Atoms for What?

Someone should also follow-up on the GAO Report that clearly states that it could not complete its findings on the UAE’s export control program because UAE officials refused to grant the necessary access to conduct the study.

Simon Henderson at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy published yesterday, “Atoms for What?  The U.S.-U.A.E. Nuclear Accord.”  Hederson states, among other things, that “the pace of forgiveness of the UAE’s past indiscretions is remarkable” in the field of non-proliferation and discusses a little reported item related to new U.S. sanctions stemming from old associations of the A.Q. Khan network.

There are approximately twenty countries that have signed some form of nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S. that allow for some for of civilian transfer of nuclear technology to a foreign country. 

There four such arrangements with countries in the Western Hemisphere including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Canada.  In the Middle East, Egypt is a signatory.   Each Agreement is unique and crafted on a case-by-case basis with regional and global considerations.  There may be valid arguments to proceed with the U.S./U.A.E. Agreement, but do the benefits substantially outweigh the risks?

At this juncture, this nuclear cooperation does not appear to be going the way of the 2006 Dubai Ports controversy.  Yet the ramifications of such an agreement are much more compelling for the U.S.   One of the most important considerations is the precedent that this Agreement could establish for future nuclear cooperation efforts.

As Henderson clearly states in his piece, “current concerns include not only the language of the [U.S./U.A.E.] agreement, but also the effectiveness of UAE export controls, which even its officials admit are a work in progress. Although the closeness of current U.S.-UAE relations is laudable, there is a sense that the UAE could do much more, particularly in terms of pressure on Iran.”

He also adds, “this agreement affords the United States little commercial incentive. French companies are reported to be the likely beneficiaries of the first nuclear power orders.” 

As penned here last week, “no matter the number of UAE assurances that it will be able to control the access to U.S. nuclear technology and know-how, unless there is another government in Tehran with a different mindset of how it views the world and its place in it, the danger will always exist that sensitive U.S. nuclear technology and know-how could find its way into the Iranian nuclear apparatus.  The latter is untenable.”  A 2007 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on export controls in the UAE is not reassuring.

If U.S. companies are not going to get a majority of the contracts and serious doubts remain about the efficacy of the UAE’s export control regime, then why should the U.S. rush this Agreement?  Iran will not stop its pursuit to become a nuclear power just because the U.S. pens a nuclear cooperation deal with the U.S.  Quite the opposite. 

The Obama Administration and the U.S. Congress should take a much closer look at his arrangement.  It could present an opportunity to reform U.S. export control laws including granting the National Nuclear Security Administration more resources and authorities to do its job well.   Someone should also follow-up on the GAO Report that clearly states that it could not complete its findings on the UAE’s export control program because UAE officials refused to grant the necessary access to conduct the study.

Read Henderson’s piece, here.

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