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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

31 October 1997


(Article on State Dept. background briefing October 31)  (670)
By Jane A. Morse
USIA Diplomatic Correspondent
Washington -- A senior State Department official emphasized that it
has been China's concrete actions as well as "authoritative
assurances" regarding its controls on nuclear technology and hardware
that proved sufficient for the Clinton Administration to implement the
1985 U.S.-China Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation.
President Clinton gave the go-ahead for the agreement on October 29
after his summit with China's President Jiang Zemin. The decision
makes possible U.S. sales -- potentially worth billions of dollars --
to China of equipment and technology for peaceful nuclear programs. At
a background briefing at the State Department October 31, a U.S.
official explained the specifics behind the decision.
The Clinton Administration has been negotiating with China for two and
a half years on meeting the conditions for implementing the 1985
agreement, the official said. "It's not simply a question of Chinese
declarations, Chinese assurances," he said. "We have seen what we
believe is a significant, positive shift in Chinese behavior." This
includes greater Chinese government control over its nuclear exports,
including "dual-use" hardware and technology.
Of greatest concern to the United States has been China's nuclear
cooperation with Iran, which is seeking to develop its own nuclear
weapons. According to the U.S. official, China has "assured us
authoritatively that it is not going to engage in new nuclear
cooperation with Iran." It will complete a few existing projects
already underway, he said, but they "are not of proliferation
China has taken a number of positive steps regarding its nuclear
cooperation with Iran, the official said, noting that China has
suspended the sale of two nuclear power reactors, canceled the sale of
a uranium conversion facility, and turned down an Iranian request for
a heavy water moderated research reactor.
More encouraging for the long term is China's readiness to participate
for the first time in multi-lateral export control discussions, such
as the Missile Technology Control Regime, the U.S. official said.
The State Department official pointed out that the Clinton
Administration's decision to implement the 1985 agreement only makes
China eligible to receive U.S. nuclear reactors, equipment and
technology. "But actual transactions," he emphasized, "would have to
licensed on a case by case basis." The U.S. President retains the
authority to halt nuclear trade at any time if China "acts
inconsistently with the assurances it has provided to the United
States," the official said. Furthermore, a memorandum of understanding
attached to the 1985 agreement provides for exchanges of information
and visits by U.S. inspectors to facilities in China to insure the
legitimacy of the transactions.
It was China's assistance to Pakistan's unsafeguarded nuclear
facilities that held up the agreement with the United States for 12
years, the official said. But China's May 1996 pledge corrected this,
he said.
Discussing other areas of non-proliferation, the U.S. official
acknowledged that less progress has been made regarding China's export
control system for chemicals. "If the Chinese are to implement their
Chemical Weapons Convention obligations effectively," he said, "they
have to deal with some of the current loopholes." U.S. sanctions on
seven Chinese chemical companies have encouraged China's efforts to
close these loopholes, he said. "We need to continue working on the
problem; it's not solved yet. But we've made some headway in the
chemical area."
When questioned about China's sales of non-nuclear anti-ship cruise
missiles to Iran, the U.S. official said U.S. law requires the
application of sanctions "if there is a finding of transfers of
advanced convention arms...'in destabilizing numbers and types.'" A
"serious review" conducted a year ago by the Clinton Administration
concluded that China's sales did not cross the "destabilizing"
threshold, the U.S. official said. Nonetheless, the United States has
registered its concerns on this issue. Senior Chinese officials have
provided some "encouraging remarks," but no pledges, the U.S. official

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