Belarus could attend nuke summit

By Kim Se-jeong

The Nuclear Security Summit planned for 2012 in Seoul is expected to have one additional participant - Belarus.

On Dec. 2, in Astana, Kazakhstan, Belarusian Foreign Minister Sergei Martynov and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a joint statement, which stated Belarus will abandon its remaining highly-enriched uranium.

How much enriched uranium Belarus has is not known, but it's believed to be able to be enough for "at least several bombs."

The material will be transferred to Russia, and if it completes the process - which Belarus said it's committed to do so - before the nuclear summit in Seoul, it will be invited to take part.

An official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Seoul would be happy to invite Belarus to the summit.

In the United States, the news was received as victory for President Barack Obama, who has placed a priority in limiting nuclear materials available around the world so that they are less accessible to terrorists.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry also applauded its decision.

"In the sphere of international security, arms control, nonproliferation and disarmament has always been one of the highest priorities of Belarusian foreign policy," according to the foreign ministry.

Belarus's uranium possession was an inheritance from the former Soviet Union, which had scattered stocks of weapons-grade uranium throughout the region.

Countries including Poland, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic have completed returning it to Russia.

Earlier this year, however, the situation was different.

At the first Nuclear Security Summit held in April in Washington, D.C., Obama urged Belarus to abandon its uranium, which Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko rejected, insisting the U.S. stop interfering with their domestic affairs.

"This is our commodity We are holding it under IAEA supervision. We're not going to make dirty bombs, and we're not going to sell it to anybody. We're using it for research purposes; that is all," Lukashenko said.

Dmitry Sudas, the first secretary at the Belarusian Embassy, didn't answer why the government had changed its stance so quickly, but said the "conditions" for Belarus, Russia and the U.S. weren't met until October.

"Belarus has for years consistently favored the non-proliferation of nuclear materials," he said.

A Korean diplomat who didn't disclose his name for this article said Obama's message should be understood in the context where the handling of nuclear material is so delicate that it requires a collective effort.

Such an effort will reduce the possibility of it falling into the hands of terrorists.

In exchange for the highly enriched uranium, Belarus will receive lower-enriched uranium from Russia, which will be used for research.

It will also receive technical support in transportation and exchange of the nuclear fuel from the U.S. which will also be financing the entire project.

U.S. is also supposed to assist Belarus to build its first nuclear power plant, which will be built in Ostrovets district close to the Lithuanian border.

"The issue of highly enriched uranium withdrawal from the territory of Belarus could be used to ease tension and allow the two countries to begin normal relations, which would be in both of their interests," said the Belarusian foreign ministry.

Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and his Belarusian counterpart met in Astana as well, agreeing to expand cooperation on a nuclear power plant construction.

In the aftermath of the Chernobyl incident in 1986, Belarus had dropped its plan to build a nuclear power plant.

However, energy disputes with Russia and the need to ensure energy security revived the option.

Sudas said Belarus, impressed by Korea's international reputation of nuclear plant construction, is hoping to establish a partnership with Seoul before the summit in 2012.


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