The Group of Eight countries will begin full-scale talks on an international financing scheme for Russia’s disposal of weapons-grade plutonium as part of an effort to curb the global proliferation of nuclear weapons, government sources said Tuesday.
The sources said that the G8 nonproliferation experts’ group, or NPEG, will meet in Tokyo in the middle of next month to discuss the issue for the first time since the G8 summit in Okinawa Prefecture in July.
NPEG consists of senior G8 government officials in charge of arms control and nonproliferation. Japan holds the rotating one-year G8 presidency until the end of this year.
At the Okinawa summit, top leaders from the G8 countries — the United States, Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan and Russia — agreed to work out the international financing scheme for the disposal of Russian weapons-grade plutonium before they meet again in Genoa, Italy next summer.
The Okinawa summit followed U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to Moscow in early June — his first since Vladimir Putin formally took office as the new Russian president in May to succeed Boris Yeltsin. In their meeting, Clinton and Putin agreed to dispose of 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium each.
Although the U.S. can dispose of that amount of weapons-grade plutonium on its own, cash-strapped Russia cannot. The cost of disposing 34 tons of Russian-held plutonium under the U.S.-Russia agreement is estimated to be between $1.7 billion and $1.9 billion.
In a communique issued at the end of the Okinawa summit, the G8 leaders said: “The transparent, safe, secure, environmentally sound and irreversible disposition and management of weapons-grade plutonium no longer required for defense purposes remains vital.”
The communique then described the early June agreement between the U.S. and Russia as a “critical milestone.”
“Our goal for the next summit (in Genoa) is to develop an international financing plan for plutonium management and disposition based on a detailed project plan, and a multilateral framework to coordinate this cooperation,” the communique says.
According to the government sources, Russia plans to pay about $1 billion — nearly half of the plutonium-disposal cost — in kind by providing land and facilities for the project. The U.S. has already declared it will pay $400 million, and Britain has committed $100 million. France is reportedly considering contributing $60 million.
Although Japan has informally told its G8 counterparts that it is ready to pay between $30 million and $40 million, government sources said that Japan may face political pressure, especially from the U.S., to contribute more. One government source said that Japan’s financial burden may eventually rise to nearly $100 million.
The sources said that the G8 countries will consider establishing an international framework to encourage countries other than the G8 members to participate in the Russian plutonium-disposal project, possibly opening a special account in the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
In fact, the G8 communique issued in Okinawa says that the G8 countries “will expand our cooperation to other interested countries in order to gain the widest possible international support, and will explore the potential for both public and private funding.”
According to the government sources, the forthcoming NPEG meeting in Tokyo will also follow up on agreements reached on other issues at the Okinawa summit, including an agreement to consider the proposed Global Monitoring System as a supplementary scheme for the Missile Technology Control Regime.
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