The Swiss government has pledged to scrutinize closely, and possibly ban, future exports of certain specified technology to Pakistan that can be used to develop nuclear weapons, in return for resumption of nuclear cooperation with the United States, Swiss officials say.
The officials say this should settle the two countries' longstanding disagreement about Switzerland's role in Pakistan's clandestine efforts to build a nuclear bomb outside limits imposed by the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Pakistan has refused to sign.
President Carter is expected by Swiss diplomats to approve previously blocked licenses that the Swiss government badly wants so it can have U.S.-supplied nuclear power plant fuel reprocessed in France. The reprocessing separates a valuable byproduct; plutonium, which can be reused, from the spent fuel in Switzerland's four nuclear power plants.
The Swiss government also expects Carter to approve its unprecedented two-year-old request for a license to sell to Italy plutonium already culled in a French reprocessing plant from used U.S.-supplied Swiss nuclear fuel. Although this is only the next step from allowing spent fuel to be reprocessed into plutonium, such a decision would establish a new U.S. policy of allowing transfers of plutonium itself, which can be used to make nuclear weapons.
In Washington, the White House said Carter has not reached a decision.
Sources there indicated that in its final form, the U.S. decision could approve part of the Swiss request and deny the rest.
Swiss officials say their embassy in Washington has been informed that all of the licenses, which were bottled up in the State Department during the U.S.-Swiss disagreement about Swiss exports of technology to Pakistan, have reached the president's desk. They expect Carter to transmit, his approval of the licenses early next month to Congress, which has 15 days under the 1978 U.S. Nonproliferation Act to review his decision.
The president's decision can be overruled by majority vote of both houses if Congress believes it violates the spirit of the Nonproliferation Act. In September, Congress failed by just two votes in the Senate to block Carter's decision to sell 38 tons of Low-enriched uranium to India, which has demonstrated its capability to explode a nuclear bomb and kept open its option to build an arsenal of atomic weapons.
Shortly before that, the Carter White House decided to delay indefinitely decisions on Switzerland's pending requests for nuclear fuel transfers in retaliation for Swiss exports of technology that the U.S. believed Pakistan was using to try to equal India's nuclear weapons capability.
The Swiss government refused to agree that this was what Pakistan was doing with the engineering technology sold it by at least two and possibly five Swiss firms. Swiss officials also argued that the specific components involved had a wide variety of other applications and did not appear on internationally agreed lists of nuclear technology whose export is controlled under the 1968 Nonproliferation Treaty.
But now the Swiss government has told Washington it accepts the U.S. position that Pakistan has been deliberately evading this international export control system by buying, from Switzerland and other countries, conventional engineering technology with which it is creating the prescribed processes for producing nuclear material for bombs.
The Swiss government also has agreed to single out for special scrutiny, even though it does not appear on the international exports, the specific evaporation and condensation technology Pakistan is believed to be using to build a gas centrifuge process for enrichment of uranium into nuclear material for bombs.
Swiss nuclear energy chief Claude Zangger, who carried out the negotiations with U.S. officials in Washington last month, acknowledged that evaporation and condensation technology sold to Pakistan by a Swiss firm, KORA, in 1978 and 1979, likely was used for what he believes was a pilot uranium enrichment plant.
If Pakistan now decides to build a full-scale enrichment facility and comes back to KORA or another Swiss firm for similar technology, the Swiss government would review it much more closely, according to Zangger. It could then ban the sale or require that Pakistan first submit to International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring of its nuclear energy program to prevent clandestine bomb production with enriched uranium.
However, Zangger stressed in a telephone interview from the Swiss capital of Bern, the Swiss government has not yet decided what its policy would be on such exports. It has agreed only to subject them to special review even though they are not on the international lists of controlled nuclear technology.
"We are making an examination of the problems of future exports of technology of such nature as these condensers and evaporators to Pakistan," Zangger said. "The Swiss firms are waiting for the result of this examination."
Zangger repeated the Swiss government's position that it will be guided primarily by such lists, drawn up by a group of nuclear technology-exporting countries including the United States. Switzerland will continue to refuse U.S. requests that it augment this list unilaterally by requiring export licenses on other technology exported for suspect uses in the nuclear field, according to Zangger, and insist instead that an expanded list be agreed and adhered to by all nuclear technology exporters.
Zangger said he came away from Washington last month with the feeling that the revised Swiss position "seemed to satisfy" U.S. officials and the disagreement that had blocked Switzerland's requests for nuclear fuel transfer licenses was over.
Before the dispute, the United States had routinely approved other Swiss requests for nuclear fuel transfer licenses. But the unprecedented request for a license for the sale of U.S.-derivation Swiss plutonium to Italy had already been stalled for two years by the inability of the Carter White House to decide on a policy for plutonium transfers.
Italy wants the plutonium for use in a giant French-Italian-West German fast breeder reactor under construction in France, called the Super Phenix, which will generate large amounts of electricity while "breeding" more plutonium for the three partner nations than it consumes. The U.S.-derivation plutonium in question would actually remain in France, where it was separated from spent Swiss nuclear fuel in a reprocessing plant there.