Via Elaine Grossman, the Obama administration on January 11 sent a letter to Congress informing Members that it plans to pursue a case-by-case approach to civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries.
In other words, it appears that the administration does not plan to require that future agreements require recipients of U.S. nuclear assistance to forswear the ability to make their own nuclear fuel via the pursuit of enrichment and/or reprocessing capabilities (or adhere to the additional protocol?), as the United Arab Emirates did in its 2009 agreement with the U.S.
The administration has resumed negotiating nuclear trade deals with Jordan and Vietnam, which slowed in 2011 due to the Arab Spring, the Fukushima disaster, and an interagency policy review to determine U.S. policy on nuclear cooperation agreements. My sense is that Jordan is likely to agree to something functionally equivalent to the UAE deal, though we’ll have to wait and see for final confirmation.
We’ll have more to say about the policy as more details become known and/or new cooperation agreements are reached, but as we’ve suggested to the administration before, we think they can do better than the policy on which they seem to have settled. Meanwhile Republicans and Democrats in the House are calling for stronger oversight powers over new agreements that do not contain the highest nonproliferation standards, no small feat given the current political environment.
One more thing. The administration letter to Congress argues that we need to negotiate deals “that open doors to U.S. industry,” meaning that agreements with tough nonproliferation conditions could hurt the U.S. nuclear industry.
It also notes that France and Russia are very aggressive in pursuing nuclear business worldwide, and offer terms that do not include stringent nonproliferation conditions.
Yet I fail to see how getting in a race to the bottom with France and Russia for nuclear business in Jordan, Vietnam, or worse, Saudi Arabia, would necessarily benefit the U.S. nuclear industry, to say nothing about U.S. nonproliferation goals.
The U.S. has seen its comparative advantage in the trade of materials, reactors, etc. diminish to the point where it can no longer compete with countries such as France and Russia. Tougher nonproliferation conditions wouldn’t be, to borrow a phrase from NBA Jam, the nail in the coffin because there are already so many nails in the coffin!