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Bush Outlines a Plan to Halt Nuclear Proliferation

Times Staff Writer

President Bush promised Wednesday to track down and bring to justice those who traffic in weapons of mass destruction, proposing tougher international sanctions to prevent proliferation. Some critics called the proposals hypocritical and unworkable because they demanded sacrifices from developing nations but no concessions from the United States or its nuclear-armed allies.

Bush called for seven specific changes in the international nonproliferation regime, some of which were welcomed as overdue. But implementing them will require consensus by two international agencies -- the United Nations and its nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency -- that the Bush administration has harshly criticized in the past.

Most controversial of Bush’s proposals is one that would require nations that don’t already have the ability to manufacture nuclear fuel for civilian reactors to continue to purchase such fuel from abroad.

Proponents of the idea say it is uneconomical for developing nations to make their own nuclear fuel and unnecessary unless they are seeking to make nuclear bombs.

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“The world’s leading nuclear exporters should ensure that states have reliable access at reasonable cost to fuel for civilian reactors, so long as those states renounce enrichment and reprocessing,” Bush said in a speech at National Defense University here in which he outlined his proposals. “Enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.”

Critics said Bush’s approach would undercut what they consider a more promising proposal by the IAEA, and would be seen as an attempt to stifle even civilian nuclear development in the Third World even as the U.S. refuses to curtail its own nuclear weapons development.

“This will be viewed [abroad] as yet another example of American unilateralism,” Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani nuclear physicist, said in Washington on Wednesday.

“It says, ‘You don’t have the right to make your own nuclear fuel and we do, because we’re responsible and you are not,’ ” said Hoodbhoy, who is also a critic of what he calls “nuclear nationalism” in Pakistan. “If you categorize the world in that way, obviously most people are not going to like it.”

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On Capitol Hill, critics said the president’s anti-proliferation rhetoric was not matched by what they called his “pro-proliferation” budget.

“The president’s budget includes more than half a billion dollars over the next five years to develop a nuclear ‘bunker buster’ and other new nuclear weapons, but has no significant increases in nonproliferation programs,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

Though Bush has promised to prevent the world’s most lethal weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists, his actions have “been a lot about the worst people and very little about the worst weapons,” said Ashton B. Carter, a former assistant secretary of defense.

Carter, former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and others long have advocated the restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing technology that Bush embraced in his speech.

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The international dispute over Iran’s nuclear program, for example, has centered on the Western contention that the Persian Gulf nation has no economic justification for developing nuclear fuel production capabilities but has done so to provide cover for its ambitions to develop nuclear arms. Iran has insisted that its programs are purely civilian.

Bush’s proposals offer a slightly different approach to that of Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based IAEA, who has long advocated expanded inspection rights for the agency without denying nations the ability to manufacture fuel.

“ElBaradei has been a lone voice saying the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] needs help,” a Vienna-based diplomat said. “To the extent that Bush is sharing that same urgency, that’s good. We need a dialogue on this issue, whether you agree with everything he says or not.”

Privately, officials at the IAEA have expressed concern that some in the Bush administration are trying to seize control of the responsibility for halting the spread of nuclear technology in a way that sidelines international inspectors.

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“Some people in the administration in Washington, including [Secretary of State Colin L.] Powell, see a place for us, but there are elements that see this as a strictly American game,” a Western diplomat in Vienna said in a recent interview.

Bush may have reinforced such concerns by complaining in his speech that countries under investigation for violating nuclear nonproliferation obligations, including Iran, are allowed to serve on the IAEA Board of Governors.

“The integrity and mission of the IAEA depend on this simple principle: Those actively breaking the rules should not be entrusted with enforcing the rules,” Bush said.

“When he says something like that, he makes the IAEA look like a wholly owned subsidiary of the U.S. government,” said James Walsh, executive director of Managing the Atom, a nuclear research project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “That weakens ElBaradei -- and the last thing you want to do is politically undermine the ability of the one agency protecting us from proliferation.”

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Walsh said he welcomed Bush’s proposals but not his confrontational tone.

A U.S. official was unapologetic, saying the critics were trying to draw unjustified parallels between the behavior of the United States and that of North Korea or other “rogue” states. “The United States has acted in the past only to defend itself,” he said.

Bush also offered a laurel to ElBaradei -- and countered charges of hypocrisy -- by promising that the United States would ratify the “additional protocol” to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, which would allow the IAEA to inspect a broad range of nuclear facilities on 24 hours’ notice.

President Clinton signed the protocol in 1998, and Bush sent it to the Senate for ratification in 2002.

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Bush, who urged the Senate to ratify the protocol, proposed that by next year, only countries that have signed it would be allowed to import equipment for their civilian nuclear power programs.

Under his plan, the 40 nations that supply nuclear technology would be banned from selling equipment for enrichment or reprocessing to any nation that did not already have such capabilities, keeping the technology from spreading.

Bush also called on the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution requiring all nations to criminalize proliferation, adopt strict export controls and secure sensitive materials inside their borders.

A draft U.N. resolution is in preliminary negotiations.

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But the resolution’s sticking points could foreshadow international objections.

Several countries want the resolution to contain a mechanism for peaceful settlements of disputes, so that the measure does not become a springboard for preemptive action.

In remarks that defended the actions of beleaguered CIA Director George J. Tenet, Bush detailed how U.S. intelligence had tracked down and cracked the network run by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan, who confessed last week to providing nuclear weapons technology to Libya, Iran and North Korea.

After the Bush administration’s decision to acquiesce in Pakistan’s pardoning of Khan, some critics questioned why the administration, if its intelligence agencies knew of Khan’s activities, allowed them to continue for so long.

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Bush, however, praised “the hard work and the dedication of our fine intelligence professionals” who unraveled the network.

Times staff writers Douglas Frantz in Vienna and Maggie Farley at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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