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Bolstering “The Gold Standard” on 123 Agreements: Pressure on the Administration Mounts

Bolstering "The Gold Standard" on 123 Agreements: Pressure on the Administration Mounts


On the heels of the resumption of U.S.-Jordanian 123 talks, the pressure on the Obama Administration to maintain its commitment to the so-called Gold Standard is getting stronger. Indeed, the pressure is coming from across the political spectrum.

In a spate of OpEds and Commentaries over the last several weeks, everyone from stalwart nonpro booster Senator Richard Lugar and former State Department eminence gris John Bolton, to anti-nuke Congressman Ed Markey have espoused the virtues of holding the line on requiring all countries with whom the Administration seeks an agreement for nuclear cooperation to forgo enrichment and reprocessing (ENR). How, they ask, can President Obama speak so passionately about reducing nuclear arsenals and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons and then NOT require that non-nuclear weapons states forgo development of processes which facilitate the construction of nuclear weapons in other countries? Critics rightly point out that this is hypocrisy.  Even the “case-by’case” approach the Administration has articulated creates exceptions which would only serve to anger potential nuclear partners and, as Senator Lugar points out, unfairly isolate the UAE, which agreed to forgo ENR technologies in its agreement for cooperation.  Vietnam isn’t in the Middle East, reason the folks at Foggy Bottom, so they don’t have to forgo ENR technologies.  But, Jordan, which is in the ME, does.  To say this doesn’t pass the “blush test” is a masterpiece of understatement.  Let’s also fast-forward to the upcoming Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul.  How will President Obama defend this position to his 49 other colleagues next month?

Bolstering "The Gold Standard" on 123 Agreements: Pressure on the Administration Mounts

The crucible test, of course,will be what kind of U.S.-Vietnam 123 and/or Jordan agreement the Administration submits to Congress for the statutorily-required review. If neither agreement contains the no-ENR provision, will Congress have the backbone to refuse its consent?  Will Senator Kerry, who chairs the Committee of jurisdiction (and also has Hanoi’s ear), grant Senator Lugar’s request for a hearing to conduct oversight on the Administration’s policy on requiring no-enrichment/reprocessing commitments in new nuclear cooperation agreements?  Or will he wait until he has to pass judgment, as required of him by the Atomic Energy Act, and introduce the required resolution of approval or disapproval of a Vietnam agreement which may – critics could charge – allow the communist government in Hanoi to develop the same kind of enrichment facilities that Iran has?  It is clear where Senator Lugar, the Ranking member on that Committee, stands.  However, it will be critical for Congress, as a whole, to speak with one voice. Obviously, their recent record in this regard is less than stellar.  But, the politics of this issue are different than those surrounding, say, the ratification of New START.  Taking a stand to broadly enforce the Gold Standard has something for everyone, politically speaking.  So, the possibility of a united Congress speaking as one on the need to promulgate the Gold Standard with no exceptions, albeit for different reasons, could be more likely.


Bolstering "The Gold Standard" on 123 Agreements: Pressure on the Administration Mounts

Senator Lugar had hoped to convince Chairman Kerry to hold a hearing on the Administration’s “new” case-by-base policy regarding ENR technologies and 123 agreements.  However, the hearing has been postponed.  Those on both sides of the political spectrum are urging Senator Kerry to schedule and hold that hearing pronto.  It is only in doing so can Congress perform its oversight function and take the Administration to task for backpedaling on this key nonproliferation tenet.



Jodi Lieberman

Jodi Lieberman is a veteran of the arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety trenches, having worked at the Departments of State, Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has also served in an advisory capacity and as professional staff for several members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Jodi currently spends her time advocating for science issues and funding as the Senior Government Affairs Specialist at the American Physical Society. The views expressed in her posts are her views based on her professional experience but in way should be construed to represent those of her employer.