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Monday, September 8, 1997

CONTACT: Daniel Horner
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WASHINGTON---President Clinton could put U.S. security at risk and miss a singular opportunity to persuade China to stop assisting other nations to acquire nuclear weapons if he permits exports of U.S. nuclear reactors and fuel to China before the Chinese demonstrate an actual halt to these activities, the Nuclear Control Institute warned in a letter to the President, released today.

In the letter, Paul Leventhal, president of NCI, a nuclear non-proliferation research and advocacy organization, reviewed a number of Chinese nuclear policies and practices that he said raise "deeply troubling issues." Among these are China's pattern of continuing nuclear trade with Pakistan, China's refusal to adhere to international standards for safeguarding civilian nuclear exports against military use, and China's apparent refusal to deny nuclear assistance to Iran.

In releasing the letter, Leventhal said: "President Clinton should resist pressure from Chinese leaders and U.S. nuclear vendors to rush into a nuclear agreement with China. The President should uphold U.S. law and protect U.S. national security by insisting on hard evidence that China has stopped helping other countries to get the bomb. It will take a while, at least, for China to demonstrate this is so."

The letter cites evidence that China may be supplying Pakistan with far more "heavy water" than it now needs to run a safeguarded civilian power reactor, thereby creating a surplus of the essential ingredient that Pakistan needs to start up an unsafeguarded plutonium-production reactor for its nuclear weapons program. China was the supplier of this military reactor to Pakistan and has been asked by the United States not to supply the heavy water Pakistan must have to begin operating the reactor.

But NCI warned that Chinese over-supply of heavy water could provide a form of indirect military assistance to Pakistan. NCI also warned that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) may be unable to detect a diversion by Pakistan of heavy water from the safeguarded power reactor to the unsafeguarded military reactor.

"It would be a serious embarrassment to the United States, and a major blow to U.S. non-proliferation leadership, if the U.S.-China agreement were brought into force and subsequently a Pakistani weapons-production reactor were started up through the use of Chinese-supplied heavy water," NCI said in its letter.

Such abuses are possible, the letter notes, because China, unlike all other major nuclear suppliers, refuses to require recipients of its nuclear exports to open their entire nuclear programs to IAEA inspections and audits---so-called "full-scope safeguards" to ensure non-military use. Also, although China finally established a nuclear export-control system last month, its details remain a secret and it still must be implemented and tested. China pledged to establish that system last year after it was caught making unsafeguarded exports to a uranium-enrichment plant used in Pakistan's nuclear weapons program.

Congress approved a U.S.-China agreement for nuclear cooperation in 1985, but delayed its implementation until the President could certify China's non-proliferation credentials, including a certification that China is not directly or indirectly assisting other nations to get the bomb. Because of China's continuing proliferation record, Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton each have been unable to make the Congressionally mandated certifications.

Now the Clinton Administration is under heavy pressure from U.S. nuclear vendors, including Westinghouse and General Electric, to make start-up of nuclear trade with China the centerpiece of Chinese President Jiang Zemin's summit meeting with President Clinton in Washington next month.

"Were you to allow China access to U.S. commercial nuclear power reactors and fuel before China provides convincing evidence that it is now prepared to adhere to global standards," Leventhal wrote to the President, "a singular opportunity to bind China to the non-proliferation community of nations will be lost, at great potential risk to U.S. supreme interests if China remains a major nuclear supplier to such proliferating states as Iran and Pakistan."

NCI's letter highlighted China's plans to engage in nuclear commerce with Iran, noting this represents a big problem for President Clinton because of the U.S. position that Iran is embarked on a nuclear weapons program. "It is imperative, therefore, that China agree to suspend all major nuclear-supply commitments to Iran, especially since the United States now requires other countries to commit not to supply Iran, as a condition of their receiving U.S. nuclear assistance," NCI wrote to the President.

The NCI letter also notes documented cases of China's diverting U.S. civilian non-nuclear exports to military plants, and specifically questions whether China has made adequate arrangements required under the 1985 agreement to ensure that civilian nuclear items imported from the United States will not be misused for military purposes.

The letter calls on President Clinton---on the basis of his 1993 non-proliferation policy statement pledging to seek elimination of civilian plutonium and bomb-grade uranium stockpiles---to obtain commitments from China to refrain from civilian production and use of these nuclear-explosive materials because of their military potential.

The text of the letter and a related NCI report, "China's Record of Proliferation Misbehavior," are available on the NCI website (www.nci.org/nci-new.htm).

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