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Taiwan Nonproliferation Pledge Not a Model: Top Energy Official

By Elaine M. Grossman

Global Security Newswire

WASHINGTON -- A top Energy Department official last week said Taiwan’s recent willingness to incorporate a strict nonproliferation pledge in an upcoming renewal of its nuclear trade pact with the United States should not be seen as a prototype for future atomic cooperation agreements elsewhere around the globe.

“We don’t look at any … one agreement as the one that becomes the model for the others,” Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said on Thursday at a three-day conference on nuclear deterrence. “I would view the Taiwan negotiations just in the same way that we view negotiations with so many other countries that we have around the world.”

Taipei last year signaled it was prepared to vow in the upcoming bilateral accord not to make nuclear fuel on its soil. The island nation’s existing pact expires in June 2014.

Taiwanese government officials have said in interviews that they intended to fashion their pledge to abstain from sensitive activities along the lines of one offered by the United Arab Emirates in its 2009 nuclear trade agreement with Washington.

U.S. officials have dubbed this type of promise the “gold standard” for helping reduce any risk that a trade partner would secretly use enriched uranium or reprocessed plutonium to build nuclear weapons.

Members of Congress have urged the Obama administration to secure gold standard commitments from a number of emerging nuclear-energy nations, including Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Nonproliferation advocates have said the Taiwanese interest in forsaking domestic nuclear fuel-making activities strengthens the prospects for future nonproliferation pledges from nations looking for access to U.S. nuclear materials and technology.

Nuclear proliferation expert Mark Hibbs has voiced skepticism that Taiwan could serve as much of a model, noting that it effectively must accept U.S. terms as Washington is its sole nuclear materials supplier. Many other nations would be reluctant to buy reactors from U.S. companies if it meant accepting strict limits on their fuel-making activities, he has said.

By contrast, atomic arms experts Jeffrey Lewis and Jodi Lieberman are among those who take a different stance. Taiwan could demonstrate to other nations that the cachet of winning a U.S. trade agreement might also enhance their own nonproliferation credentials, according to this view.

Poneman played down the idea that Taiwan’s willingness serves as much of a precedent as Washington pursues civilian nuclear deals elsewhere.

“Of course, every country’s a little bit different in terms of what their unique situation is,” he said at the conference in Arlington, Va. “We always try to negotiate agreements with them in the context of a broader diplomatic engagement with that country, to minimize the threat of nuclear proliferation.”

Inside the Obama administration, Poneman for years has advocated taking a “case-by-case” approach to negotiating U.S. nuclear trade pacts. An internal policy review on whether to pursue this policy or more strongly insist on nonproliferation terms in such accords remains pending.

The United States approaches the matter “holistically,” with nonproliferation being a priority in nuclear energy policy, according to the DOE official.

The world community must “make sure that we don’t end up with a lot more reprocessing and enrichment capability around the world than makes sense, given the requirements of the civil nuclear industry,” Poneman said.

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