WASHINGTON (Jul. 9)
A battery of Administration officials argued before two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that the U.S. transfer of nuclear reactors and fuel to Egypt and Israel is essential to maintaining the momentum of peace moves in the area. They indicated that if the U.S. did not supply this material, other countries would. But under sharp questioning by some subcommittee members, they conceded that there were no “absolute safeguards” to assure that the nuclear material would be used exclusively for peaceful purposes in connection, a State Department official gave assurances to members of Congress who have expressed skepticism over President Nix-on’s offer of reactors to Egypt and Israel that the U.S. will require stringent controls on the storage of nuclear materials by both countries to prevent theft by terrorists, sabotage or diversion of such materials to produce nuclear weapons. Assistant Secretary of State Linwood Holton asserted in letters to members of the Foreign Affairs Committee that “stringent controls will be applied regarding disposition and storage of the plutonium operated reactors.”
Administration witnesses appeared today before the subcommittee on international organizations and movements and the subcommittee on the Near East and South Asia. The lead-off witness, Fred C. IKle, director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, agreed that there is “no absolute safeguard” to prevent terrorists or others from acquiring both the knowledge and the means to produce destructive devices.
But Ikle declared that Egypt could definitely obtain the nuclear technology and material from supplier nations other than the U.S. and that Israel “probably also” could acquire them. Under questioning by Rep. Benjamin Rosenthal (D.NY), Ikle admitted that there is “no absolute safeguard…not even for reactors in this country.” He repeated that statement when he was taken over the same ground by Rep. Lester Wolff (D.NY).
U.S. A RESTRAINING INFLUENCE
Rep. Peter Frelinghuysen (R.NJ) chided Rosenthal and organization subcommittee chairman Rep Donald Fraser (D.Minn.) for their caution with regard to safeguards. “If we decided to do nothing we could not prevent the build-up of nuclear power.” he said He observed that he hasn’t heard Israel or Egypt complaining of the other’s obtaining nuclear reactors and said the U.S. was “acting as a restraining influence.”
Fraser noted that the U.S. contracts to supply nuclear fuel to Egypt, Israel and Iran and an announcement by France that it will sell five power plants to Iran “dramatized projections” that by 1982, nuclear power capacity outside the U.S. will be spread over about 200 plants in some 35 countries. “Only when we have carefully assessed the risks and benefits of a world nuclear power industry can we make a sound judgement on how to proceed,” he said.
Holton, in his letter to the committee members, said the U.S. expects to have the right to approve the facilities at which any American supplied nuclear material, including plutonium, may be reprocessed. He said the U.S. will exert maximum steps to provide adequate security to prevent thefts, sabotage or diversion. Rep. Bella Abzug (D.NY) told reporters afterwards that she wanted specifics rather than vague promises of safeguards.
Egypt and Israel are to be supplied with nuclear fuels and technology to build atomic power plants scheduled to go into operation in the early 1980s. At the moment, sentiment for and against the Nixon Administration’s offer is evenly divided on Capitol Hill. Congress is not likely to receive the U.S. contracts with Egypt and Israel for study before the end of July.