Bush Sends IAEA Legislation to Hill; Pentagon Objections Overcome

Christine Kucia

More than 18 months since submitting a bilateral agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the Senate for approval, the Bush administration has finally completed and delivered the implementing legislation to Congress. Pentagon officials have reportedly raised concerns about IAEA oversight of U.S. nuclear fuel cycle activities, which in turn delayed efforts to secure Senate approval to allow the Additional Protocol’s entry into force.

The Additional Protocol is designed to reinforce and improve the IAEA’s safeguards against the use of “peaceful” nuclear activities for illegal nuclear weapons purposes by non-nuclear-weapon states. U.S. agreement to sign its own version of the Additional Protocol has been a significant factor in securing international support for the enhanced safeguards system. To date, 78 countries have signed additional protocols with the IAEA on the basis of the 1997 Model Protocol.

The U.S. Additional Protocol, signed on June 12, 1998, would provide the IAEA with non-military information on U.S. research, development, enrichment, and reprocessing activities; locations and capacity of fissile material production sites; export and import of nuclear material; and uses of fissile material and waste products. The agreement allows the United States to invoke “managed access” for IAEA inspectors seeking to confirm the information provided by Washington and allows the United States to make “national security exclusions.” Kenneth Brill, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, informed Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei on April 30, 2002, that President George W. Bush would seek the Senate’s consent. Bush transmitted the agreement to the Senate on May 9, 2002.

Administration and congressional sources familiar with the issue said that the Pentagon had raised concerns over the extent of the protocol’s oversight provisions, particularly on-site verification of U.S. facilities housing nuclear weapons-related materials. As a result, the executive branch had difficulty reaching interagency agreement on the implementing legislation that would give the administration authority to inspect private facilities under the protocol.

Consequently, it is unlikely that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will schedule a hearing this year for the protocol. A congressional source frustrated with the protocol’s slow progress told Arms Control Today Nov. 19 that committee members “hope to move the resolution of ratification on the IAEA protocol early next year.”

The Bush administration has said the protocol is crucial to its global nonproliferation efforts. Bush indicated in the letter of transmittal that the protocol’s passage “is in the best interest of the United States.” He emphasized that U.S. leadership in enacting the Additional Protocol will enhance U.S. and global security and “greatly strengthen our ability to promote universal adoption of the Model Protocol, a central goal of my nonproliferation policy.”

The holdup in Senate action is coming at a particularly awkward time. U.S. officials have been pressuring Iran to sign and ratify an additional protocol as part of the U.S. effort to curb what it sees as Tehran’s nuclear-weapon ambitions. Iran’s agreement to strengthen its safeguards is the centerpiece of international efforts to slow down its advanced nuclear programs.