U.S. Signals Nonproliferation to Be Priority in South Korea Atomic Talks

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Jan. 31, 2014, 7:58 a.m.

Seni­or U.S. of­fi­cials are sig­nal­ing that non­pro­lif­er­a­tion con­cerns will be pri­or­it­ized over eco­nom­ic is­sues in talks with South Korea for a new atom­ic trade deal.

South Korea and the United States are in the middle of ne­go­ti­at­ing a re­place­ment ac­cord for their 1974 bi­lat­er­al nuc­le­ar co­oper­a­tion agree­ment that — after be­ing re­newed for two years this week by Con­gress, is set to ex­pire in 2016. The thorn­i­est is­sue in the trade talks is wheth­er South Korea will be per­mit­ted ac­cess to sens­it­ive re­pro­cessing and urani­um en­rich­ment tech­no­lo­gies, which can be used both to pro­duce new re­act­or fuel and war­head-suit­able ma­ter­i­als, the Yon­hap News Agency re­por­ted.

Thomas Coun­try­man, as­sist­ant sec­ret­ary of State for in­ter­na­tion­al se­cur­ity and non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, test­i­fied at a Thursday Sen­ate com­mit­tee hear­ing that in trade talks with South Korea, “we con­tin­ue to fo­cus not on the polit­ic­al, not on the eco­nom­ic but on a con­sist­ent non­pro­lif­er­a­tion policy, what best strengthens the glob­al non­pro­lif­er­a­tion re­gime.

“That re­mains our con­sist­ent guid­ing star,” said Coun­try­man, who is head­ing up the U.S. side of talks with Seoul.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is con­cerned that al­low­ing South Korea ac­cess to nuc­le­ar weapon-rel­ev­ant tech­no­lo­gies will un­der­mine its non­pro­lif­er­a­tion po­s­i­tion in bi­lat­er­al atom­ic trade talks with oth­er na­tions. A nuc­le­ar ac­cord fi­nal­ized with Vi­et­nam last year did not in­clude an iron­clad prom­ise from Hanoi to nev­er pur­sue en­rich­ment or re­pro­cessing cap­ab­il­it­ies.

The U.S. State and En­ergy De­part­ments have ad­op­ted a “flex­ible” policy on wheth­er to make oth­er coun­tries in any new bi­lat­er­al nuc­le­ar trade deals prom­ise to for­sake weapon-rel­ev­ant tech­no­lo­gies.

Deputy En­ergy Sec­ret­ary Daniel Pone­man told the Sen­ate Hear­ing that “we have al­ways sought to min­im­ize en­rich­ment and re­pro­cessing” in trade ne­go­ti­ations.

Coun­try­man said the Vi­et­nam deal would not serve as a tem­plate in ne­go­ti­ations with Seoul.

“I don’t quite agree that the Vi­et­nam agree­ment has a pre­ced­en­tial value for the R.O.K. agree­ment,” Coun­try­man said. “We’re already far along in our dis­cus­sions and on kind of a dif­fer­ent plane of dis­cus­sion.”

The next round of nuc­le­ar trade talks between the two long­time al­lies is slated for April.

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