U.S., Vietnam, in nuclear power talks

The Obama administration is negotiating with Vietnam over a deal to allow the purchase of nuclear fuel, as well as American nuclear technology and reactors, several media outlets have reported. The most detailed account was published in the Wall Street Journal on August 3.

Based on the comments of a top US official, the Journal explained that Washington is in “advanced negotiations” with Hanoi over an agreement to share nuclear fuel and technology with Vietnam. The deal would allow Vietnam to enrich its own uranium to produce fuel for its power reactors, subject to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

This is raising eyebrows in such nations as North Korea and the Middle East, where the US has reached a nuclear deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that ruled out any uranium enrichment.

“It is ironic… as nonproliferation is one of the [US] president’s top goals that the UAE model is not being endorsed here [with Vietnam]… People will start to see a double standard,” a senior Arab official told the Wall Street Journal.

Like other South East Asian countries, Vietnam is attempting to find a balance between the US and China. While acknowledging that an initial nuclear agreement with the US had been reached in March, Vietnamese officials have downplayed the negotiations toward a final pact.

As a result of its rapid economic expansion, Vietnam is suffering power shortages and reportedly plans to build as many as 13 nuclear power plants over the next two decades. US, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and French corporations are vying for the contracts to build them.

The Obama administration is determined to forge closer ties with Vietnam as part of partnership aimed at curtailing China’s influence in that country.

In a demonstration of closer military ties, the US sent the aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, to Vietnam last month to mark the 15th anniversary of the normalization of relations between the two countries.

In recent years, the US has sent warships to visit Vietnam, raising fears in Beijing that ports such as Cam Ranh Bay will, in effect, again become major US bases, as they were during the Vietnam War.

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