The implementing legislation for an additional protocol to the U.S. safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains tied up in a Senate committee, but Republicans and Democrats hope to see action taken on the bill before the July 4 recess.
Both, however, acknowledge that the process could take longer than expected.
“This is something that will take some time,” Andy Fisher, spokesperson for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), told Arms Control Today. “Numerous committees in both houses have an interest in the legislation.”
After failing to detect Iraq’s pre-1991 nuclear weapons program, the IAEA negotiated a new, more invasive inspection regime for countries who agree to participate. Codified in the 1997 model Additional Protocol to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the tougher rules allow IAEA officials to conduct short-notice inspections and require participating states to provide more information to the IAEA about their nuclear material and nuclear weapons-related equipment.
The United States signed such an additional protocol in 1998. But in approving its version in March, the Senate, at the behest of the Bush administration, inserted broad exemptions to protect military as well as commercial nuclear secrets. (See ACT, April 2004.)
“I do not believe that the additional protocol will be a burden for the United States,” said Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a March 31 statement.
Although other signatories to the treaty do not enjoy such exemptions, U.S. participation is seen as an important symbolic step in encouraging other countries, such as Iran, to sign an additional protocol.
A Vienna-based diplomat said that U.S. implementation of an additional protocol would set a good example for countries that have not yet done so. He said it also could help prevent other countries from developing nuclear weapons, citing Libya’s nuclear program as something that could have been stopped by a protocol.
The implementing bill was referred to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December. Although the Senate unanimously endorsed an additional protocol itself on March 31, no vote has been scheduled in that chamber for the implementing legislation, which, unlike a treaty, must be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Implementing legislation describes the nuts-and-bolts process of how the treaty will work under U.S. law and is needed before it can be enforced domestically. The Senate also insisted that such implementing legislation be in place less than six months after the United States chooses to deposit its instrument of ratification to the agreement—the final step needed to become international law. The Bush administration has not yet carried out that step.
Fisher declined to suggest a timeline for Senate action, but staffers from each party predicted the measure will go to the floor in late June or early July.
One staffer said jurisdictional issues are mainly to blame for delays. The implementing legislation was initially referred to the Foreign Relations panel, but many of its provisions, like the ones concerning the issuing of warrants under U.S. law, pertain to issues that are usually handled by the Judiciary Committee.
Implementing legislation has yet to be introduced in the House.
A Democratic congressional staff member suggested that companion legislation would not be introduced in the House until after the Senate approves its version. He suggested, moreover, that the legislation would pass quickly once introduced in the House because, he said, the White House is eager to put additional diplomatic pressure on Iran.