Cablegate: Civil Nuclear Cooperation with Tunisia:
DE RUEHC #1294 2721748
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 291728Z SEP 09
FM SECSTATE WASHDC
TO AMEMBASSY TUNIS PRIORITY 0000
UNCLAS STATE 101294
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: AORC KNNP IAEA ENRG TRGY TS
SUBJECT: CIVIL NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH TUNISIA:
CONDITIONAL USG RESPONSE TO GOT PROPOSAL
REF: 08 TUNIS 1193
1. (U) THIS IS AN ACTION REQUEST: Please see para 8.
2. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Government of Tunisia (GOT) has
expressed interest in consultations with USG nuclear experts
as part of a study it is conducting on the feasibility of
achieving nuclear power on its territory by 2023. Since past
GOT follow-through in this sector has been highly
inconsistent, Department believes that a prerequisite for
engagement on this issue would be the establishment of
reliable channels of communication, both in Washington and in
Tunis. This cable includes a proposed path forward for civil
nuclear cooperation, which could be carried out on the
condition of tangible signs of GOT interest beginning with
the establishment of working-level points of contact for this
issue. END SUMMARY.
3. (SBU) BACKGROUND: In November 2008, former Special Envoy
for Nuclear Nonproliferation Jackie Wolcott led an
interagency, expert-level delegation to Tunis to discuss
prospects for civil nuclear cooperation (reftel). Despite
confirmation difficulties with GOT officials, at the last
minute a set of productive meetings was arranged with the
Ministry of Higher Education, the Nuclear Science Research
Center, the Ministry of Public Health, and the state-owned
4. (SBU) During these meetings, GOT officials confirmed that
Tunisia would soon undertake a feasibility study with an eye
on constructing a first nuclear power plant by 2020-2023.
Tunisian officials also requested that the USG organize a
seminar early in 2009 on options and opportunities for civil
nuclear cooperation with the United States. Similar seminars
had been held recently with Canada, South Africa, and France.
As a first step in this direction, Department proposed a
videoconference for early January 2009, during which USG
experts would have briefed Tunisian counterparts on U.S.
nuclear policies, technologies, and civil cooperation
programs. Unfortunately, the GOT never responded to this
5. (U) On September 7, 2009 the GOT sent a diplomatic note
formally requesting consultations with U.S. experts to better
understand U.S. technology and to learn how they can benefit
from U.S. experience in this sector. Tunisia is proposing a
"study day" to take place between now and April 2010.
Subsequently, the Tunisian Ambassador to the United States,
Habib Mansour, requested a meeting with Department officials
to encourage a positive USG response to this request.
6. (SBU) On September 23, 2009 ISN A A/S Eliot Kang met with
Ambassador Mansour to discuss prospects of civil nuclear
cooperation. Given the past communication difficulties, Kang
stated that a prerequisite for engagement on this issue would
be the establishment of reliable channels of communication,
both in Washington and in Tunis. It was agreed that ISN/NESS
would draft a proposed agenda for preliminary civil nuclear
consultations, which could be carried out in the event that
the GOT takes the concrete step of establishing a working
level points of contact.
7. (SBU) COMMENT: The difficulties in arranging meetings
last November, and the disinterest shown to the
videoconference invitation this past January, reinforce
Department's view that senior GOT officials are hesitant to
reach out to the USG for assistance in this sector despite
great interest at the working level. The emergence of this
recent formal request could represent a softening of this
position prompted by sustained interest in nuclear power and
a realization that U.S. technology and expertise are too
valuable a resource to ignore. Department recommends an open
mind on the prospects of bilateral cooperation tempered with
a degree of wariness in the absence of clear signals of
commitment on the part of the GOT. END COMMENT.
8. (U) ACTION REQUEST: Post is requested to transmit the
below contents via diplomatic note to the appropriate GOT
officials. Department will transmit a parallel diplomatic
note to the Tunisian Embassy in Washington, DC.
BEGIN DIPLOMATIC NOTE:
The Embassy of the United States of America presents its
compliments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the
Republic of Tunisia and has the honor to refer to its note of
September 7, 2009 regarding interest of the Ministry of
Industry, Energy, and Small and Medium Enterprises, in
cooperation with the United States for the organization of
study days in the field of nuclear energy. As evidenced by
the November 2008 visit by Ambassador Jackie Wolcott and U.S.
nuclear experts, as well as the invitation for a January 2009
videoconference on "U.S. Nuclear Power Policies,
Technologies, and Civil Nuclear Cooperation Programs," the
United States Government is willing to explore prospects of
civil nuclear cooperation with the Government of Tunisia.
The civil nuclear sector stands out among others due to its
high level of complexity and its unique considerations for
safety, security, and nonproliferation. As a result,
cooperation in this sector involves many parties from
numerous areas of the United States Government. Coordination
is therefore a challenge.
For this reason, prior to any further engagement with the
Government of Tunisia, the United States requests the
establishment of working-level points of contact from the
Government of Tunisia, with whom experts in the U.S.
Department of State and officials at the U.S. Embassy in
Tunis can correspond. Based on many years of experience with
a large number of cooperative partners, the United States
Government believes a clear path of communication is required
prior to the commencement of cooperation in this sector.
Provided that working-level points of contact can be
established, the United States Government would be prepared
to assemble an expert delegation with representatives of the
Department of State, the Department of Energy (DOE), the
National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), and the
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for consultations before
April 2010. These meetings could be held in Tunis or
Washington, or the exchange could take place via
videoconference. A proposed agenda would include the
-- Welcome and introduction (State)
-- Status report on new nuclear power plants in the U.S. (NRC)
-- Introduction to U.S. reactor technologies (DOE, NRC)
-- General overview of the NRC reactor licensing process (NRC)
-- Brief overview of NRC cooperation programs (NRC)
-- Brief overview of DOE cooperation programs (DOE)
-- Brief overview of NNSA cooperation programs (NNSA)
The Embassy point of contact for these consultations will be
Economic Officer Isabel Rioja-Scott, tel 71-107-460. The
Embassy respectfully requests that the Ministry put Ms.
Rioja-Scott in touch with an appropriate counterpart in the
Government of Tunisia so that we can begin mapping out a
practical plan for bilateral cooperation on this issue.
The Embassy of the United States of America avails itself of
this occasion to renew to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and
the Ministry of Industry, Energy, and Small and Medium
Enterprises of the Republic of Tunisia the assurance of its
END DIPLOMATIC NOTE.
9. (U) Department thanks Post for its assistance in this
matter. Department point of contact for working-level civil
nuclear cooperation with Tunisia is Marc Humphrey (ISN/NESS,