Myanmar Says Halted Nuclear Research Program: Verification Critical

by David Albright and Andrea Stricker

June 3, 2011

In an important reversal, Myanmar’s vice president, Thiha Thura U Tin Aung Myint Oo, told a visiting U.S. delegation led by Senator John McCain on June 2 that the country “has halted [its nuclear research] programme as [the] international community may misunderstand Myanmar over the issue.” The vice president said, “Myanmar made arrangements for nuclear research with the assistance of Russia in order that Myanmar will not lag behind other countries in that field and to improve its education and health sectors…,” he continued, “Myanmar is [in] no position to take account of nuclear weapons and does not have enough economic strength to do so.” This statement was followed by the announcement that Myanmar has halted its nuclear research due to the high potential for international confusion.

Concerns about the true nuclear intentions of the secretive Myanmar regime have increased over the past two years due to claims by military defectors to the media and opposition groups about sites and projects involved in covert nuclear research. The U.S. government has long been concerned about rumors of secret nuclear development. Myanmar has also received scrutiny for suspicious procurements with possible nuclear applications from Europe, unusual personnel linkages between an ostensibly non-atomic agency and the country’s atomic energy agency involved in the suspicious procurements, and rumors about military nuclear cooperation and possible illicit missile trade with North Korea. Regarding North Korea, the vice president said, “Myanmar deals with all global family members, and North Korea, a global family member…nevertheless, after the [United Nations] released provisions of resolutions 1718 and 1874, Myanmar has been abiding by the provisions as it is a UN member.”

Myanmar should take this opportunity to improve its transparency and increase international confidence in its pledge to close down its nuclear research program and enforce UN Security Council resolutions on North Korea. Myanmar should answer questions the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has posed about some of its activities. It should invite the UN Panel of Experts tasked with investigating North Korea’s compliance with UN Security Council resolutions forbidding nuclear related trade and nuclear cooperation with other countries, and answer any questions about transfers between North Korea to Myanmar or organized by North Korea. These actions would be significant steps toward verifying the vice president’s statements and closing the case on international concerns about Myanmar’s nuclear activities.

Read ISIS assessments about Burma’s nuclear activities here.

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