WASHINGTON--The U.S. State Department moved nearly a year ago to put Taiwan ahead of other nations with which Washington hoped to pursue a nuclear trade agreement, drafting text for a renewal pact that would include a key nonproliferation pledge by Taipei (see GSN, July 19).
“If you want a ‘gold standard,’ then you want to do Taiwan first,” atomic-weapons expert Jeffrey Lewis said on Wednesday, referring to the East Asian state’s inclination--first reported by Global Security Newswire last week--to promise it will not enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium on its soil. Conversely, Lewis said, “if you don’t want to lock yourself into the gold standard, you want to do the hardest case first.”
Advocates say a signed pledge not to domestically produce nuclear fuel could help reduce the risk that a foreign nation would divert sensitive nuclear energy materials into a clandestine atomic-weapons program. A Taiwan renewal agreement might allow for the transfer of spent fuel abroad for reprocessing--perhaps to France--if the U.S. allows it, a Taiwanese official said on Thursday.
The United Arab Emirates in 2009 was the first to incorporate such a restriction into its own trade agreement with Washington. If Taiwan proceeds in a similar manner, it could be the second worldwide and the first of its kind in the Asia-Pacific region.
Taiwan depends solely on the United States to provide it with sensitive technologies and materials for generating nuclear power, upon which the island nation relies for one-fifth of its electricity needs.
Its government has no plans to produce nuclear fuel, so the nation is well disposed to include a provision banning these activities in its forthcoming pact with Washington, U.S. and Taiwanese officials told GSN last week. Several spoke on condition of not being named because of diplomatic sensitivities.
As of last August, renewal of Taiwan’s 1974 atomic cooperation accord with the United States was not on a “short list” for completion drawn up by an Obama administration Interagency Policy Committee, according to government correspondence obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
The White House uses the policy committees, chaired by National Security Council staff members, to decide by consensus an array of defense and homeland-security matters.
“While Taiwan is not on the IPC agreed short list, some staffers at State think that we should begin this process since the renewal is coming up in 2013 (maybe in 2014),” an Energy Department senior policy adviser, Richard Goorevich, said last September in an e-mail message sent to two other DOE officials.
The 40-year pact with Taiwan expires in 2014, but to avoid a time gap in nuclear cooperation, a renewal agreement could proceed as early as 2013.
The State Department this week did not respond to specific questions about which nations’ new or renewal accords were to be completed in what order, and the reasons why some were prioritized ahead of others.
The department did say on Friday, though, that it is “engaged in negotiating [nuclear-trade] agreements with Jordan, the Republic of Korea and Vietnam, and we are discussing an agreement with Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the [International Atomic Energy Agency]."
“We also intend to open negotiations with a number of other countries, many of which have existing agreements that are expiring [or] will soon expire,” the State Department continued in the e-mailed statement. “We cannot provide specific information about the status of ongoing negotiations.”
Richard Stratford--who leads U.S. atomic trade talks around the globe as head of the State Department Nuclear Energy, Safety and Security Office--last year told his Energy Department counterparts that he was uncertain as to why a Taiwan renewal agreement was being pursued ahead of pacts with other nations, according to Goorevich’s Sept. 23, 2011, e-mail message.
“I have spoken with Dick [Stratford] and he is unsure as to why this was sent to us now and why we are going out of order from the IPC agreed list,” the Energy official told Joyce Connery, then a senior adviser to the agency’s No. 2 official, and Sean Oehlbert, an Energy program manager and policy adviser.
Connery later that day forwarded to Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman the Goorevich e-mail, flagging it, “This is the issue of which I wanted you to be aware.”
Goorevich had advised in the original message that State’s draft text had included “essentially the no-ENR language from the UAE agreement,” despite the lack of any similar language banning enrichment and reprocessing in Taiwan’s existing nuclear trade agreement with the United States. Issue experts sometimes use the term “ENR” as shorthand for enrichment and reprocessing.