U.S. to Object to Pakistan-China Nuclear Deal

The United States intends to vote against the planned Chinese atomic reactor sale to Pakistan in the international export control group that monitors nuclear commerce, a senior State Department official told lawmakers yesterday (see GSN, July 20).

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Vann Van Diepen responded during a hearing to a question on whether Washington intended within the 46-member Nuclear Suppliers Group to oppose granting a waiver allowing China to build two nuclear power plants at Pakistan's Chashma atomic site, the Washington Times reported.

"By definition, we do not support any activity that goes against the [NSG] guidelines," Van Diepen told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Nuclear Suppliers Group seeks to limit the sale of member nations' nuclear technology and materials to states that have signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; nuclear-armed Pakistan has not.

India, another nuclear-armed state that remains outside the nonproliferation treaty, in 2008 received a waiver for atomic trade with NSG member states.

"Based on the facts we are aware of, it would occur to us that this sale would not be allowed to occur without an exemption of the NSG," Van Diepen said.

Beijing has maintained the sale should be permitted as it constructed two nuclear reactors at Chashma before becoming a member of the nuclear export control group.

While Washington can vote 'no' on a waiver for China, it has no real recourse to block the deal from going forward as NSG guidelines are nonbinding, the nonproliferation official said.

Pakistan and China have a history of collaborating on nuclear technology and U.S. intelligence officials believe the South Asian nation's nuclear weapons were designed based from China's own strategic arms.

"Pakistan has profound energy needs, and we are working with Pakistan to try to increase its energy production and the diversity of its energy resources," an unidentified high-ranking State Department official said.

"In the abstract, nuclear power at some point can be part of that mix; in the near to midterm, we are focused on non-nuclear sources of energy," the official said.

Islamabad has sought a nuclear trade deal with Washington similar to the agreement the Bush administration struck with India in 2008. The United States has demurred thus far, citing the country's record of nuclear proliferation through former chief nuclear weapons scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan.

Washington is "willing to have a conversation about civilian nuclear power, but there is a lot that Pakistan is going to have to do, given its past record," the official said.

Nonproliferation Policy Education Center Director Henry Sokolski said much is unknown about the circumstances and time line for possible U.S. nuclear trade with Pakistan.

"Is Washington blocking China so the Obama administration can be in control of the terms under which it will allow a Chinese sale to Pakistan?" Sokolski said. "Or is it that only the United States wants to be the one making the reactor sale? I think it's the former; the mystery is what we will ask for in exchange" (Eli Lake, Washington Times, July 22).

July 23, 2010
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The United States intends to vote against the planned Chinese atomic reactor sale to Pakistan in the international export control group that monitors nuclear commerce, a senior State Department official told lawmakers yesterday (see GSN, July 20).