U.S., Beijing near nuclear energy pact Agreement would open way to American sale of power plants to China

October 26, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The United States and China are very close to an agreement that would enable President Clinton to sign a waiver allowing U.S. companies to sell billions of dollars of civilian nuclear power plants to China, senior administration officials said yesterday.

"The final pieces are not done yet, and we do not have an agreement on paper," one senior official said. "We have made very good progress, we are getting there, but we are not there yet. There's still some back and forth left to do."

Under the agreement, China would phase out its nuclear cooperation with Iran and commit not to resume it.

While Iran accepts full inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and no international law prevents peaceful nuclear cooperation with that country, U.S. officials say Iran is using its civilian reactors to try to make nuclear weapons.

In May 1996, China agreed to stop assisting Pakistan's nuclear program, which is not under full safeguards of the atomic energy agency.

U.S. officials are optimistic that the agreement will be ready when Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin meet in Washington on Wednesday.

A week ago, U.S. officials said the Chinese had "agreed in principle" to the deal, but they cautioned, as they did again yesterday, that getting precise language from the Chinese that embodies "adequate assurances" is a difficult and delicate task.

The agreement is expected to be the centerpiece of the summit, the first time a Chinese president has made a state visit to America in 12 years, when the agreement on peaceful nuclear cooperation between Beijing and Washington was signed.

Clinton is finally trying to put that cooperation into effect. Under U.S. law, he needs to certify that China is no longer aiding any country to make nuclear weapons.

If he does, U.S. companies such as Westinghouse and General Electric will rush in to sell at least two nuclear reactors to China. But industry officials say that if China's economy keeps expanding rapidly, the country will need $60 billion in new reactors over the next 15 years.

Pub Date: 10/26/97

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