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Nuclear Watchdog Inks South America Deals, U.S. Congress Should Scrutinize Closely

United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials inked various agreements with the governments of Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia this week.  These agreements aim to increase cooperation and assistance for the development of civilian nuclear power programs in these countries.  Mohamed El Baradei, the IAEA Director General, was in Latin America for these meetings that also included a stop in state sponsor of terrorism Cuba.

There is nothing seemingly nefarious about these visits; there are large uranium and, potentially, thorium reserves throughout the Andean region.  All three leaders of the South American countries have publicly stated they want to pursue civilian nuclear programs.  As for the Cuba visit, the IAEA is making sure that the Cuban Communist Party keeps its agreement not to restart its nuclear program (because if the IAEA fails to do so, it could lose millions of U.S. taxpayer monies in annual funding).

The only South American countries with functional civilian nuclear programs are Brazil and Argentina.   If Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia were democracies that respected the rule of law, there would likely be no issue with these countries implementing similar programs.  However, not only are these Andean countries democracies in name only, but its leaders are close allies of state sponsor of terror Iran.

Are these Andean countries assisting Iran with its nuclear program?  Are they granting thorium or urianisum mining concenssions to the Iranians?  Will the Iranians share nuclear technical data in exhange for assistance from these Andean nations? 

Why should any of this matter? For starters, the leaders of the South American nations, Cuba, and Iran, share one thing in common: hatred of the United States and our way of life.  These fellow travelers have found common ground and since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have worked closely to build cultural, political, and economic relationships to bolster a robust Western Hemisphere network.  Will this relationship lead to advance nuclear cooperation?

Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez will visit Tehran, Iran next week.  In anticipation of the visit Manouchehr Mottaki,  Iran’s Foreign Minister, was also in Caracas at about the same time of the IAEA visit.   According to a news account by Agence Presse, “[s]ome important issues were examined, including the progress of joint projects, especially as concerns industrial cooperation and technology transfers,” a diplomatic source told AFP.

It is highly unlikely that IAEA officials discussed Iran with South American officials during their recent trip to the region.   To this end, like it did in the Cuba matter, the U.S. Congress should seriously consider conditioning annual taxpayer contributions to the IAEA by adding Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela to the list of trouble areas if evidence surfaces that these countries are cooperating with Iran in the nuclear arena.

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