Either side of the gold-standard issue might well use Taiwan’s embrace of a pledge to reinforce its own position, according to aides on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers are similarly split between nonproliferation proponents and industry backers.
On the one hand, Energy’s advocacy of a case-by-case tack to applying the gold standard worldwide could be advanced by a case in which a country such as Taiwan volunteers to take the pledge, even as a neighbor such as South Korea rejects the idea of a comparable promise.
On the other hand, if Taiwan agrees to no-enrichment-and-reprocessing text in its upcoming renewal agreement, momentum might build for making the pledge a relatively standard feature of future cooperation pacts.
In any case, Taiwanese officials are eager to review the U.S. draft and begin bilateral talks, so that there is no time gap between the old and new agreements.
“Our people are quite anxious because this agreement will expire in less than two years,” said the official interviewed this week, noting that Taipei has pressed since 2010 for the talks to begin. “We need time to negotiate,” as well as to gain legislative approval of the future pact in both nations, the source said.
When Taipei envoys first asked State Department officials when they might be given Washington’s draft version of the agreement, “they said July 2011,” the Taiwan government figure said this week. “It has been one year that we haven’t seen anything. So we are nervous and anxious.”
The nuclear energy industry’s lobbying arm recently said nuclear fuel-making renunciations of the kind Taiwan now appears ready to adopt would be fine for selected nations, but the United States should not demand such pledges across the board at the risk of harming the business sector.
“Bilateral commitments in Section 123 agreements are an option that should be used judiciously,” the Nuclear Energy Institute said in a June 14 statement provided to GSN, referring to pacts governed by the Atomic Energy Act. “When a trading partner will accept additional restrictions on [reprocessing and enrichment] in a Section 123 agreement, the U.S. should pursue including these terms. The U.S. should not insist on these additional terms, however, if they will result in the failure to conclude a Section 123 agreement.”
“NEI makes a good point,” one Capitol Hill source said. “The U.S. ought to have a policy to press for the gold standard in each negotiation and make for only limited exceptions.”
Another congressional staffer noted that a Taiwan pledge could be “helpful in setting a precedent for South Korea, which is the really difficult case because they’re demanding a right to reprocess.”
Seoul “wants to get into the nuclear fuels manufacturing business,” the aide added. “This is something the U.S. is strongly opposed to, but hasn’t figured out how to tell the South Koreans ‘no.’”
Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, called Taiwan an “ideal candidate” for a gold-standard pledge.
With its dependency on Washington for nuclear energy technologies and materials, “if ever there were a country that might respond positively to such an American request, it would have to be Taiwan,” he said in a brief interview.