On May 9, President George W. Bush transmitted to the Senate for its approval the “additional protocol” to the U.S.-International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear safeguards agreement. It is the first time since taking office that the administration has forwarded an arms control treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent.
In his message to the Senate, Bush urged “early and favorable consideration” of the agreement. He emphasized that “universal adoption” of the protocol is “a central goal” of his nuclear nonproliferation policy. The United States signed the protocol in 1998.
The IAEA drafted the protocol to strengthen its ability to detect covert nuclear weapons programs after it was unable to discover clandestine programs in Iraq and North Korea in the early 1990s. The protocol expands the IAEA’s legal authority beyond the original safeguards agreements the agency has with its member states. Those agreements, which aimed to allow the IAEA to verify that the products of civil nuclear programs were not being diverted to weapons programs, restrict the agency to inspecting and monitoring only declared nuclear sites.
Under the new protocol, the IAEA is allowed to conduct short- or no-notice inspections and employ new environmental-sampling and satellite-monitoring techniques at any suspect site. The protocol also requires states to provide the IAEA with additional information about aspects of their civilian nuclear programs, such as fuel-cycle activity and nuclear-related exports.
However, as one of the five states allowed to retain nuclear weapons under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States is not required to give the IAEA access to any facility it deems “of national security significance.” In effect, U.S. ratification of the protocol primarily serves to set a good example for those states that have yet to sign or ratify, according to a Senate staffer familiar with the agreement.
It is not clear when the Senate might take up the protocol since the White House has yet to submit a draft of the legislation detailing how it plans to implement the protocol. The staffer said it was possible that the Foreign Relations Committee would consider the protocol before the end of the year.
In March, China notified the IAEA that it had completed ratification of its protocol, becoming the only NPT nuclear-weapon state whose agreement has entered into force.