Lawmakers Eye Fixes to Law on Nuclear Pacts
Key members of Congress from both parties last month expressed support for revising
At a Sept. 24 House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Chairman Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the ranking member, talked about changes they planned to make or were considering. Ros-Lehtinen said she intended to introduce legislation, although she did not indicate when.
In an interview later that day, a congressional source who is following the issue closely said that “different people [in Congress] are working on different things.” The drafting process is still in the “nascent stages,” and there is no expectation that legislation will move this year, he said. He said he has not heard “any real objections” from congressional offices about pursuing the change. At the same time, no one involved “is under any illusions” that the job will be easy, as the administration is certain to object to any legislation that it sees as restricting its latitude to negotiate with other countries, he said.
A main focus of the hearing was how to use
The new 123 agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been characterized as a model for
The agreement was originally negotiated by the Bush administration, which signed it just before leaving office in January 2009. (See ACT, March 2009.) After some lawmakers questioned whether the UAE pledge was legally binding, the Obama administration negotiated a new version of the agreement, signing it and submitting it to Congress in May 2009.
Like the Bush administration, the Obama administration hailed the pact as a model for future agreements, particularly in the
However, the administration apparently has had difficulty replicating the provisions of the UAE agreement in pacts with other countries.
Negotiations on a 123 agreement with Jordan—another cooperation agreement for which negotiations have spanned the Bush and Obama administrations—reportedly have been held up by Jordanian objections to UAE-style provisions on enrichment and reprocessing. The administration apparently is not insisting on such a provision in discussions with
In an Aug. 5 press briefing, Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley declined to say directly whether a
At a July 27 nuclear industry conference, a
In his comments at the meeting, the official declined to say whether the
Reuters reported Sept. 28 that
A provision in the U.S.-UAE agreement says that the terms of that pact “shall be no less favorable in scope and effect than those which may be accorded, from time to time, to any other non-nuclear-weapon State in the
In Sept. 7 remarks at the
Asked if the administration had criteria that varied from one region to another for determining when it should press for such restraint, he said, “I think the critical factor is going to be that we’re going to try to make sure that the guiding principle throughout is a reliance on market methods.” He was referring to an effort supported by Obama, President George W. Bush, and others to set up an international mechanism that would ensure countries would have reliable access to nuclear fuel at a reasonable cost so that the countries have less incentive to pursue indigenous enrichment programs.
Two sources who follow the issue closely said last month that the administration is reviewing its policy on nuclear cooperation agreements. They suggested that the resulting uncertainty over the policy may account for some of the variations in recent administration descriptions of it.
At the Sept. 24 hearing, Berman asked what leverage the
To address that point, Henry Sokolski of the
In his opening statement at the hearing, Berman said the
Near the end of the hearing, he said, “The Vietnam story is not over yet.”
Ros-Lehtinen said one element of the bill she is drafting is a requirement that “our potential partners permanently forego the manufacture of nuclear fuel.”
She said “the most urgently needed change” in
Ros-Lehtinen cited the pending U.S.-Russian 123 agreement as an example of the need for that revision. She blasted “the inability of the previous and current administrations to certify that the Russian government, businesses, and individuals were no longer assisting Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and that the Russian government was fully cooperating with the U.S. in our efforts to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.” (See ACT, June 2010.)
She called the pact a “political payoff to the Russians, pure and simple” and said it “cannot be defended on its merits.”
Thomas Graham Jr., a former
The Obama administration submitted the Russian agreement to Congress in May. When Congress adjourned at the end of September, the agreement still needed another 15 days to reach the required 90-day threshold, according to a congressional source. The length of Congress’ postelection sessions will determine whether it meets that mark or if the administration will have to resubmit the agreement, starting a new congressional clock, after the new Congress takes office in January.
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