerations of “national balance” had to be taken into consideration when hiring staff. The ABACC system was preferable, they argued, because the IAEA might employ less qualified inspectors to satisfy national balance concerns. ABACC, in contrast, could select the 35 most qualified experts in each country to serve as its pool of inspectors, all but ensuring that the most qualified candidates in each country would be selected. Some officials also noted that the cross-national basis of the inspections meant that individual inspectors would be motivated by their own sense of national security, professional pride and self-interest. Other questions focussed on the ability of ABACC to investigate undeclared activities. Marzo remarked that while the bilateral agreement did not formally create such an authority, he said that ABACC would be able to access an undeclared facility if it had evidence that proscribed activities were taking place. However, he noted that no such incident had yet occurred. He added that ABACC can ask for access into any facility, not just those with nuclear material. Concluding Remarks by AEC Director General Gideon Frank Remarks by Gideon Frank concluded the day’s events. Frank began by noting that he was very happy that the seminar had taken place at Soreq, and had inaugurated the Freier Center. He found the seminar very interesting and thought provoking. He said that he better understood the prerequisites for nuclear rapprochement. He listed long-standing diplomatic relations and peace, cooperation on a variety of fronts, and a patient process of confidence building. To him, confidence building measures are the name of the game. He also believed that the most significant aspect of the Latin American rapprochement was that real change happened after democratization. Only in a democratic regime can you have confidence in the intentions of a country, he said. He then raised the case of Iraq. Iraq, he argued, has been shouldered with the most intrusive verification system ever imposed, and yet few believe that the present regime in Iraq has given up its intentions to obtain nuclear weapons. Frank said that a state could not be confident in a verification regime if it lacked confidence in the intentions of the other side. Frank ended his remarks by highlighting many of the aspects of the Latin American rapprochement that he saw as important and valuable. In particular, he found that ABACC as a mutual verification regime is generally more effective. Further, he viewed that cross-national inspections all but ensured the full support of Brazil and Argentina for their own inspectors; such support would make it more likely that any discrepancies found in an inspection would be addressed. Personal motivation also ensured that inspectors had a high incentive to detect discrepancies.


No one can underestimate the full recognition by the participants and speakers at this seminar of the difficulty of achieving nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. But this seminar did not seek to minimize these difficulties. Rather, it sought to convey the steps that must be taken to achieve this goal. To the Israelis who attended the event, the seminar reaffirmed their choice to pursue confidence building measures and to build wide-ranging cooperation with Arab nations as part of the peace process. They recognized that while a nuclear weapons free zone appears to be distant goal, the Latin American example shows that significant changes can happen unexpectedly. In turn, these changes can bring forth conditions and required prerequisites, such as confidence appreciation and reconciliation, that make a nuclear rapprochement possible on a faster timetable. The purpose of this seminar was to make the lessons of Latin America available to Israeli officials who had the desire to learn how other countries have applied regional solutions to secure nuclear peace. It is hoped that this transcript will be used by those interested in this question as a contribution for further analysis and contemplation.


This seminar would not have been possible without the support of Dr. Ariel Levite of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Mr. Gideon Frank, the Director General of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, and Dr. Uriel Halavee, the Director of the Soreq Nuclear Research Center. The sponsors of this seminar would like to thank Professor John Redick, Ambassador Julio Carasales, Dr. Marco Marzo and Mr. David Albright for their contributions to the day’s events. Their insightful presentations led to thoughtful discussions and questions throughout the seminar. This transcript was prepared and edited by Kevin O’Neill and Carrie Gerkey of the Institute for Science and International Security.