Taiwan operates six nuclear power plants and has pursued the construction of two advanced reactors. The United States has been the sole supplier of atomic technologies and materials to the East Asian state, which derives one-fifth of its electricity from nuclear energy.
The State Department this week would not address questions about the status, content or timing of the anticipated nuclear trade renewal agreement with Taiwan.
Instead, the department issued a statement noting that talks had not yet begun, but owing to Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status, would be conducted between the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington. These organizations serve as virtual embassies in light of China’s claim of sovereignty over the long-estranged province.
The Taiwanese official said the U.S. government had not yet shared with Taipei its draft language for the forthcoming renewal agreement, pending a White House policy decision on the instances in which it will seek the gold standard worldwide. Washington insiders have told GSN that the policy debate could be resolved at any time, but some have voiced doubt about any public announcement prior to the November presidential election (see GSN, June 14).
That could leave talks with Taiwan hanging for at least another four months.
“After they resolve [the gold-standard question and other] issues, they can issue a draft agreement to us,” the Taiwanese official said.
Another question is the duration of the replacement accord, the official said. Taiwan is open to the idea of signing an agreement without an expiration date, meaning that its new nonproliferation pledge could be in force indefinitely. While a pact with unlimited duration in this instance might lend reassuring predictability to both the nuclear industry and nonproliferation advocates, it was unclear whether the administration would agree to it, Washington sources said.
Internal Obama administration dissent over the nuclear trade negotiating policy goes back to fall 2010, when Poneman, the Energy deputy, squared off with then-Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg (see GSN, Jan. 25, 2011).
Steinberg, who subsequently left the government in July 2011, is reported to have argued that advocating for the gold standard around the world would help Obama honor his 2009 pledge in Prague to pursue “an end to the dedicated production of weapons-grade materials.”
Poneman’s view, echoed by U.S. industry advocates, is said to been that demanding a gold-standard promise could alienate partner nations. Rather than agree to Washington’s terms, such interlocutors could easily send their business to international competitors that impose fewer restrictions on nuclear sales, including Russia and France.
One interagency compromise that appeared to gel over the past year was to maintain the gold standard in the Middle East, where the United Arab Emirates retains a right to withdraw its pledge if a U.S. pact with another country in the region allows that partner to reprocess or enrich.
There are strong objections to a region-by-region approach in some quarters, though, fueled by concerns about singling out one region for stricter terms while allowing others around the world more latitude to pursue less proliferation-resistant policies.
Internal administration tussles over the matter continue to this day, ultimately leaving the matter for the White House to adjudicate. In the meantime, efforts aimed at concluding nuclear trade deals with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Vietnam have not yet resulted in agreements (see GSN, Jan. 12 and July 28, 2011).