James ActonHibbs on Pakistan and Israel

New Year’s resolution: Get back to blogging regularly.

There were a couple of stories that I blogged about towards the end of last year—potential nuclear sales to Pakistan and Israel—that I had been meaning to follow up on but never got around to in the debris that was the end of 2008. For some of you, particularly readers of Mark Hibbs, some of this might be old news. If that applies you, my apologies.

According to a story from Hibbs in Nucleonics Week from November 6, it turns out that the Pakistan-China deal never actually was.

Apparently not only is there no agreement for new reactor sales but, at the moment, Pakistan could not afford them anyway. So, where did the story come from? According to Hibbs, it originated in Pakistan:

Some of these officials [his sources for the story] suggested that Pakistan last month raised the issue of Chinese PWR imports to media outlets to put pressure on the NSG to grant Pakistan—as it did India in September—an exemption from NSG trade restrictions banning reactor exports to states without full-scope safeguards.

In the December 15 Nucleonics Week Hibbs has an excellent background piece on a potential US-Israel deal in return for Israeli ratification of the CTBT. Predictably, many NSG members are unenthusiastic:

One official said that, in 2007 and 2008, some NSG members notified the US informally that they would not support granting an exception to Israel, and officials from some NSG member states suggested this month that CTBT ratification by Israel would not suffice to prompt the NSG to permit vendors in NSG members to export controlled nuclear items to Israel.

Several NSG representatives said that, to qualify for an exemption, Israel would have to take steps consistent with a future global fissile material cut-off treaty, or FMCT, such as agreeing to a verified shutdown of its reactor at Dimona, at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, which is widely believed to have produced plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Much also depends on personnel changes within Israel. Within the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, the Director General Gideon Frank and his deputy Ariel Levite have retired and were replaced by Shaul Chorev and David Danielli respectively. How they view the trade-offs potentially necessary to effect the deal is unclear. There will also certainly be a change at the very top with elections and Olmert standing down. In particular, Netanyahu who may well win, is known to vehemently oppose an FMCT.

The prospects for either of these deals in the short term are clearly poor (and so much the better some of us would say). In the longer term, however, I wouldn’t write them off. One interesting tidbit I picked up over Christmas is that the current IAEA Director-General is very strongly in favour of both of them. Although, of course, he isn’t much longer for this job. We wait to hear what his successor thinks.

Comments

  1. Daryl Kimball (History)

    James:

    I checked in with my diplomatic contacts about the Hibbs report on Israel’s alleged CTBT ploy and they are denying it and noting that it is the official position of Israel to support CTBT entry into force and that Israel’s ratification is dependent on progress on the international monitoring and OSI system. I don’t dispute that Mark heard this from reputable sources, but I believe that if this was indeed floated as a trial balloon, its been shot down pretty decisively. CTBT ratification is, in any case, manifestly in Israel’s national security interests.

  2. GF

    After the “mud ring” evasion technique was successfully employed about a year ago, ratifying the CTBT is not a significant concession.

  3. mark hibbs (History)

    James and Daryl,

    I won’t question that there are verification issues that Israel would have to finesse for them to ratify the CTBT.

    But I’ve heard back indirectly from one of the handful of people (a hand has five fingers) who would have made this decision in Israel. The verdict was that there are quibbles about a few details but that the big picture I drew was correct.

    Daryl, look at it like the India deal in the NSG. The detail people got rolled by the politicians who had a broad brush approach.

    As is likely the case in many if not all of the outstanding Annex-2 states, a decision by the Israeli government to ratify the CTBT would be a political decision taken by the country’s top leadership. It won’t be left to arms control desk officers or representatives at the CTBTO.

    Look at the difference in the US between the positions taken by Obama and Bush on the CTBT. These, I would argue, are not differences about details of verification. They are differences in Weltanschauung.

  4. Daryl Kimball (History)

    Mark:

    Call me if you want to discuss further, but what we are both saying/hearing is not mutually exclusive.

    DK