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Top US official to press Malaysia over nuclear controls

A top US official was expected to press Malaysia on Tuesday to impose tighter export controls after a company owned by the prime minister’s son was embroiled in the nuclear black market scandal. US Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation John Stern Wolf will meet Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar to “discuss strengthening cooperation on non-proliferation”, a US embassy spokesman said. The United States wants Malaysia to beef up its controls after the company admitted manufacturing centrifuge parts seized on a ship bound for Libya where they were allegedly to be used in its nuclear weapons programme.
The company, Scomi Precision Engineering (SCOPE) in which Prime Minister Abdulah Ahmad Badawi’s son Jamaluddin owns a controlling stake, said it had been misled about the purpose and destination of the parts and has been cleared by a Malaysian police investigation. Malaysia initially announced that a news conference would be held after the talks with the US official Tuesday morning, but later issued a statement cancelling the briefing without elaborating.
The nuclear issue is a sensitive one here as opposition parties are using the involvement of the prime minister’s son as a campaign topic ahead of elections expected within a month. Malaysia is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which governs the movement of materials such as uranium which can be used to make atomic bombs, but has not signed an additional protocol covering nuclear related parts. It is understood that the United States is pressing for the government to sign the protocol, but a report last week indicated that Malaysia would likely reject the call.
The director-general of the state-run Malaysian Institute for Nuclear Technology Research, Ahmad Sobri Hashim, said the country lacked the capacity to fulfill the obligations of the protocol. Ahmad Sobri said components such as centrifuge parts could have multiple uses and it was often difficult even for experts to tell if they were meant for nuclear weapons development. Prime Minister Abdullah last week brushed off suggestions in a Newsweek report that the United States might impose sanctions over the local company’s role.