In a major development, even as two noted American experts asked the US administration to block the China-Pakistan nuclear deal, Washington indicated it would not come in the way if the agreement was in compliance with the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) rules.
"I don't know if this will come up during the secretary's meetings in China this week," State Department spokesman P J Crowley told reporters on Monday when asked if Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would take up the issue with her interlocutors in Beijing.
"We are talking to China more broadly about the implications of this deal. It has a lengthy history to it," he said when asked if the China-Pakistan deal would come up at the ongoing Strategic and Economic Dialogue with China in Beijing and the one with India in Washington next week.
"But we will seek to make sure that should this deal go forward, it is in compliance with the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group," Crowley added.
Crowley's comments came as Lisa Curtis and Nicholas Hamisevicz, South Asia experts at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, urged the Obama administration to block the China-Pakistan deal as India and Pakistan had vastly different proliferation records.
There are signs of the Obama administration softening its position towards the Chinese- Pakistani nuclear cooperation, they said, noting that the US officials have avoided pressing China against moving forward with a deal to supply two new nuclear reactors to Pakistan.
"The Obama administration's policy contrasts with that of the previous Bush administration, which actively discouraged additional Chinese assistance to Pakistan's nuclear programme," Curtis and Hamisevicz added.
"Given the widespread proliferation that resulted from the Pakistan-based A. Q. Khan network, as well as continued concerns about the existence of terrorist networks in Pakistan that seek access to nuclear weapons technology- a nod from Washington to further Chinese-Pakistani nuclear cooperation is short-sighted," they said.
The argument that the China-Pakistan nuclear reactor deal should be seen in the same light as the US-India civil nuclear deal "discounts the vastly different proliferation records of Pakistan and India, the different oversight requirements generally imposed by the US compared to China, and the prevalence of Pakistan-based terrorist groups seeking nuclear weapons technology," they claimed.
A decision to allow the China-Pakistan nuclear deal to advance unhindered would be a high-stakes diplomatic gamble taken by the Obama administration, the two experts argued. "Beijing would likely pocket US acquiescence while continuing only the most grudging cooperation on America's highest international priorities," they said.
"At the same time, Pakistan's increased access to civilian nuclear technology without sufficient legal context and safeguards poses a potential proliferation threat and danger to nuclear safety and security on the Subcontinent," added the duo.