US nuclear accord with a Persian Gulf state raises concerns about proliferation
Backers say the agreement with the United Arab Emirates is a model for other countries in the region. But critics worry about the UAE's ties with Iran.
(Page 2 of 2)
Still others have seized on a 2004 videotape of a member of the Emirates' ruling family torturing an Afghan man – an incident that is only now reaching the courts – to claim that neither the UAE's legal system nor the rule of law there can be entrusted with the delicate issue of safeguarding a nuclear energy program.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
"A country where the laws can be flouted by the rich and powerful is not a country that can safeguard sensitive US nuclear technology," says Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Mass., who had asked the Obama administration not to sign the accord and submit it to Congress.
Despite those objections, the accord seems almost certain to take effect at some point after the 90-day review period, congressional aides say, in part because the Obama administration has addressed some concerns with improvements to the text.
Under new wording, the US would be authorized to take back materials and equipment if the UAE did eventually resort to uranium enrichment or reprocessing, and the UAE has committed to abiding by so-called "additional protocols" of inspection and surveillance with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Those changes have answered some concerns about the accord but not others, proliferation experts say.
"Some of the most offensive passages were fixed [by the Obama administration] but there is still a lot of room for improvement," says Henry Sokolski, whose watchdog group, the Nuclear Proliferation Education Center, has opposed the UAE accord from the outset. The UAE process has demonstrated that congressional oversight provides much-needed scrutiny and should be enhanced, he says.
"The lesson here is that the more they [in the executive branch] listen to Congress, the better these agreements get," Mr. Sokolski says, adding that he would like to see legislation governing the nuclear agreement process changed so that Congress would actually have to vote an accord up or down, and not just have a 90-day review period where decisive opposition is unlikely.
As for the UAE accord, Sokolski says it particularly falls short considering that it is likely to serve as the "model" for "the harder cases" in the region: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Libya, and other countries the US has suggested it is ready to work with on civilian nuclear power.
Ploughshares' Mr. Cirincione says the US has elevated the UAE as a "good state" that is worthy of access to nuclear know-how, but he says the UAE can't be "awarded" in a vacuum. "You've got to look beyond the present conditions and at the regional problems and motivations."
And the top motivation for Arab states to pursue nuclear programs is the rise of Iran as a regional power, he says, not a sudden interest in addressing global warming with an energy source that doesn't emit greenhouse gases.
"What got these countries scrambling for nuclear technology was the summer of 2006, the war in Lebanon and Iran's support for Hizbullah in that conflict. It was not a sudden spike in viewings over there of "An Inconvenient Truth," says Cirincione, referring to Al Gore's video on global warming.