THE Burmese government has said it will open the country to comprehensive international inspection in an effort to demonstrate it does not have a covert nuclear program.
The regime said it would sign an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency that would, if implemented, be a key breakthrough in Burma's relations with the rest of the world, and could help dispel suspicions that it is pursuing a clandestine program with North Korea aimed at building nuclear weapons.
Burma has yet to approach the IAEA formally about the proposal, and hitherto had not been very forthcoming in response to the agency's inquiries about alleged covert work.
The IAEA's voluntary additional protocol, which the Burmese government says it will sign, would give the agency's inspectors wide discretion to visit sites of their choosing at short notice, whether the state has declared them to be nuclear-related or not, in order ''to assure the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities''.
The Institute for Science and International Security, an independent counter-proliferation watchdog, called this week's Burmese announcement ''a remarkable decision''.
''This latest move by Burma is extremely positive for its ongoing push for openness about the nuclear issue and for building confidence and transparency with the international community,'' David Albright and Andrea Stricker wrote on the institute's website.
The announcement, timed to coincide with the landmark visit to Burma this week of the US President, Barack Obama, is part of a concerted effort by the President, Thein Sein, to break out of international isolation.
But US sceptics argue Burma should not be rewarded until it has implemented the deal. ''The concern of the international community will not pause until full disclosure of the North Korea-Burma relationship is achieved,'' Senator Richard Lugar said.
Two years ago, a report by a former IAEA inspector, Robert Kelley, commissioned by an opposition group, said there was evidence Burma was carrying out a covert program. It referred to a secret document from the country's ''nuclear battalion'', telling a factory to build a ''bomb reactor''.
Much of the information came from a Burmese defector, Sai Thein Win, who smuggled out photographs of the alleged program when he left the country in 2010. The IAEA was said to be intrigued, if not convinced, by the report, and asked to visit sites it mentioned. But the Burmese government did not co-operate.
Guardian News & Media