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Bush pushes Persian Gulf nuclear agreement

But critics say the US should go slowly on a deal that would help a crucial trading partner for Iran.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 23, 2008

Rich Clabaugh/STAFF



The Bush administration is quietly advancing a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), raising concerns in Congress and among nonproliferation experts about the deal's repercussions in a volatile region.

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The deal to provide the small but strategically located country with the means to generate electricity through nuclear technology could be signed by President Bush before he leaves office, thus making the accord – similar to the much higherprofile nuclear pact the administration reached with India – part of his legacy.

But that would leave the incoming Obama administration with the task of taking the agreement to Congress, where objections over the UAE's close trade relations with Iran – and over the Emirates' history of serving as a transshipment point for sensitive materials – are already rising.

A more recent wrinkle in the brewing controversy around the agreement is the revelation by the foundation of former president Bill Clinton that the ruling Zayed family of the UAE was one of about a dozen governments among the Clinton Foundation's hundreds of thousands of donors.

With Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton picked by President-elect Obama for secretary of State, some observers are citing the UAE agreement as an example of the kinds of conflicts Mrs. Clinton will face as she seeks to further national interests in a world where her husband has extensive personal and business relations.

"Some Republicans for sure will want to seize on anything they can to make life rough for the new secretary of State, and this is exactly the kind of connection involving the former president and his foreign ties that will not go unnoticed," says Michael Hudson, director of Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.

"It would be a complication," he adds, "But it also seems implausible that because Bill has got quite a lot of money from the Zayed family and others in the Gulf, that's going to alter judgments that will be made in the government on the grounds of national security and other interests."

Indeed, it is the potential for harming US national security that congressional critics are citing to oppose the accord. And they are ringing the alarm bells the loudest over the UAE's close trade relations with Iran – and evidence that technology and parts used against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan follow a path back to Iran that involves transshipment through the UAE.

"Any [nuclear cooperation] agreement between the United States and the UAE should not be submitted to Congress until, at a minimum, the UAE has addressed the critical issue of transshipments and diversion of sensitive technologies to Iran," says Rep. Brad Sherman (D) of Calif., who chairs the House foreign affairs subcommittee on terrorism, nonproliferation, and trade.

Citing evidence that American-made electronics equipment following this path has been used to make some of the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) targeting US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Sherman says the deal should not even be considered "until the UAE government has cracked down on Iranian procurement networks."