Plutonium crisis spurs foreign ministers

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE United States, France, Britain and Germany met yesterday to try to patch up a strategy for dealing with nuclear non-proliferation amid growing international dissent.

The meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels follows a series of seizures of nuclear material from Russia in Germany. Nato is committed to putting together a plan to prevent proliferation, but has so far made little progress. The issue has led to confrontations between nuclear and non-nuclear states, and between the West and Russia.

Warren Christopher, the US Secretary of State, met Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, Alain Juppe, the French Foreign Minister, and Klaus Kinkel, Germany's Foreign Minister, before a memorial service for Manfred Worner, the secretary- general of Nato, who died last weekend. They refused to comment afterwards, but officials said they had discussed the nuclear seizures as well as Bosnia.

The nuclear smuggling cases, by bringing to the fore the dangers of nuclear proliferation, have crystallised a problem that the West has had little success in tackling so far. In January, Nato heads of government decided to embark on a new approach to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, but nothing has been achieved since then beyond a rather bland 'policy framework' agreed in Istanbul in June.

Germany has proposed going further, and putting in place tighter international controls on nuclear stocks. Last December Mr Kinkel put forward a 10-point plan, but this would also apply to the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Britain, France, China and Russia. It is understood to have got a cool reception. For Britain and France, possession of an independent nuclear force is a sensitive subject.

Russia, in turn, feels that it is being singled out for unreasonable criticism. A Russian minister yesterday accused Germany of 'propaganda', and said the charges were being used to enable the West to foist a new regime for nuclear control on Moscow. 'This would mean orders for their firms running into millions,' said Yevgeny Mikerin, deputy atomic energy minister.

Yesterday, Greenpeace said that it wanted an international ban on the production and use of weapons-grade nuclear material under the aegis of the UN. This would not be accepted by Washington, London or Paris, let alone Peking or Moscow. In the absence of multilateral control, it is hard to see how Russia alone can be made the subject of new arrangements.

Germany is trying to promote the role of the European Union in establishing international control over nuclear materials, and has put the matter on the agenda of meetings of interior and foreign ministers in September. While France and Britain will support co-operation to prevent nuclear smuggling, they are unlikely to go further.

JOHN MAJOR will raise concerns about nuclear proliferation with Boris Yeltsin next month when the Russian President visits Britain, writes Colin Brown. He will seek co-operation with the former KGB to stop the smuggling of plutonium.

The dates have not yet been publicly announced, but Mr Yelt sin is due to hold two days of talks with the Prime Minister on 24 and 25 September at Chequers, after Mr Major returns from South Africa. The visit follows Mr Major's visit to Moscow in February.