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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 24, March 1998

US Encouraged by China Policy and Actions on Iran, Missile Exports

On 13 March, President Clinton told reporters that China had honoured a commitment not to supply Iran with large amounts of a substance considered by US officials to be of potential applicability to a nuclear weapons development programme. The President was reacting to a report in the Washington Post, which identified the chemical as anhydrous hydrogen fluoride (also known as hydrofluoric acid), hundreds of tons of which China had agreed to export. China agreed not to proceed with the sale even though the chemical is reportedly not on the list of controlled nuclear-related substances drawn-up by international export control regimes. Clinton stated:

"The Chinese followed through on it and kept their agreement to the letter. So I think that the revelation in the paper this morning is further support for the proposition that we should be engaged with China... I'm well pleased, actually, with the way that issue came out."

Speaking the same day, White House spokesperson Mike McCurry added, reportedly referring to discussions that took place in February this year: "We did express proliferation-related concerns to the Government of the People's Republic and they reacted swiftly and firmly to interrupt the transaction... They know how seriously we take our proliferation-related concerns and their response on this matter was satisfactory and as we expected given the fruitful dialogue we've had on proliferation issues..."

On 18 March, the Washington Times reported that the US was within a few months of offering China access to new missile technology, essentially as a reward for a revision of Chinese policy on missile exports, and as an incentive for further revisions. The Times quoted a classified document, dated 12 March, written by National Security Council member Gary Samore:

"In essence, we would offer the expanded commercial and scientific space cooperation with China (in limited areas) if China meets our conditions for joining the MTCR [Missile Technology Control Regime] and controlling its missile-related exports to Iran, Pakistan, etcetera."

At the October 1997 US-China Summit in Washington, President Clinton announced that the US was prepared to activate the US-China Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation Agreement which had lain dormant - due to US concerns over the perceived weakness of Chinese non-proliferation policies - since its signature in 1985. On 20 March, 14 members of the House of Representatives (9 Republicans and 5 Democrats), headed by Benjamin A. Gilman (Republican - New York), the Chair of the House International Relations Committee, wrote to the President urging him not to approve the supply of any nuclear reactors or technology to China pending a closer scrutiny of China's apparently new attitude and policies.

Reports: US stops Chinese nuke sale to Iran, United Press International, 13 March; Clinton praises China on Iran action, United Press International, 13 March; US - China halts Iran nuke sales, Associated Press, 13 March, China may get US missile technology, Associated Press, 18 March, US mulls deal to halt China missile deals, Reuters, 19 March; House wants China nuke deal ended, Associated Press, 20 March.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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