Myanmar: Nukes? Can't afford 'em

Posted Jun 8, 2011 by Graeme McNaughton
The military junta in Myanmar is hoping to put concerns to rest that the country has a covert nuclear weapons program, saying that the country simply can't afford them. At least this is what officials told visiting US Senator John McCain.
View from Golden Hill Towers  Yangon Myanmar
View from Golden Hill Towers, Yangon Myanmar
Soe Lin
McCain was in the country formally known as Burma last week to assess the transition from the military junta to a nominated civilian government, as well as to discuss the country's suspected military ties to North Korea, from whom it is suspected Myanmar was developing the weapons with.
“The new government must abide by its international obligations to uphold United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding non-proliferation, and to cease any military cooperation with the government of North Korea, as required by international law,” said McCain on Friday at the conclusion of his three-day visit.
In response, Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo was quoted by state media to have told McCain "Myanmar (Burma) is in no position to take account of nuclear weapons and does not have enough economic strength to do so."
The International Atomic and Energy Agency was seeking permission in January to send inspectors to Myanmar. Myanmar is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and have concluded a safeguards agreement with the IAEA with a Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), which is designed for countries that have little or no nuclear material and no nuclear material in facilities.
A diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks last year showed that a potential Burmese nuclear weapons program and potential partnership with North Korea is on the American government's radar.
The cable, dated November 2009, quotes Larry Dinger, U.S. Charge d'Affaires in Yangon, that "something is certainly happening, whether that something includes 'nukes' is a very open question which remains a high priority for embassy reporting."
A series of other leaks show the relationship between North Korea and Myanmar has been monitored by the Americans from as far back as 2002.
In a cable dating from January 2004, a foreign businessman told the embassy of rumors that a nuclear reactor was being built near Mimbu, west of Nay Pyi Taw, the capital. In August of the same year, an informant reported that North Korean workers were assembling surface-to-air missiles and constructing an underground facility in the same area.