U.S. Offers Deal to Stop China's Iran Nuke Sales: Beijing Could Buy U.S. Reactors

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The Clinton administration is pressing China to halt missile cooperation with Iran and is negotiating a formal end of Chinese nuclear assistance to Tehran in exchange for lifting a U.S. ban on sales of nuclear technology.

An agreement that the White House hopes to conclude in time for the U.S.-China summit meeting later this month also would contain a pledge by China to restrict sales of nuclear equipment to facilities not subject to international inspection, according to administration officials.

China has refused to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which restricts such sales, but is expected to announce its adherence to the pact at the summit, the officials said.

President Clinton and Chinese President Jiang Zemin are set to meet in Washington beginning Oct. 29.

"We're still working on the issues," said a senior White House official involved in nonproliferation issues. "We have not reached agreement yet on a resolution of all the outstanding issues."

The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, "Obviously both sides would like to be in a position to announce that we're proceeding with the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement at the summit, but we've not yet finished."

If an agreement is reached, the president will certify that China is no longer helping nonnuclear states build atomic weapons, a declaration that would allow the U.S. nuclear industry to sell reactors and technology to China, which could provide the U.S. energy sector with $60 billion over 25 years.

The official said the two sides are "right in the middle of negotiations."

Other officials said the administration is offering to lift the ban on nuclear equipment sales to China if Beijing agrees to sign a statement about ending nuclear cooperation with Iran and other would-be nuclear powers.

"That is an issue we're working on with the Chinese," the White House official said.

China has said it suspended some nuclear projects with Iran, and reports indicate that Chinese involvement in a nuclear "conversion" facility has been halted, the official said. "We would view those as extremely positive steps."

"The only case where there have been concerns in the past about Chinese assistance to unsafeguarded nuclear facilities is Pakistan," the official said, referring to the sale of ring magnets to a Pakistani nuclear weapons laboratory.

China's support for Iran's nuclear program involves transfers to facilities that are subject to international inspection, he said, but the United States

wants them stopped because of Tehran's drive to build nuclear weapons.

Regarding Iran's missile program, the official said China is working closely with Iran on solid-fuel, short-range missile systems and is providing know-how with some "carry-over" to the longer-range missile Iran is developing. …