The Obama administration will not adopt a policy of insisting that countries renounce uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing as a condition for concluding agreements for nuclear cooperation with the United States, two senior administration officials said in a Jan. 10 letter to Capitol Hill.
The letter, which indicates the results of a long-running internal policy review, has sparked criticism across the political spectrum.
Since at least the fall of 2010, there has been debate within the administration over whether the United States should press its potential nuclear partners to give up enrichment and reprocessing. (See ACT, October 2010.) The model for that approach is the May 2009 U.S. nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
That pact contains a UAE commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing; if the UAE broke that commitment, the United States would have grounds for terminating the agreement. The UAE had previously adopted a national policy renouncing enrichment and reprocessing in favor of reliance on international fuel supplies, but the agreement "transform[ed] the UAE policy into a legally binding obligation," according to President Barack Obama's message conveying the agreement to Congress. (See ACT, June 2009.)
In the statement, Obama said the pact "has the potential to serve as a model for other countries in the region that wish to pursue responsible nuclear energy development." A Department of State spokesman in 2010 referred to the UAE agreement as the "gold standard."
In the Jan. 10 letter, which first was reported by Global Security Newswire, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher say they will "pursue 123 agreement negotiations on the basis of a case-by-case review." Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act requires the United States to have a nuclear cooperation agreement with any country with which it conducts nuclear trade.
Referring to a January meeting with Vietnam about a potential 123 agreement, Poneman and Tauscher said U.S. negotiators would "lay out a spectrum of options for addressing enrichment and reprocessing."
In a Feb. 14 letter to Poneman and Tauscher, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sharply questioned this approach. "Given that it is unlikely that many countries will freely impose binding restrictions on themselves when given a choice, any request by the U.S. that they do so would be interpreted by all as little more than a pro forma exercise," she wrote.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, published an article on the Web site of The National Interest calling on Obama to reverse the policy. "If he does not, Congress must provide needed leadership," he said.
In a joint opinion piece in The Christian Science Monitor, John Bolton, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and as undersecretary of state for arms control and international security under …