By Azer Parrocha
MANILA – The Philippines and the United States (US) are set to begin talks on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement that will provide a “legal basis” for US exports of nuclear equipment and material to the Philippines.
In a press call monitored via Zoom late Sunday, a senior US administration official said the deal will be among the initiatives launched during US Vice President Kamala Harris’ three-day visit to the Philippines.
“The Vice President will announce that our countries are initiating negotiations on a ‘123 agreement’, an agreement that will allow for civil nuclear cooperation,” the official said following Harris’ arrival in the Philippines on Sunday night.
The “123 agreement” aims to support expanded cooperation on zero-emission energy and nonproliferation priorities.
“Once in force, this agreement will allow US companies to export nuclear equipment, creating significant new commercial opportunities for our private sector, and of course, this will also help the Philippines develop its energy security and transition to clean energy,” he said.
The US official explained that the agreement will help the US ensure that civil nuclear cooperation is protected against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
“It’s the basis of our National Security Act that requires such an arrangement to be in place with the country before we can proceed with the civil cooperation, so it’s quite important that we’re beginning that process with the Philippines,” the official said.
The US is committed to working with the Philippines “to increase energy security and deploying advanced nuclear reactor technology as quickly as safety and security conditions permit to meet the Philippines’ dire baseload power needs.”
“Such a deployment would support both energy security and climate goals, as well support workers and businesses in both countries,” the fact sheet from the Harris’ office read.
It said the two nations will also establish an Energy Policy Dialogue, a high-level platform to develop new forms of energy cooperation, including short and long-term energy planning, offshore wind development, and grid stability and power transmission.
Last March, the Philippines and US signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) seeking to enhance nuclear cooperation between the two countries.
According to the US State Department, the MOU Concerning Strategic Civil Nuclear Cooperation will improve the two nations’ engagements on energy security and strengthen their diplomatic and economic relationship.
More funding for EDCA
Meanwhile, the senior US administration official said the US may provide “more funding” for the construction of facilities under Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sites in the Philippines.
To date, the US has allocated over USD82 million to EDCA implementation at all five existing locations.
“The USD82 million refers to the amount the United States has allocated towards the implementation of the existing agreement and I think I noted that more funding is on the way,” he said.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines last week announced that the US has expressed interest to build five more facilities in the country under the military deal.
According to the US official, the US and Philippines are still in the process of finalizing where the locations for military facilities will be.
“I don’t think you should expect specific announcements on those locations because that process is still underway. What we’re saying is that we are engaged with the Philippines about expanding the program and we’ve identified some locations and when we finalize that we’ll announce exactly where they’ll be,” he said.
Harris’ travel to the Philippines will spur cooperation on a range of issues including climate action, energy and food security, the digital economy, health and maritime cooperation.
On Monday, she will hold two bilateral meetings with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte to discuss ongoing efforts to strengthen security alliance and economic relationship between the two countries.
She will be flying to Palawan on Tuesday as part of the US government’s commitment to stand with its ally in upholding the rules-based international maritime order in the South China Sea.
Harris will also meet civil society activists to underscore her commitment to human rights and rule of law in the Philippines and around the world. (PNA)