U.S. officials are negotiating a nuclear-cooperation agreement with Jordan, America's closest Arab ally in the region, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
"But it's a partnership that puts the Obama administration in a bind: It is trying to make good on its pledge to promote greater civilian use of atomic energy, without angering Israel and risking a Mideast arms race," the newspaper said in a dispatch from Amman.
King Abdullah was quoted as saying in the dispatch he wants to reduce Jordan's dependence on energy imports by developing nuclear energy.
"The Obama administration views Jordan as a key potential partner in its global programme to promote the nonmilitary use of atomic energypart of a broader plan to increase pressure on other Middle East countries, particularly Iran and Syria, to bring transparency to their own nuclear programmes," the Journal said.
"I believe nuclear energy in Jordan will be done in such a way where it is a public-private partnership so everyone can see exactly what's going on," Jordan's King Abdullah in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. "If we can be the model of transparency, it will push others."
The dispatch said, "The deal has catches for the Jordanians, too: The U.S. is demanding that Amman not produce its own nuclear fuel. That's a right Jordan enjoys as a signatory to the United Nations key nonproliferation treatyand is reluctant to surrender, thanks to its recent discoveries of big deposits of uranium ore".
Senior Jordanian officials say Amman can't renounce its right to produce nuclear fuel under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, both for strategic and economic reasons, according to the dispatch. They say that if Jordan cuts a side agreement with the U.S. on this point it would undermine the integrity of the treaty. They also say such an agreement would limit Jordan's ambition to become a "regional nuclear fuel supply and export center."
Failure to reach consensus on this point, U.S. and Jordanian officials acknowledge, could kill the cooperation deal, the dispatch said.
"We believe in the universality of the NPT," Khaled Toukan, the head of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, was quoted as saying. "We do not agree on applying conditions and restrictions outside of the NPT on a regional basis or a country-by-country basis."
Jordan is among a slew of Arab countries, including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, that are seeking to become among the first Mideast countries to develop a civilian nuclear-power industry. Israel is the lone country in the region which possess atomic weapons, but it hasn't moved to build nuclear power plants.
Jordan's nuclear ambitions are driven by economics. Wedged between Israel and oil giants Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the kingdom is 95% dependent on imported oil and has among the world's smallest reserves of potable water.
But the discovery of at least 65,000 tons of uranium ore in the deserts outside Amman in 2007 has led King Abdullah to order a drastic reshaping of his nation's economic strategy, the dispatch said.
French and Chinese geologists are combing southern, central and eastern Jordan in search of additional uranium deposits, it said. In addition to fueling its own plants, Jordan hopes to use its projected four nuclear power plants to begin exporting electricity to neighbours including Iraq and Syria by 2030 and to commercially mine and export uranium. Even if it doesn't process any nuclear fuel itself, Jordan could still produce and export electricity by buying the fuel for its reactors on the international market.
"Now that we have a raw material, people are coming for the first time in our history and knocking on our door," King Abdullah said in the interview.