A bilateral, on-site, nuclear verification agreement between Argentina and Brazil could help to arrest mounting suspicion over the ultimate nuclear aspirations of these two important states. There is reason to believe that such a proposal would not be rejected out of hand, and there are many reasons why both sides should find such an arrangement in their best interest.

I reached that conclusion during a congressional study mission that included discussions with top officials in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

The agreement I envisage would be one in which Brazil and Argentina renounce any intention of developing a nuclear explosive device and agree to accept continuing, mutual, on-site monitoring of their respective nuclear facilities. Each nation would let nuclear officials of the other move freely throughout its nuclear facilities.

Argentina and Brazil have been natural competitors on many planes over the years and probably will remain so in the future. They have a long common border. Each has a great diversity of resources, technical competence and a burgeoning economy.

Argentina is presently the most advanced nuclear power in Latin America, with several natural-uranium-fueled power plants in operation and under construction. Its technology includes a laboratory-size plant for reprocessing spent fuel.

Brazil, although behind Argentina in nuclear development, has contracted with West Germany to buy a complete nuclear fuel technology based on the use of enriched uranium and including equipment for reprocessing spent fuel. The latter, of course, will yield substantial quantities of plutonium usable for weapons.

Neither country is currently a party to the non-proliferation treaty, though both have taken some steps toward entering into the Treaty of Tlateloco. However, this treaty, important as it is, accepts the distinction between peaceful and military nuclear explosive devices, a distinction that the United States and other supplier states now prudently recognize to be artificial and meaningless.

Both Brazil and Argentina have frequently renounced any intention of building or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons, but apprehension persists that, in the absence of solid safeguards, future circumstances might impel one of them to go the weapons route. If so, the other would surely follow. With the giants of South America armed with nuclear weapons, a chain reaction might bring them swiftly to other Latin nations.

A Latin America bristling with nuclear weapons is hardly a pleasant prospect.

The bilateral pledges and inspection arrangements I have described would not be a substitute for International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards nor for specific individual supplier-state provisos, but rather would provide an important additional element of assurance and protection between two states whose past relations have at time been quite troubled. The agreement in question would strengthen the web of checks and decrease any incentive for abuse and diversion. The agreement by rivals to check themselves should be doubly reassuring to neighboring states and to the world at large. There are other situations in other parts of the world where tensions among regional powers are so great as to require checks beyond those inherent in customary safeguard arrangements. This kind of bilateral verification could serve as a model for such situations, helping, by means of the added protection it would provide, to assure that traditional safeguards are not subjected to intense or unbearable strain.

The agreement would have these advantages:

It would elicit worldwide applause for the two neighboring counties whose governments would consummate the agreement entirely on their own without participation or pressure by the nuclear weapons states.

It would be the first major agreement between the countries in many years and might create an atmosphere that would be supportive of agreements in other fields as well.

It would not involve concessions or cost by either state. Brazil and Argentina already have a cordial, informal, cooperative relationship among their nuclear officials and, inasmuch as both have renounced nuclear weapons, neither would be disadvantaged by accepting continuing on-site inspection.

It would help to restore an atmosphere of cordial nuclear cooperation that likely would spread beyond Argentina and Brazil. Hopefully, it would generate a mutually beneficial spirit to the advantage of supplier states, including the United States, West Germany and Canada.

No single method exists for dealing with the threat of nuclear proliferation. Agreements can always be broken in times of stress, and safeguard inspectors sent packing. That is why it is still of the greatest importance to create fuel cycles in which ready access to weapons-usable materials is denied. Still, the institutional arrangements described here, coupled with other controls and hoped-for technological advancements, could be an important breakthrough in the quest for a truly secure development of nuclear power.