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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

30 October 1997


(U.S. will continue to monitor China on nuclear issue)  (5070)
Washington -- Based on the steps the Chinese have taken and assurances
they have provided, President Clinton will submit to Congress the
certifications necessary under U.S. law to implement the U.S.-China
agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation, according to senior
administration officials.
"We will monitor as well as we can China's nuclear cooperation with
third countries, and we will know that it is succeeding if we don't
see evidence of activity that's inconsistent with their pledges,"
administration officials said during a background press briefing
October 29. The officials added that China does have a functioning
export control system today.
The United States has alerted China to the dangers of providing
nuclear assistance to Iran and has stressed that clear assurances on
Iran are a prerequisite for China to receive certification and
peaceful nuclear technology from the United States, according to the
"We've been negotiating with the Chinese for over two years now on
whether we can find an adequate basis for meeting the requirements of
our law, and we believe, after about two years of very intensive work,
we have met these requirements. In the course of this period, we have
seen a marked positive shift in China's nuclear nonproliferation
behavior, both in terms of new commitments as well as actual
behavior," the officials said.
The officials noted the United States is also concerned about "various
aspects of Chinese behavior" in the area of chemical-related trade.
"Many of you know that we imposed trade sanctions on Chinese entities,
seven of them, back in May for assisting Iran's chemical weapons
program. We have also pursued very actively the question of missile
technology transfers to a number of countries with the Chinese. These
are a very high concern of ours, a preoccupation in all of our
discussions with the Chinese and at the highest levels," the officials
However, the officials added, "in our view it's not appropriate to
link these other issues with the nuclear certification."
"Nuclear certification requires performance on nuclear issues, and to
pile a number of other conditions on top of that would be to move the
goalpost," the officials said. "It would create the risk of not being
able to lock in the very substantial progress we would have."
Following is the transcript of the briefing:
(begin transcript)
Office of the Press Secretary
October 29, 1997
Office of the Press Secretary
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me start with a few remarks. The
President, in his press conference statement, mentioned that on the
basis of steps the Chinese have taken and assurances they have
provided, he will submit to the U.S. Congress the certifications
necessary to, under U.S. law, to implement the U.S.-China agreement
for peaceful nuclear cooperation. Let me just start off by mentioning
some of these steps, mentioning some of these assurances.
Now, we've been negotiating with the Chinese for over two years now on
whether we can find an adequate basis for meeting the requirements of
our law, and we believe, after about two years of very intensive work,
we have met these requirements. In the course of this period, we have
seen a marked positive shift in China's nuclear nonproliferation
behavior, both in terms of new commitments as well as actual behavior.
And let me go through a short list.
In May 1996, China committed not to provide assistance to --
(inaudible) -- Pakistan or anywhere else. We have monitored this
pledge very carefully over the course of the last 16, 18 months, and
the Chinese appear to be taking their pledge very seriously. We have
no basis to conclude that they have acted inconsistently with this May
1996 commitment.
Also, the Chinese have provided assurances with respect to nuclear
cooperation with Iran. What they have assured us is that they would
not engage -- that they are not going to engage in new nuclear
cooperation with Iran, and that they will complete a few existing
projects, and these are projects which are not of proliferation
concern. They were complete them within a relatively short period of
And in the course of our discussions with the Chinese and even before
that, they've taken steps to suspend or cancel certain areas of
cooperation that could have been of real proliferation concern. And
there are indications that they've turned down the Iranians in a
number of their requests in the nuclear field when they judged them to
be of proliferation concern.
Another element is the adoption of comprehensive nationwide
nuclear-related export controls. The Chinese did not have such a
comprehensive system in the past, and this is one of the problems.
They have, in the last several months, taken very significant steps to
put in place a comprehensive regime to control nuclear-related
equipment, technology, personnel exchanges. They've done this through
a number of state council directives beginning in May and continuing
through September, and they're continuing to work on and improve their
regulatory structure.
Another important step is to join multilateral export control
discussions. The Chinese had never before participated in any of these
multilateral export control regimes, but they decided recently to join
the so-called "Zangger Committee." That's the NPT exporters committee.
It's a group of nuclear supplier states, all NPT parties, and they
discuss how to control nuclear related exports in a responsible way.
China has now joined that body -- it's a very positive stay.
This, in addition to a number of other steps, and Secretary Albright
mentioned some of them -- they joined the NPT in '92, they supported
its indefinite extension in '95, they stopped nuclear testing and
signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in '96. They support a
fissile material cut-off treaty. They supported the effort to
strengthen the safeguard system of the International Atomic Energy
Agency. So there are a range of steps in the nuclear nonproliferation
area we have considered quite positive and they meet, in our view, the
requirements of our law and that's why the President has proceeded to
announce that he will submit the necessary certifications.
Q: Regarding Iran, are they in writing -- maybe you said it before,
but are they in writing or was it just verbal commitments?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me mention, because we are on
background, that the assurances we received are, as the President
said, sufficiently specific and clear to meet the requirements of our
law and to advance our national security interests, and they are in
the form of writing. They're written, confidential communications.
Q: But you know from all your long experience in this that members of
Congress are going to come to you and are going to say to you,
"Assurances? We want ironclad agreements. China's not trustworthy."
What are you going to say to that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have already begun to set up
meetings with members of Congress. We know they're very interested in
this issue. We know that they want to be informed in detail and we
would like to accommodate them. So we will be prepared to discuss in
detail these written communications.
Q: Are the written communications signed communications? I mean, I'm a
little confused. Other than just being put on paper, are they signed
by officials and that sort of thing?
authoritative, written communications.
Q: What's the point of this form? Why not simple, public documents,
which is certainly what Congress -- or the critics in Congress would
like? Why this form, why this secrecy? Why this form and why is the
President so hesitant to talk about it publicly?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I didn't think he was hesitant at all.
He mentioned that we had specific, clear assurances on this. And I
just mentioned to you and Sandy Berger just mentioned to you
specifically what those assurances were, the substance of them.
Why are these confidential, written communications? Well, we're
dealing with relations with third parties and there are naturally some
sensitivities in this regard. And this is the basis on which we agreed
to go forward. But there's no effort to conceal what's being done. We
will be speaking to members of Congress, as I say, in great detail.
They will know precisely what has been agreed.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'd like to add that we will continue
to be monitoring Chinese behavior to make sure that it's consistent
with the assurances that we've received. So this is not a situation
where we're going to stop making certain that we have confidence that
the Chinese are living up to those commitments they've given us. In
the eventuality that they do not live up to those commitments, then,
obviously, the nuclear agreement is -- we would no longer be able to
go ahead with it.
Q: You know the critics in Congress are going to point out that this
allows the Chinese to tell the third parties something else, and tell
us a different thing.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What we care about is results. We care
about the Chinese not providing any new nuclear cooperation with Iran,
even under IAEA safeguards. This is a very significant step forward in
our efforts to try to prevent the Iranians from acquiring a basic
nuclear capability.
Q: But do these authoritative communications include pledges by China
not to conceal any nuclear activity, so that's it's open enough that
we can detect it either by satellite or by human intelligence or some
other way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The assurance is not to engage in any
new nuclear cooperation. And we will monitor that pledge very
carefully. And we will be able to know whether they're abiding by that
Q: Just out of curiosity, when was it actually -- when did it actually
finish and say, now it can be told?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, when we indicated several days
ago that the deal was not yet done, we were serious about that, and we
continued to -- we had some discussions, as you know, in Beijing, and
we reached a general understanding, but that had to be reviewed and
discussed at senior levels. So it wasn't really resolved until the
very eve of the summit.
Q:  The change was today?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It was today. Today was when the final
exchange took place.
Q: Let me understand -- the confidentiality is to protect China's
relationship with the third parties? And is it the case that all
members of Congress who desire will be able to view these written
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are going to, beginning tomorrow,
begin speaking with members of Congress and --
Q:  Any and all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, any and all, who are interested.
I hope there are many who will be interested, and we will brief them
fully on it.
Q: Could you say more about the other types of proliferation that we
were concerned about that sort of figured on the margins of this
negotiation or as part of the negotiation, but not so
straightforwardly a part of the quid pro quo. What progress did you
make exactly?
And then, secondly, could you explain why there was a decision to
elevate this issue about nuclear cooperation with Iran above all other
issues that might have been used as part of the bargaining leverage in
exchange for letting them have the nuclear technology that they're
going to get? We could have attached conditions on human rights. I
mean, it could have been the gamut, but you decided to restrict it
fairly narrowly to this subject and not to others. So if you could
explain that, too, I'd appreciate it.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: On the question of the non-nuclear,
the law is very clear. There are laws from 1985, laws from 1990. They
set certain conditions for implementing this peaceful nuclear
cooperation agreement, and the conditions have to do with China's
record in the area of nuclear nonproliferation. That's why I dwell on
the steps that China has taken. Those steps, those changes in behavior
are what led the President to go forward with certification.
Now, we are also concerned about various aspects of Chinese behavior
in the non-nuclear area -- in the area of chemical-related trade. Many
of you know that we imposed trade sanctions on Chinese entities, seven
of them, back in May for assisting Iran's chemical weapons program. We
have also pursued very actively the question of missile technology
transfers to a number of countries with the Chinese. These are a very
high concern of ours, a preoccupation in all of our discussions with
the Chinese and at the highest levels.
But in our view it's not appropriate to link these other issues with
the nuclear certification, because the nuclear certification requires
performance on nuclear issues, and to pile a number of other
conditions on top of that would be to move the goalpost. And what we
do is we -- it would create the risk of not being able to lock in the
very substantial progress we would have.
And, by the way, as my colleague mentioned, this arrangements will
give us continuing leverage on China, a continuing ability to engage
with them and influence their program. Why? Because the agreement for
cooperation, this 1985 agreement, makes China eligible to receive U.S.
nuclear technology, materials, and equipment. All individual
transactions have to be licensed on a case-by-case basis. And the
Chinese know very well that if they act in a manner that it's
inconsistent with their assurances to us, then it's within our rights
to terminate nuclear trade. The Chinese know this. So engagement with
them will provide continuing incentives for good behavior and for us
to improve the record even on chemical and missile issues.
Q: But what about the missile issues? Because it's been sort of a new
tack to separate the fuels from the missiles, and certainly in Korea
and in Japan that's not viewed very --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I don't understand your question.
Q:  In other words, this is about fuels, not about missiles.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  It's about nuclear and non-nuclear.
Q: Right. But it separates nuclear and missile technology from the
delivery system question, which has been an issue that's very
upsetting to Japan and Korea. What about movement on that side of the
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As I said, we pressed the Chinese on
each of these issues and we've made some progress on a number of them.
Take the chemical -- China became an original party to the Chemical
Weapons Convention back in April when we became an original party to
the CWC. And as I say, before April, a number of Chinese entities
engaged in activities which led to sanctions. But we are pressing now
for improvements in China's export control system that can remedy this
problem. And recently we learned that the government of China
instituted some new procedures on requiring governmental review and
approval of chemical-related trade so as to avoid these kinds of
problems. We're pleased with their recognition that they need to
institute some changes in their export control system to avoid these
problems of the past.
Q: Can you give us a tangible sense of the things that the Chinese are
now doing to increase the safeguards on the nuclear side?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Again, safeguards on what, you mean
their own export control system?
Q:  Yes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: They have adopted very comprehensive
-- this is a matter of public record; these are state council
decisions which are legally binding and they have, for example,
published nuclear control lists. As you know, the Nuclear Suppliers
Group puts out comprehensive lists of nuclear items and
nuclear-related dual-use items. They've published those Nuclear
Suppliers Group lists, and they have put out guidance to all
governmental entities, as well as nongovernmental organizations to
ensure that all of this trade is licensed and that no assistance can
go to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities. It's a matter of record and
you can study these, and they're quite detailed and quite rigorous.
Q: I guess what I meant was whether it's IPR or missile technology,
the issue has often not been is there a rule on the books, but -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: As my colleague mentioned at the
beginning of his presentation, since May of 1996, since May of last
year when China provided this new commitment that they would not
provide assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities, we've been
watching the situation very closely. We have raised with the Chinese
on a number of occasions particular instances where we were concerned
that countries might be trying to obtain such assistance, and we're
satisfied that there is no evidence to conclude that the Chinese have
violated that commitment.
So we've got a track record dating back to May of last year where we
think the Chinese have seriously invested the resources to make sure
that that kind of thing doesn't go on.
Q: Can I ask again on an earlier question -- did I understand you to
say you will let members of Congress review these agreements?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We will make available to members of
Congress in confidence, because these are confidential diplomatic
communications, an opportunity to read and judge for themselves these
written assurances that we've been given, yes.
Q: -- assurances specifically -- different countries, specifically,
say, Iran, Pakistan?
Q:  Just Iran?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, just Iran. The written assurances
that the Chinese have given in public concerning their general policy
toward preventing any assistance from going to other countries'
unsafeguarded nuclear facilities or nuclear weapons programs, that's
general, that applies to everybody.
Q: And how soon do you think American companies will start trying to
contract with China for nuclear reactors?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that there are discussions
going on now, but nothing can actually be activated until we go
through a process that was set up by the 1985 law. And what that
requires is that the President needs to submit to Congress a
certification package which includes a number of formal
certifications; it includes an unclassified and a classified report on
Chinese behavior; it includes a waiver of some of the 1990 Tiananmen
Square sanctions. That package then rests before Congress for 30 days
of congressional session before it will come into force.
And to answer your question, the President intends to submit the
certification package promptly. I can't tell you exactly when that
will be. We certainly hope it will be before Congress goes out of
session this year.
Q: -- join the Zangger Group, was there not a group that they declined
to join because it requires open inspections of all plants, and
Pakistan and India have -
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, let me explain that. There are
two international groups that control nuclear technology. There's the
Zangger technology, which is the oldest one -- that's the one that's
associated with the Nonproliferation Treaty. There is a newer one,
which is called the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and the membership is
almost the same and the trigger lists and the guidelines for export in
the two are almost the same.
The only significant difference is that the Nuclear Suppliers Group
requires something called "full scope safeguards" as a condition for
supply. And what that means is that the countries in the Nuclear
Suppliers Group will not provide any peaceful nuclear technology to
any country unless that country accepts IAEA safeguards on all of
their nuclear facilities. The Zangger Committee just requires that
safeguards be applied to whatever nuclear cooperation you provide to
another country.
Now, in the case of China, we think that they should adopt full-scope
safeguards as a condition for a supplier and we'll be continuing to
make the argument to them that we think they should do that. But they
have safeguarded peaceful nuclear cooperation with both Pakistan and
India, and they told that at this particular point, they're not
prepared to suspend those projects.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: One thing to add. The Nonproliferation
Treaty doesn't require you to require full-scope safeguards as a
condition of supply. It's sufficient to meet your NPT obligations to
apply safeguards to only your individual exports. So full-scope
safeguards is something that the Nuclear Suppliers Group didn't adopt
until 1992, whereas NPT dates from 1970. So, yes, we would like all
countries to require full-scope safeguards, but it's not a requirement
of the NPT and it's not a requirement of the certification.
Q: Wait a minute. Can I ask you if you succeeded in getting the
Chinese to accept the somewhat stricter export list of the second
group, even though they weren't necessarily going to join it, which I
know was one of your aims? Did you have any luck with that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The list that they have adopted to
control both their nuclear items and their nuclear-related dual-use
items is essentially the list that is internationally accepted. So the
nuclear items is essentially the same as the Zangger trigger list; the
dual-use list is essentially the same as the NSG, the Nuclear
Suppliers Group dual use list. So in terms of what the Chinese have
done formally it very much meets the international standard.
Q: When do you expect the administrative system for their nuclear
export controls to be fully operational, and how is the U.S. going to
determine that it is operating as it should?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The second is easy. We will monitor as
well as we can China's nuclear cooperation with third countries, and
we will know that it is succeeding if we don't see evidence of
activity that's inconsistent with their pledges. That's the best way.
When will it be fully up and running? It's already been in effect.
There are procedures that have been adopted administratively for quite
a while. Now they've augmented this with these state council
directives, which have the force of law and continue to work to
improve. But they do have a functioning export control system today.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would just add very quickly that the
one last piece of their system that needs to be put in place is a
regulation that covers dual-use items, which would flesh out and
supplement the existing executive order that they have in place, and
they've committed to finish that dual-use regulation by the middle of
next year, by mid-1998.
Q:  They get no dual-use technology prior to that, do they?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  You mean, from the United States?
Q:  From the U.S., yes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, but not necessarily dual-use
items for their nuclear program. Much of that is prohibited by the
current restriction. But obviously -- dual-use items means they have
nuclear as well as non-nuclear uses.
Q: You've been negotiating this for a while with them; the
negotiations have been difficult. I know they were very reluctant to
specifically mention the name "Iran" in the agreement that they gave
you. What was it that you think finally convinced them to give you the
agreement you wanted?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This is, of course, speculation,
because we don't know for sure. First of all, I think my colleague and
I have been able to persuade the Chinese that it really is dangerous
for them to provide nuclear assistance to Iran. I do not think the
Chinese have any political or strategic interest in inadvertently
helping Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. I think the Chinese decided
partly on the basis of our diplomacy, partly perhaps on the basis of
their own information and calculation that the Iranians in the nuclear
area really have to be treated very carefully. And I think that the
Chinese have decided to act on the basis of that calculation.
Secondly, I think that we made it very clear to the Chinese that in
order to proceed with the certification and their desire to get useful
-- to get peaceful nuclear technology from the United States, which
they clearly think is very desirable, they had to meet the
requirements that the President set; and one of those was to provide
clear assurances on Iran.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me just say on that, very
interesting -- this was several weeks ago when a this was several week
ago when a senior Chinese visitor came to town. The President made
very clear to him that this was an essential requirement; we needed to
have this assurance on Iran, or there could be no certification. He
made it crystal clear, and I think the President, the strength of his
statement on that was the key factor. I think they recognized that
they could either have nuclear cooperation with us or with Iran, and
they decided that they preferred -
Q:  Was the form of the assurance a matter for negotiation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The form was the subject of lengthy
discussions, because as we mentioned before, there is reluctance to
put on paper names of third countries.
Q:  What of these post-Tiananmen sanctions are still in place?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not an expert in the range of
Tiananmen sanctions. They're still quite broad. I forget -- it was the
President who mentioned earlier that this element of it was lifted
because of their performance on nuclear nonproliferation. But what
remains, you would have to consult an expert on that.
Q: Could you describe the two projects that the United States is
allowing China to complete with Iran? And why is there no concern
about proliferation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Sure, I can do that. The first project
is called a "Zero Power Reactor." And as the name suggests, it's a
research instrument that doesn't have any power, so it doesn't present
a proliferation concern; it can't produce any significant amount of
The Chinese have been working on that project for several years. It is
essentially completed. They're now just doing the final checkout, and
the Chinese have told us that they expect that project to be finished,
as far as they're concerned, by the end of this year. So that's
something that is virtually at the point of being completed.
The second project is called a "Zirconium Tube Factory." And zirconium
is used as cladding for nuclear power reactor fuel. Of course, the
Iranians don't have any nuclear power reactors, and they may never
have any, but this is part of their ambitious hope that they will
eventually be able to develop the industrial infrastructure to build
and support nuclear power -
Q:  Why is it considered a restricted dual-use item?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Because it has a nuclear use.
Q:  But it's only civilian nuclear use, right?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Technically, you can use it as
cladding for any kind of reactor. You could technically use it as
cladding for a research reactor. It's not typically done because it's
sort of overdesigned for that purpose. Normally, for research
reactors, you would use a different type of cladding.
Q: But it's -- still, it's in the civilian area that it has -- all
this application in the civilian area -- the question is, why is it
restricted as a dual-use item if it has no proliferation restriction,
no direct proliferation restriction implication at all?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Keep in mind that all of the items
that are covered by the Zangger Committee are -- they cover civilian,
they cover nuclear power reactors.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Could be civilian nuclear or
MCCURRY:  -- plant was a civilian research reactor, too.
Q: How much is the genie out of the bottle once they get the highest
level U.S. technology in terms of nuclear power plants -- once we and
Westinghouse start building the high-tech nuclear power plants, how
much is the genie out of the bottle, how much would they learn, how
much do they no longer need us?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Of course, the Chinese are actively
negotiating contracts with European, Canadian and Russian vendors to
get nuclear power plants, which are at a very high level.
Q:  Theoretically, ours is better.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I happen to think ours are
Q:  Well, yes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The answer to your specific question
is that the commercial contracts and the negotiations between China
and U.S. vendors will have to determine the extent to which those
vendors provide to the Chinese assistance in terms of making it
possible for them to eventually be self-sufficient.
Q:  The government has no say in that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The government believes that's a
matter that's appropriate for the commercial negotiations between U.S.
companies and the Chinese government.
Q: You mentioned that you were able to convince the Chinese that it
would be dangerous to supply nuclear technology to Iran. Why would it
be dangerous for the Chinese to do this? I mean, Iran and China seem
to cooperate on a number of issues.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think China has any interest
in seeing Iran armed with nuclear weapons. I'm very convinced of that.
I do not believe the Chinese -- as a general matter, I think the
Chinese have over a period of time, 10 years or more, the Chinese have
come to accept that nuclear proliferation is not in their interest.
They do not wish to see nuclear weapons spread around the world;
certainly not in their part of the world.
MCCURRY:  One last question.
Q:  Who is the assurance addressed to?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We're not going to discuss the
specific -- those kinds of specifics of the issue.
Q: Is it in a letter, though, that's addressed to someone in
particular in the U.S. government?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's an authoritative, written
communication -
Q:  With an addressee?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we'll just leave it as an
authoritative written communication.
Q: You cannot say whether it's from Jiang or it's from the central
council or -
MCCURRY:  Okay.  (Laughter.)
MCCURRY:  Thank you.
(end transcript)

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