Mark HibbsTaiwan and the ‘Gold Standard’

A few people in Washington are pumping up the forthcoming renewal of the U.S. bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Taiwan as an impending shot in the arm for the no-enrichment/no-reprocessing “gold standard” they want to see implemented by the U.S. in all future 123 agreements following the conclusion of the U.S.-UAE agreement in 2009.

Nowhere in the world does the U.S. government have as much leverage over a foreign country’s  nuclear activities as it does in Taiwan. Taiwan therefore does not serve as a model for global application of the “gold standard,” regardless of what some pundits had to say in this piece that Elaine Grossman published a couple of days ago. I saw the article just after returning to Europe from Chicago yesterday. (By coincidence, it would appear that Elaine reported it out while I was grocery-shopping and dining here in Elaine’s hometown of Cleveland last week.)

If the U.S.-Taiwan agreement isn’t renewed, it will expire in 2014. I’m highly confident, however, that it will be renewed, and that Taiwan will continue to embrace a policy of using nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without enriching uranium or reprocessing its not-insignificant inventory of spent power-reactor fuel.

But Taiwan’s resolve not to enrich or reprocess has nothing to do with the “gold standard” and nearly everything to do with U.S. leverage over Taiwan’s security arrangements (a somewhat watered-down argument might also be made for the UAE).

The bottom line is that any forthcoming decision by Taiwan and the U.S. to adopt the language of the UAE 123 agreement on reprocessing or enrichment in a new 123 agreement will more or less reiterate a very firm bilateral understanding reached long ago by Taiwan and the U.S. that Taiwan will not enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel. For over 40 years, the U.S. has been rigorously enforcing that understanding.

Taiwan’s current 123 agreement–as the U.S. government e-mail traffic referred to in Elaine’s article correctly suggests–does not categorically exclude reprocessing and enrichment by Taiwan. Since the 1970s, the U.S. has been party to a bilateral 123 agreement with Taiwan (which says the U.S. has prior consent rights over the “alteration” of nuclear material by Taiwan), to a trilateral safeguards agreement with Taiwan and the IAEA (Infcirc/158), and to a bilateral safeguards agreement. This 1980 U.S. government non-paper spells out that U.S. rights over Taiwan’s nuclear activities are indeed so extensive that the U.S. could instruct the German government that any nuclear items supplied to Taiwan by a German exporter would be subject to U.S. “control rights,” which included U.S. “fallback safeguards rights” if deemed necessary.  Beyond this, I’m told that there is a bilateral understanding–which may not be public–that enrichment and reprocessing by Taiwan are categorically off the table.

During the 1970s, the U.S. confirmed that Taiwan had been involved on several occasions in undeclared and unreported nuclear R&D activities. Whenever that happened–the last case I know about was in the mid-1990s, when Taiwan processed some uranium- and thorium-bearing sands–officials from U.S. DOE and State arrived quickly on the scene and were rubbernecking around installations on Taiwan, including locations which Taiwan never declared to the IAEA under Taiwan’s IAEA safeguards agreements. The impression I have from people who have been close to U.S. “safeguards visits” in Taiwan on such occasions is that the U.S. has access to Taiwan’s nuclear program close to what UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors had in Iraq beginning in 1991. From the perspective of routine international nuclear diplomacy, U.S.-Taiwan relations in this area are clearly not routine.

Taiwan’s civilian nuclear program was launched decades ago by the KMT leadership under circumstances which, to put it mildly, didn’t exactly encourage political participation by Taiwan’s indigenous population. Since 2000, when the DPP won a national election and took power for the first time, the KMT’s legacy has threatened Taiwan’s nuclear power program and, in the wake of Fukushima, might ultimately prove fatal to it. The DPP has adopted an antinuclear plank in its platform, and since the accident in Japan, DPP politicians have been fanning the flames. So it isn’t a surprise that right now, Taiwan government officials want to quickly and without fanfare close on the terms of a new 123 agreement with the U.S. Given Taiwan’s historical dependence upon technology, equipment, and nuclear fuel from the U.S., the absence of a new bilateral agreement in 2014 w0uld halt Taiwan’s nuclear program in its tracks.

Unlike in some other countries that are expanding their peaceful nuclear programs to include nuclear fuel processing (just think about Brazil, for example), in Taiwan the U.S. has lots of leverage over its nuclear program. All the power reactors on Taiwan are based on U.S. intellectual property. Taiwan’s nuclear regulatory agency is a virtual clone of the U.S. NRC. And Taiwan Power Co., which owns and operates all the power reactors on Taiwan, processes uranium fuel using U.S. vendors.

Above and beyond this looms the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which is the bible for U.S. bilateral affairs with Taiwan. It says that the U.S. “will consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means… a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.” The TRA puts the U.S. military juggernaut front-and-center in defense of Taiwan, but it doesn’t reflexively imply that any specific threat to Taiwan would be interpreted by Washington as a casus belli. That important distinction increases still further Washington’s political leverage over Taiwan’s nuclear program. Would Taiwan put its security relationship with the U.S. at risk to enrich uranium, especially given that the Taiwan government proclaimed after Fukushima that nuclear power’s days on the island may be numbered? Don’t bet on it.



  1. Dan Joyner (History)

    Great post, Mark. And I entirely agree with your analysis. I know you are aware of the Tauscher-Poneman letter sent to Congress earlier this year, outlining the current US administration policy of negotiating new 123 agreements on a case by case basis, and not insisting upon the ‘gold standard’ of renunciation of ENR by partner states. A description and links can be seen here:
    This policy is both prudent and realistically necessary for the US for the reasons you mention, and because developing states know they can go elsewhere for sourcing of nuclear materials and technologies. Insisting on the gold standard would only have the effect of harming US nuclear vendors.
    While I’m writing, I hope you won’t mind my giving a plug to my new blog, As the name suggests, it’s a blog devoted to discussion of legal issues related to arms control, by a group of nine arms control law specialists. I hope ACW readers will check it out.

    • nproliferator (History)

      Dan, you are incorrect re: US pressure on UAE and Taiwan. RE: UAE, it is well-known that there was zero US pressure on them to do this. In fact, it was Congressional pressure on the Bush Administration to push them to accept the UAE’s willingness to put its prior voluntary no-ENR declaration into a legally-binding commitment.

      You are also incorrect that David ever characterized the NAM position as “fiction”. What he actually wrote was, “it also undermines the alleged monolithic NAM front that developing countries will never ever accept any limitations on their alleged NPT right to ENR.” You, however, contradict yourself in the space of successive sentences, to whit: “…the NAM has never said that none of them will ever make no-ENR commitments individually. What they stress, rather, is that they collectively and individually will not accept limitations on their NPT Article IV rights to indigenous control over the full fuel cycle.”

      I don’t understand why you seem to denigrate the creation of a new international norm through the voluntary actions of countries, including by the exhortation of the United States and its willingness to conclude or not conclude a bilateral agreement. You seem to equate any “pressure” as inherently bad and indefensible, and that such pressure somehow invalidates the decision by the country to agree to the point. I disagree. If the U.S. is willing to press countries for this commitment, and the countries want the agreement badly enough, and the result is good for the global nonproliferation regime, what is the problem?

      I also don’t think you are justified in claiming that David “really wants” the NSG to ultimately adopt the no-ENR as a standard,and that’s what all this is leading to. You are ascribing motive without evidence, creating a straw man where no hay exists.

      I’m also interested in why you are so confident in being able to predict the Jordanian’s position against ever agreeing to a no-ENR commitment, under any circumstances.

  2. Ara Barsamian (History)

    Taiwan values for the moment TRA and all the military toys they get from the US too much to jeopardize it…but I am pretty sure they have a “Plan B” to deal with the only real threat (Communist China), that is, become a Communist Chinese “protectorate” a la Hong Kong….and the mainland Chinese will be all too pleased to oblige to stick it to the US.

    In fact, I am wondering when will Taiwan play that card to the astonishment of the US, and all the “de riguer” Congressional recriminations of “who lost Taiwan”?

  3. david fite (History)

    Couple issues. First, the article points out that Taiwan was volunteering to accept the so-called Gold Standard, not under any pressure from the USG. Indeed, Taiwan is eager to begin negotiations, but hasn’t yet received a draft text from the U.S. – presumably, because the 123/no-ENR policy is caught-up in its THIRD interagency review (so Dan Joyner’s information in his post is outdated).

    Second, if Taiwan does agree to the no-ENR/Gold Standard, then it is still reinforces the precedent by its existence, however arrived at. It would be the second iteration of the UAE no-ENR model, and could be followed by others. As such, it does not deserved to be dismissed so lightly, especially if, as Mark seems to suggest, it’s a good idea on its merits.

    • mark (History)


      If Taiwan agrees to ENR language, you write, “it could be followed by others.” Absolutely, and that would be a plus. The question I raise is how the others–including Vietnam and Saudi Arabia–will do the calculus. It won’t be the same as in Taiwan. In Taiwan, how the government plays this may well reflect its expectation of what the parliamentary process for a new 123 agreement would be. The Saudis and the Vietnamese will have a different calculus, depending on what they want from the U.S., how important they think that is, and what domestic and foreign policy constraints they face.

    • mark (History)

      A reader told me about this which I was not aware of:

  4. InsiderThreat (History)

    Wait a tick. Did the Taiwans tell you they won’t agree to the gold standard? They appear to want to, and you are telling them not to do it? Why on earth? Mark, much, if not all, of your post says nothing about their reported position. Indeed, you imply more than you analyze, nay report. So, you oppose it, even if they don’t? Why? Stop reading me the NEI talking points and please read what’s been reported. The Fukushima stuff at the end appears more aimed at Henry Sokolski, also, and is odd. Look, what’s your problem? Congress hasn’t enacted the gold standard, and here you are wishing it’s not even done, voluntarily? So, how did you feel about UAE?

    And the over-the-counter, NEI stuff on consent rights is silly. Those go with all US-obligated materials, even after a 123 agreement expires. Taiwan ought to be commended, if it’s true they intend to do the gold standard. The burden really now is on you to say why not, something you don’t seem to want to do.

    • kme (History)

      I think you should take a deep breath and read the article again, because you appear to have totally grabbed the wrong end of the stick. Nowhere is Mark advocating that a renewed Taiwanese 123 agreement not include no-ENR provisions. As I read it, the gist of the article is simply that Taiwan is such a special case that its 123 agreement is unlikely to serve as an influential precedent in regards to other countries.

    • mark (History)

      Insider Threat,

      Please read the comment posted in response to yours by kme–I couldn’t have expressed it better myself.

      You somehow contorted what I posted to insinuate that I favor a Taiwan that is enriching uranium and reprocessing. No one wants to see this happen–including the Taiwanese themselves.

      But don’t get too excited about Taiwan “volunteering” to copy the UAE terms into their new agreement. The KMT-led Taiwan government just narrowly escaped defeat at the hands of politicians on the warpath over Fukushima, and it needs to sugar-coat the pill to ensure that lawmakers (Taiwan being a parliamentary democracy) will accept a bilateral cooperation agreement with the US which will permit Taipower’s 6 reactors to keep generating electricity after 2014 when the current 123 agreement expires.

      Beyond that, keep in mind that, if I am well-informed on this point and I believe I am, during the 1970s Taiwan and the U.S. reached an understanding that Taiwan will not reprocess and enrich–period. So writing the UAE terms into the new Taiwan agreement won’t cost Taiwan anything. And doing it could provide Taiwan a modest bargaining chip (assuming the U.S. sees value in Taiwan adopting this language after, as David Fite says, the U.S. figures out what its policy is) during the negotiation of the new 123 agreement.

      The main point however is that all this will not be lost on countries which now want to negotiate bilateral cooperation agreements with the U.S. in the process of organizing programs to deploy power reactors. Do Vietnam or Saudi Arabia see themselves as subject to the same constraints which operate in Taiwan? Clearly not, and you may assume that the State Department is fully aware of that situation.

  5. archjr (History)

    A couple thoughts:

    Thanks again, Mark.

    Taiwan is timely, and I expect it will go through with or without a “gold standard,” though the preference is clear. What is more important is that Taiwan has already demonstrated that it’s possible to generate a hell of a lot of electricity without domestic enrichment and reprocessing activities, which have returned dubious economic benefits, at best, to those countries having pursued them.

    I recall another East Asian nation that had much more ambitious plans than does Taiwan. It was claimed at the time that its fuel-cycle activities would result in “a world awash in plutonium,” or words to that effect. But the “plutonium economy” never materialized, because Japan could never really make the numbers work, no matter how hard they tried. Now it’s a moot point.

    Predictions that the plutonium economy would ultimately fail led a VERY narrow majority in Congress to let the Japan agreement go through: I know for a fact this consideration was paramount in the case of one vote in the House committee, for whose chairman I worked. Given that, even in the 80’s, the economics of plutonium were bad, my boss didn’t want to risk injury to the US-Japan strategic relationship in a fight over consent rights for US – origin atoms.

    Taiwan’s success is a strong selling point for a program, and for a 123 agreement, that eschews the front- and back-ends of the fuel cycle all in the same non-nuclear-weapons state. So is Japan’s experience an object lesson, for good and sufficient reasons, to stay away from a new nuclear future based on plutonium. Maybe others will take note.

    • mark (History)

      Arch, I would add that Taiwan knows that embarking on domestic reprocessing would be perilous for any number of reasons. That being said, there is a spent fuel management problem on the island. In my view the U.S. has a responsibility–in large part given its considerable historical contribution to Taiwan’s nuclear power program–to facilitate a solution to this problem. The same goes for South Korea, which faces a similar dilemma and somewhat similar political constraints from U.S. policy.

  6. Jodi Lieberman (History)

    Frankly, Mark, I don’t care how the Taiwanese get there. If the U.S.-Taiwan agreement has the no ENR provision in it, its a victory. Full stop. And at this point, they did “volunteer” to do so, regardless of the previous, unwritten agreement with the U.S. not to enrich or reprocess. So, in my book, that TWO 123 agreements with a no-ENR provision in them. The rest is inside baseball.

  7. David Fite (History)

    Mark, I’m glad we agree on the positive impact of more countries agreeing to the Gold Standard in their new/replacement 123 agreements. Absolutely, the individual country calculus will be different as to whether, and how, to agree to such a commitment. My concern is that there could be several countries that would be willing IF the US were to make a persuasive case in its approach to them. The problem with a “case-by-case” policy is that it could lend itself to the bureaucratic comfort zone of “well, there never is a good case” unless countries like Taiwan and UAE volunteer. The USG needs to approach new/renewal negotiations with the attitude that the U.S. wants a no-ENR provision comparable to the UAE in that agreement, and to press for it, with only limited exceptions.

    Developing states deciding to forego ENR is a very useful precedent and a helpful addition to the global NP regime; it also undermines the alleged monolithic NAM front that developing countries will never ever accept any limitations on their alleged NPT right to ENR. Clearly, some will choose not to exercise whatever perceived right they have to ENR, as a sovereign decision, and decide to enter into a bilateral agreement to that effect, again as a sovereign decision. And the more countries that do that, the more ENR is downgraded as a “must-have” for a developing nation’s nuclear activities.

    Much of the criticism to the Gold Standard parrots the NAM argument – born, no doubt, in painful experience from the reaction to the Bush Admin’s 2004 frontal assault on other countries’ ENR – and casts the 123/Gold Standard as an attempt to deny other countries of their “rights”. If the Admin were that diplomatically obtuse to put in those terms, a negative reaction could be expected. That’s why the examples of the UAE, hopefully Taiwan, and maybe others are useful; their rights are not questioned or challenged, and they freely make sovereign decisions that they do not need to engage in ENR for their civil nuclear programs. (As does the U.S., which can decide as part of its sovereign rights NOT to cooperate with a country that does not with to forego ENR.)

    In terms of calculus, never underestimate the political appeal of a U.S. 123 agreement, and the perceived recognition by the U.S. as an advanced technological state that such agreement implies. Indeed, some states that may have no intention of buying U.S. reactors (on price grounds alone, for example, all other competitors being state-subsidized) nevertheless may politically desire such an agreement. That could be the case with Vietnam, for example, and others; the Saudis, already having signed an MOU with the US to rely on foreign supply, could find it difficult NOT to agree to the UAE standard. The U.S. (and the global regime) could still in those instances get a useful, supplier-independent legally-binding no-ENR commitment – one more state deciding that ENR is not necessary, and helping to build a new international norm against the spread of enrichment and reprocessing.

    • Dan Joyner (History)

      I think your comment here communicates well what other states see as the disingenuousness and clear normative restrictive intent of U.S. policy on 123 agreements.

      You keep talking about the UAE and Taiwan cases as independent sovereign decisions to make no-ENR commitments. But it seems to me the central point of Mark’s post, which I agree with, is that both the UAE and Taiwan have made these commitments on much less than an independent basis. They have made them under significant U.S. pressure, both in terms of current diplomatic pressure, and in terms of their historical connections with the U.S. which produce particular practical considerations that do not allow them to be completely independent in making this decision. Now, if you want to be semantic about it and say that in the end no one had a gun to their head, and so in that sense they did agree to the commitments “voluntarily,” then I suppose in that narrow sense they did. But on a more meaningful level, no-ENR commitments have only been made by states under significant pressure from the U.S.

      But then after you claim that this has all been the independent sovereign will of these states, as you hope it will be of others, you say that each such case shows the NAM position on the gold standard is a fiction. I think, though, that on a correct reading, the NAM has never said that none of them will ever make no-ENR commitments individually. What they stress, rather, is that they collectively and individually will not accept limitations on their NPT Article IV rights to indigenous control over the full fuel cycle. I think you are right that the virulence of NAM positions on this matter was indeed produced by the Bush administration’s, as you put it, frontal assault on these rights. But here’s the thing – after you talk about no-ENR commitments being independent, soverign decisions, you then talk about building a “new international norm” through further instances of the U.S. pressuring recipient states to sign onto gold standard 123 agreements. I’m sure that you and the USG would like to see the other NSG members follow suit and institute the same policy regarding sharing agreements – as they took a big step towards doing in last year’s amendment of the ENR provisions of the guidelines.

      This is EXACTLY what the NAM opposes – policies by supplier states that effectively deprive developing states collectively of their rights under NPT Article IV(1) (and that are also BTW in violation of supplier state obligations in Article IV(2)) by denying them supplies of ENR technologies.

      So even though on the one hand you (and the USG) are saying that these are just cases of states voluntarily and independently seeing it as advantageous for them to commit to not have ENR and choosing to make that commitment, on the other hand you are saying that what you (and the USG) really want is a new international norm, eventually adopted by the NSG, that effectively deprives developing states of that choice, and thereby effectively nullifies their NPT Article IV(1) right.

      This is the disingenousness and invidious intent that developing NNWS see in U.S. policy on the gold standard. And this is one reason why countries like Jordan, who are not as susceptible to pressure by the U.S., are taking a principled stand to not commit to no ENR in any future 123 agreements with the U.S.

  8. mark (History)

    BTW I neglected to point out in the post:

    Unlike all other states with which the U.S. government is currently negotiating 123 agreements, Taiwan is not a party to the NPT. According to the narrative of NPT parties (U.S.-India deal debate!) if Taiwan now adopts no-ENR language in a new 123 agreement, it won’t be sacrificing or forfeiting any sovereign legal rights to enrich or reprocess nuclear material because NPT Article IV doesn’t apply–another reason why the Taiwan case is unique.

    • Jodi Lieberman (History)

      Just because its unique Mark, it doesn’t nullify the accomplishment. A precedent is a precedent.

    • kme (History)

      Precedents do have varying value, though. Otherwise, next stop for a Gold Standard agreement: The Vatican!

  9. David Fite (History)

    …and yet, would still be the second state to embrace a no-ENR legally-binding commitment, assuming Jordan doesn’t conclude it’s agreement first (which reportedly may also have a no-ENR commitment of some type). Still valuable. And as you know, Taiwan was a party to the NPT, until it was de-stated.

    I hope that your points about the unique international status of Taiwan doesn’t encourage others to dismiss it as an outlier, whose example (if it does happen) can be ignored. Critics have also attempted to classify the UAE as such an outlier, going so far as to say, “With the sole exception of the UAE,” U.S. requests for no-ENR have been publicly rejected. (To be accurate, this sentence should have said, “…have been publicly rejected in one instance by a government official not responsible for the ongoing negotiations with the U.S. on the agreement, the latter of which are apparently interested in working something out, according to a senior U.S. government official,” but that would have been less convincing.) It would be even less convincing if the same critics had to say, “With the multiple exceptions of the UAE, Taiwan, and ____…”

    • mark (History)

      David and Jody but also et al.

      Jordan and Vietnam are states where the U.S. has immensely less direct leverage over their nuclear energy policies than the U.S. has over Taiwan’s. Since 1974 reprocessing and enrichment in Taiwan have simply not been an option for Taiwan because of this leverage.

      I think we should be able to agree, in view of what I have written in this post, that if Jordan or Vietnam (to say nothing of Saudi Arabia) were to adopt the UAE no-ENR language in their pending 123 agreements, that would represent a far, far more significant development than adoption of that language by Taiwan.

      Jordan has not “volunteered” to put that language in its agreement as perhaps Taiwan has done. Maybe the result will be some kind of no-ENR statement by Jordan sans a formal and indefinite legal commitment not to enrich or reprocess. Because of the political realities, if Jordan in its pending agreement were to make a political but non-binding commitment not to do ENR, I would even argue that that would be a more significant step than Taiwan adopting the UAE language.

      I fear from some comments to my post, including from both of you, that my remarks will be seen in a distorted light by cheerleaders of the “gold standard” as “raining on the Taiwan parade.” My post was posted to alert the community–whether in favor of the “gold standard” or not–that Taiwan is not a major victory for the “gold standard.” If you want to count countries (UAE one, Taiwan two…) fine. How many 123 agreements are in force? I stand by the view that down the line, Jordan, Vietnam, Saudi are without any doubt far more significant than Taiwan in establishing the “gold standard” as a nonproliferation norm. Taiwan is a firm U.S. ally and highly dependent on the U.S. for the preservation of its national security. Jordan, Vietnam, and Saudi–like the UAE–are members of the NAM. There’s also the matter of the pending ROK agreement. I would disabuse readers from concluding that those countries will by the force of logic be inclined to embrace the “gold standard” because Taiwan may do that–regardless of the positive signal such a step would send.

  10. Nick (History)


    So is it fair to say that Taiwan was non-compliant with her CSA in the mid 90’s. Did the BoG discuss this matter or it was brushed under the carpet?

    • mark (History)


      In the mid-90s the situation was complicated by the fact that Taiwan was out of the NPT. You could argue that Taiwan had a de facto CSA since Infcirc/158 was set up make sure that all nuclear activities in Taiwan are under IAEA safeguards.

      That being said, I think the answer to the real question you are asking is that the U.S. would have done anything and everything possible in its power to make sure that the issue of the uranium/thorium sands processing by Taiwan (which in fact was brought to the attention of the US by the IAEA after IAEA inspectors in Taiwan learned about it and then notified the U.S. on the basis that Infcirc/158 is a trilateral agreement involving the U.S. as well as Taiwan and the IAEA) would not be raised in a BOG meeting. I can also imagine that China would after discussion with Washington have agreed with that way of doing business.

  11. Dan Joyner (History)

    I just saw this story about the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and South Korea on a replacement 123 agreement.

    South Korea very much wants to be able to have domestic ENR capability and the U.S. is not willing to sign a deal with them unless the commit not to have it.

    Theres just a tone to stories like this of the little developing state begging the big powerful developed supplier state to please, sir, allow them to have this technology that they really want, and think would be really beneficial for them. Like little Oliver asking for more gruel from the headmaster. The paternalism is just palpable, and really disturbing to me. The child presents its well-thought-through reasons why they should have the new stuff, and how they’ll be extra careful with it and make sure it doesnt hurt anyone. And then the dad just shoots them down, saying they dont really need it; its just too dangerous for them to have; they can’t be trusted to be responsible with it yet; theyre fine without it and should just keep relying on dad for the stuff.

    It reminded me about David Fite trying to persuade us in his above comments that when countries like Taiwan and South Korea agree to no-ENR commitments in their 123 agreements witht the U.S., its completely voluntary and an exercise of their sovereign right to choose that everyone should respect. And even more, that we should view such decisions as state actions producing a new global norm.

    Well South Korea doesnt look very sovereign here to me.

  12. Ara Barsamian (History)

    Both Taiwan and South Korea are forced into it by the US military commitment to their defense…that’s it.

    The moment that commitment weakens or disappears, it’s goodbye Uncle Sam, hello Russian fuel supply…without strings attached…and fast-track by both to either reprocessing and/or enrichment for weapons…and with Japan on their heels..who’s kidding who?

  13. Daniel Horner (History)

    To me, one of the most interesting conclusions to draw from this whole thread and the events to which it refers is that the Poneman-Tauscher letter apparently did not mean what many of us thought it meant – namely, a complete renunciation of the gold standard as a basis for negotiation. After the letter became public, there were comments by administration officials indicating that the case-by-case approach did not necessarily preclude U.S. pursuit of a gold-standard pledge from its nuclear trading partners, but many observers (and I’ll include myself in this group) wondered if such comments really represented the policy or were simply rhetoric to respond to critics. As noted above, the United States apparently is seeking a pledge of restraint on enrichment and reprocessing from Jordan, even after the issuance of the Poneman-Tauscher letter. The news about Taiwan would seem to provide some additional confirmation – though, as Mark suggests, perhaps not a great deal – that the United States has not completely abandoned the gold standard. I don’t know, however, if that was what the policy, as articulated in the Poneman-Tauscher letter, was supposed to mean all along, or if the U.S. government altered its position to address the criticism of the letter.

  14. mark (History)

    Dan, you ask the $64K question. I don’t think that at this point so far the administration has formally abandoned the “gold standard” as a possible final policy outcome, but will Obama spell out what exactly the policy is any time before the election in November? If he does, he will be attacked in Washington by either 1.) the nonproliferators and the security policy-minded, for going soft on the spread of nuclear weapons and betraying fundamental U.S. national security interests, or 2.) the Republicans and centrist Democrats, for sacrificing American jobs. On the surface, we might conclude that Obama would be more worried about the latter group. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the “jobs” issue is directly mentioned by Poneman-Tauscher in their letter to Congress.

    But Dick Lugar’s February 21 broadside in strong support of the “gold standard,” which basically criticized Obama for not being tough enough on proliferation (but also for sacrficing ally UAE to the whims of expediency), and which I hear was orchestrated by his people to sync with the Indiana primary campaign, chose to appeal to the former group on this particular issue. That however wasn’t honored by Indiana voters on May 8. So did Obama’s campaign managers draw their final conclusions about how to play 123 negotiations in part from Lugar’s dramatic loss? Maybe, but it would also appear that Lugar’s criticism of the policy process in this case resonated in a few places very high up inside the administration and at the State Department.

    I’ve argued (and I’m not alone) that the profound risk aversion of the Obama re-election campaign, right up into the top of the NSC, has interfered with the U.S. demonstrating leadership and taking the initiative in the Iran negotiation. Maybe foreign nuclear cooperation is another area where fear of rocking any boats is setting back U.S. policy formation.

  15. RC (History)

    Taiwan? Really?

    Anyway, Mark is right on several points.

    I would like to see what happens with ROK. If ROK accepts to forgo Article IV of the NPT… that is a different story…