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U.S. Leaning Toward Waiving Sanctions Regarding China-Pakistan Nuclear Deal

By R. Jeffrey Smith
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The Clinton administration, yielding in part to pressure from U.S. corporations with business in China, is leaning toward waiving economic sanctions for China's sale of sensitive nuclear weapons-related equipment to Pakistan, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

U.S. officials were described as favoring this strategy as a means of persuading China to curb such exports in the future while avoiding a direct confrontation over what they said was China's undisputed sale to Pakistan of specialized magnets for use in enriching uranium, a key ingredient of nuclear weapons.

A series of U.S. laws meant to deter and punish nuclear proliferation requires that President Clinton cut off all Export-Import Bank financing for American business deals, and possibly take other, more drastic steps involving U.S. trade with China because of the magnet sale, the officials said on condition they not be named.

But representatives of Boeing Co. and Westinghouse Electric Corp., among other large corporations, have been lobbying administration officials vigorously - and apparently with some success - to build support for a waiver. Such an act would be in keeping with the administration's decision this week to authorize China's future launch of three U.S. commercial satellites, despite U.S. policymakers' awareness of the Chinese nuclear sale.

Officials said that Clinton can waive the Export-Import Bank sanctions merely by certifying that the business deals are vital to "U.S. national interests." But other possible sanctions against China that may be triggered by the sale, including a ban on military contacts and more far-reaching trade penalties, can be waived only if Clinton makes the more difficult claim that such ties are vital to U.S. "national security interests."

During a visit to Washington this week, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing did not deny selling nuclear-related items to Pakistan but maintained that the sales amounted only to legitimate "peaceful nuclear cooperation" - a claim that the administration rejects, a U.S. official said.

The administration's position on the separate question of potential sanctions against the Pakistani government is less clear, officials said. They said that its purchase of the magnets, as discovered recently by the CIA, had gravely undermined its repeated promises not to enrich additional uranium for nuclear arms.

Officials said a pending shipment to Pakistan of U.S. military aircraft, missiles and other equipment worth $368 million may be held up by a law barring any military assistance to countries that receive any nuclear enrichment equipment that is not subject to international inspection, such as the magnets sold to Pakistan's Kahuta enrichment center.

Although waiving sanctions would effectively let China off the hook, it would keep the two countries engaged in dialogue at a time when other worrisome Chinese policies are also at issue, an official said.