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 concern." 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 said.