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.
What We're Following See More »
Donald Trump is set to issue a new and more focused executive order clarifying the scope of his travel ban, hoping that the order will survive legal challenges. The new order would focus on the same seven countries, "but would only bar entry to those without a visa and who have never entered the United States before. Unlike the original order, people from those countries who already have permanent U.S. residency (green cards) or visas would not face any restrictions." Some lawyers believe the government will now have much stronger standing, though lawyers who challenged the initial order see the same core problems with the forthcoming ban.
"President Donald Trump announced Monday that Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster will serve as his next national security adviser, filling the void left last week by the sudden dismissal of Michael Flynn. ... Retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, who had been serving as the acting national security adviser since Flynn's exit, will return to his role as chief of staff of the National Security Council." The pick was widely praised on both sides of the aisle.
"Ret. Vice Adm. Bob Harward turned down President Donald Trump's offer to be national security adviser Thursday, depriving the administration of a top candidate for a critical foreign policy post days after Trump fired Michael Flynn." Among the potential reasons: his family, his lack of assurances that he could build his own team, and that "the White House seems so chaotic."