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China, Russia Get Slap On The Wrist

The Clinton administration decided Friday not to punish China for selling nuclear weapons-related equipment to Pakistan last year, in return for a pledge by Beijing that it would not sell such equipment in the future to countries developing nuclear arms.

In accepting China’s assurance, Secretary of State Warren Christopher agreed to forgo economic sanctions against China that he could have imposed under U.S. laws aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons. As a result, the U.S. government will proceed with financing for pending U.S. business deals in China worth billions of dollars.

Separately, the administration also decided Friday not to cut off economic aid to Russia despite Moscow’s agreement to provide nuclear reactors to Iran. Washington had protested that sale on grounds it will help Iran develop a capability to produce nuclear arms, and the 1996 foreign aid appropriations bill called for aid to Russia to be halted because of the deal.

But the administration told Congress in a letter that it was exercising its right under the law to waive the aid cutoff. It said that keeping the Russian aid flowing was more “important to the national security interest” than halting it to pressure the Russian government.

Christopher’s decision in the China-Pakistan matter followed four months of difficult negotiations during which China never officially admitted it sent the weapons-related equipment to Pakistan. Washington had uncovered the shipments through intelligence sources that a senior U.S. official Friday reaffirmed were “rock solid and reliable.”

The decision to smooth over the nuclear dispute comes in the midst of other turmoil in U.S.-China relations. Next week, the administration may publish a list of more than $2 billion in economic penalties that could be imposed if China fails to halt its illicit copying of U.S. videos, CDs and other commercial goods. But next month, the administration will also seek to extend China’s “mostfavored nation” trading status, which gives Chinese exporters access to low U.S. tariffs.

White House press secretary Michael McCurry said President Clinton was “delighted” with the China-Pakistan outcome, and regarded the results as “a significant new public development” in preventing the proliferation of nuclear materials. He noted that China has promised to provide future assistance only to “safeguarded” nuclear facilities - those, unlike plants at issue in Pakistan, that are subject to international inspection.

But Democratic as well as Republican lawmakers harshly criticized the administration’s decision to forgo economic sanctions in exchange for what they said was another empty Chinese promise of restraint.

“Beijing is a pathological proliferator, plain and simple,” said Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. “I find it disturbing that the administration has decided to let one of the most eager vendors in the nuclear marketplace off the hook.”

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