Congress Appears in No Rush to Pass Additional Protocol Implementing Legislation

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THE IMPLEMENTING LEGISLATION for an additional protocol to the U.S. safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) remains tied up in a Senate committee, but Republicans and Democrats hope to see action taken on the bill before the July 4 recess.

Both, however, acknowledge that the process could take longer than expected.

"This is something that will take some time," Andy Fisher, spokesperson for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), told Arms Control Today. "Numerous committees in both houses have an interest in the legislation."

After failing to detect Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons program, the IAEA negotiated a new, more invasive inspection regime for countries who agree to participate. Codified in the 1997 model Additional Protocol to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), the tougher rules allow IAEA officials to conduct short-notice inspections and require participating states to provide more information to the IAEA about their nuclear material and nuclear weapons-related equipment.

The United States signed such an additional protocol in 1998. But in approving its version in March, the Senate, at the behest of the Bush administration, inserted broad exemptions to protect military as well as commercial nuclear secrets. (See ACT, April 2004.)

"I do not believe that the additional protocol will be a burden for the United States," said Lugar (R-Ind.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a March 31 statement.

Although other signatories to the treaty do not enjoy such exemptions, U.S. participation is seen as an important symbolic step in encouraging other countries, such as Iran, to sign an additional protocol.

A Vienna-based diplomat said that U.S. implementation of an additional protocol would set a good example for countries that have not yet done so. he said it also could help prevent other countries from developing nuclear weapons, citing Libya's nuclear program as something that could have been stopped by a protocol. …