VIENNA - Facing international opposition, US negotiators at a nuclear meeting have dropped their insistence on a ban of uranium enrichment technology to non-nuclear states, diplomats said yesterday.
The compromise, which moves America closer to the positions of other nations selling nuclear technology and material, is important because it could give ammunition to Iran, which is under UN sanctions for defying a Security Council demand that it give up its enrichment program.
It also could complicate efforts to put life into a US-Indian deal that would allow transfers of sensitive nuclear technology to New Delhi, even though it remains outside of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The diplomats, who demanded anonymity because their information was confidential, said the new US position was discussed at a Vienna meeting of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, whose gatherings are meant to set and monitor common policies on exports of sensitive atomic hardware and knowledge.
No decision was reached at the meeting, which ended yesterday, said one of the diplomats, adding that any agreement must be made by consensus and that the issue was deferred to the group's next full session in Berlin starting May 19.
While the United States had moved closer to positions favored by most of the other NSG nations, the diplomat suggested there was still a ways to go if that consensus was to be achieved. Still, he said, Washington appeared to be prepared for further compromise.
"The US will go back to Washington with some amendments, with some comments we put forward," he said. "The aim is to have a broad discussion in Berlin."
The US decision to drop its insistence on a ban was forced primarily by Canada, which has large reserves of uranium and reserves the right to start up enrichment programs for lucrative export sales, the diplomats said.
Any ban, as originally demanded by the United States, would thus present an obstacle to Canadian ambitions to possess its own enrichment capabilities.
The Americans apparently remained firm in their opposition to any transfers of technology that is replicable and would allow receiving states to copy it and create their own program.