President Reagan has announced a new policy aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and it is receiving a largely positive initial reaction at home and abroad.
In a statement issued by the White House on July 16, the President seemed to go a long way toward attempting to end speculation that he is neither greatly interested in nor well informed about the nuclear proliferation problem.
The guidelines announced by Mr. Reagan met many of the requirements of arms control advocates by stressing continued US support for international safeguards. But they also went far toward placating America's friends and allies -- several of whom were offended by the Carter administration's policies -- by stressing a need for allied cooperation in the nuclear field.
The President said that the United States will continue to supply nuclear fuel and technology to foreign nations for peaceful nuclear cooperation under adequate safeguards.
In what appeared to be the most significant departure from Carter administration policy, Reagan further said that the administration "will also not inhibit or set back nuclear reprocessing and breeder reactor development . . . in nations with advanced nuclear power programs where it does not constitute a proliferation risk."
Officials said that initial reaction from advanced nations such as France and Japan, which are dependent on nuclear energy programs, was particularly favorable to this provision. Officials of those nations had been briefed on the new guidelines in advance of the public announcement. The French and Japanese, among others, resented Carter administration attempts to discourage certain reprocessing programs.
But some developing nations are certain to see in the new guidelines discrimination against them and in favor of the industrially advanced nations.
The announcement of the new guidelines came in the wake of Israel's recent raid on an Iraqi nuclear reactor. That attack has focused new attention on programs aimed at halting the spread of nuclear weapons. The raid caused the US to delay the delivery of four American F-16 fighter- bombers to Israel.
But the State Department was expected to announced shortly that the F-16s would be delivered as a result of a new understanding reached with the Israelis on the future use of American weapons by Israel. Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has announed that it will pay for the rebuilding of the Iraqi nuclear reactor, which the Isralis claimed was to be used to produce nuclear weapons.
In briefing reporters on the new guidelines, administration officials denied that the Israeli raid has stimulated the administration's review of nonproliferation policy. But other officials indicated that the raid did add intensity to the administration's commitment to international safeguards.
In his statement, Reagan declared that one of the most critical, major challenge in international affairs was the need to prevent countries and called nonproliferation a "fundamental national security and foreign policy objective." He said that the urgency of the task was highlighted by the "ominous events in the Middle East" -- a clear reference to the Israeli raid.
Most of the nations represented at the forthcoming Ottawa summit meeting of the advanced industrialized nations have had reservations about the Carter administration's nonproliferation policy. Thus, the Reagan announcement was timely in terms of helping to create a better atmosphere at Ottawa. Officials denied, however that the announcement was timed with this directly in mind.
But the policy also contains much that establishes continuity with the past. Reagan reaffirmed American support, for example, for the treaty that prohibits the spread of nuclear weapons to Latin America. He stressed that the US will continue to inhibit the transfer of sensitive nuclear materials, equipment, and technology. And the stated that the US will continue to seek full international safeguards for all nuclear activities of nonnuclear- weapons states as a condition for any significant new commitment to supply them with nuclear fuel.
Reagan also pledged strong support for strengthening of the International Atomic Energy Agency in order to provide improved safeguards. Officials explained that the US wants to see more international inspectors at work -- with greater financial support and technical me ans of surveillance at their disposal.