The Obama administration is in advanced negotiations to share nuclear fuel and technology with Vietnam in a deal that would allow Hanoi to enrich its own uranium.

Clinton-in-HanoiWASHINGTON, D.C – The Obama administration is in advanced negotiations to share nuclear fuel and technology with Vietnam in a deal that would allow Hanoi to enrich its own uranium—terms that critics on Capitol Hill say would undercut the more stringent demands the U.S. has been making of its partners in the Middle East.

The State Department-led negotiations could unsettle China, which shares hundreds of miles of border with Vietnam. It is the latest example of the U.S.’s renewed assertiveness in South and Southeast Asia, as Washington strengthens ties with nations that have grown increasingly wary of Beijing’s growing regional might.

U.S. officials familiar with the matter say negotiators have given a full nuclear-cooperation proposal to the communist country and former Cold War foe, and have started briefing House and Senate foreign-relations committees. A top U.S. official briefed on the negotiation said China hadn’t been consulted on the talks. “It doesn’t involve China,” the official said.

Some counterproliferation experts and U.S. lawmakers briefed on the talks say the deal also marks a step backward in Washington’s recent nonproliferation efforts, pointing to a key proviso that would allow Hanoi to produce nuclear fuel on its own soil.

Both the Obama and George W. Bush administrations had been requiring that countries interested in nuclear cooperation with the U.S. renounce the right to enrich uranium in-country for civilian purposes, a right provided to signatories of the United Nations’ Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The technologies required to produce fuel for power reactors can also be used to create atomic weapons, raising proliferation fears.

U.S. officials have hailed a nuclear-cooperation agreement that President Barack Obama signed last year with the United Arab Emirates as a nonproliferation model, because the Arab country agreed to purchase all of its nuclear fuel from the international market. The Obama administration is currently negotiating a nuclear pact with Jordan in which Washington is also demanding that the country commit to not developing an indigenous nuclear-fuel cycle.

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Source: Jay Solomon | The New York Times
Photo: European Pressphoto Agency