AMMAN (Reuters) - Washington’s refusal to let Jordan exploit its own uranium deposits to make nuclear fuel has held up nuclear cooperation talks and the two sides are a long way from any deal, sources close to the negotiations said on Friday.
An accord on nuclear cooperation with the United States would help Jordan launch a civilian nuclear programme and meet a target of generating 30 percent of its energy needs through nuclear power by 2030.
But the Jordanian sources said in the last year of talks Washington refused to allow Jordan to produce its own nuclear fuel, a right which the close U.S. ally insists it is entitled to as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
“Although there is increased understanding of our view, the gap remains wide, but we are in ongoing talks. We still have a long way ahead of us before reaching an accord,” said one source familiar with the latest round of discussions last month.
Jordan has discovered promising deposits of uranium — an estimated 65,000 tonnes so far — that it hopes to mine commercially for domestic use and for export.
It has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with eight countries, including France, China and Russia, to develop a civilian nuclear programme and reduce its reliance on oil imports that cost 20 percent of its gross domestic product.
But in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, King Abdallah said neighbouring Israel — the only Middle East state believed to have built nuclear bombs — was exerting “underhand” pressure on countries not to sell nuclear technology to Jordan.
Another Jordanian source familiar with the issue said the talks had been making progress until the United Arab Emirates approved a nuclear cooperation accord with Washington last year, hailed by the U.S. administration as a model for the region.
The deal contained commitments barring the Gulf Arab country from using American technology to develop a nuclear weapon. It pledges not to enrich uranium or reprocess used nuclear fuel, and is obliged to import all fuel for its nuclear reactors.
U.S. negotiators were insisting on similar guarantees by Jordan that would oblige it to buy reactor fuel from the international market as a safeguard against its potential diversion for military uses.
Under the terms of the proposed U.S. accord, Jordan could mine the ore but could not convert it into fuel. The demands could also curb any future Jordanian plan to become a regional centre for uranium enrichment, according to Jordanian officials.
They said this was unfair.
“Why should we give up our rights? We are upholding all our rights and privileges under the NPT,” the source said, quoting Jordanian officials’ stance in the talks.
“...The security concerns can be addressed. Unlike the others, for us nuclear energy is crucial for our economic development,” the source added.
Oil exporter Iran faces a fourth round of U.N. sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment — which the West fears is aimed at producing a nuclear bomb, a charge Tehran denies. Jordan depends on imports for its energy needs.
The kingdom is already putting in place the infrastructure for its nuclear ambitions, aiming to construct its first power station by 2019.
France’s Areva signed a joint venture earlier this year to mine uranium in central Jordan under a 25-year concession, and in May Jordan shortlisted Areva, Canada’s AECL and Russia’s Atomstroyexport to compete to design the kingdom’s first 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant.
Officials say it may take three years to choose the contractor and a further four or five years to build the plant.
Writing by Suleiman al-Khalidi; editing by Tim Pearce