Belarus said it is considering suspending the agreement with the USA to give up its supply of highly enriched uranium. The move is a retaliation against the economic sanctions recently imposed on the Eastern European country by the White House. Belarus said it would restart the agreement-related nuclear fuel transfer program only when the United States removed the sanctions.
The agreement, which was signed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Belarus foreign minister, Sergei Martynov, was considered a significant victory by the Obama administration in curtailing the spread of dangerous nuclear material. Belarus is now threatening to return to selling its highly enriched uranium on the international market.
Earlier this month Washington had imposed a new wave of economic sanctions as punishment for a ruthless crackdown on government opponents, including widespread arrests, that has continued unabated for months.
As a result, Belarus has decided to freeze projects with the United States for exchanging highly enriched uranium fuel within the framework of initiatives for decreasing global threats.
Under the original nuclear deal, signed at a security summit meeting in Kazakhstan in December, Belarus had agreed to transfer its supply of nuclear fuel by 2012. The material was to be shipped to Russia, where it was to be changed to a less purified grade. In exchange, the United States agreed to provide Belarus with some financial aid.
Belarus is the only country from the former Soviet Union outside of Russia to possess large stocks of highly enriched uranium.
Matthew Bunn, an associate professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard who specializes in research of nuclear theft and terrorism, said he saw little or no risk that the material, which is housed in a secure site, could fall into the wrong hands. Still, Mr. Bunn said, the issue needs to be addressed because “it’s one of only a few stocks that are enough for a crude terrorist nuclear bomb.”