H.R.1280, to Amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to require congressional approval of agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation with foreign countries, and for other purposes

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s full committee mark-up of H.R.1280, to Amend the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 to require congressional approval of agreements for peaceful nuclear cooperation with foreign countries, and for other purposes.

Thank you Madam Chairman.

The nuclear nonproliferation regime needs to be strengthened to better address the enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of spent fuel, along with new technologies that can create fuel for peaceful nuclear reactors or fuel for nuclear weapons.

So far, efforts to limit the spread of these technologies have met with limited success. With Iran’s and North Korea’s development of these technologies – aided in large part by the A.Q. Khan network – they have become even more difficult to control.

That is why the example of the recent US-UAE nuclear cooperation agreement is so important. The UAE on its own decided to forswear enrichment and reprocessing.

When the U.S. asked the UAE if it would formalize these restrictions in a legally-binding commitment within the cooperation agreement, they readily agreed. And this applies not only to nuclear fuel and equipment provided by the United States, but fuel and equipment provided by any country.

A State Department spokesman subsequently called this the “Gold Standard” for nuclear cooperation agreements, and I agree.

Unfortunately, I understand that there is a split within the U.S. Government over whether the Gold Standard ought to apply globally to new cooperation agreements, or just be limited to those with countries in the Middle East. In my view, the latter course would be a mistake.

This continuing split over the Gold Standard is one reason we are considering this bill today. I urge the President to support a global application of the Gold Standard.

I also urge the Administration to use all its influence to convince the other nuclear supplier states to adopt the same nonproliferation and security conditions in their agreements that we observe in ours, especially when those same suppliers are seeking nuclear business in the United States.

I was pleased to cosponsor the Chairman’s bill, HR 1280, because I wanted to demonstrate that updating the nuclear cooperation provisions of the Atomic Energy Act, especially by including a no-enrichment and reprocessing requirement, has strong bipartisan support.

I also introduced my own bill, HR1320, which took a different approach to Congressional review of new agreements of cooperation.

My bill kept a “fast-track” route for agreements that meet existing nonproliferation conditions plus some new ones, including a no-enrichment-or-reprocessing requirement; such agreements would come into effect unless Congress enacted a joint resolution of disapproval within 90 days.

I’m pleased that the Chairman and I were able to work out an agreement in an amendment, whereby all new agreements would have to be approved by Congress, unless they incorporate a no-enrichment or reprocessing requirement.

If they do include this provision, then they could go into effect unless Congress enacts a joint resolution of disapproval.

This elevates the Gold Standard as the crucial nonproliferation criteria for Congressional review of new agreements, the gateway for the “fast-track”, disapproval-only path.

I have no doubt that Congressional approval of any agreement that does not have this provision would hinge in part on why a country refuses to undertake a no-enrichment-or-reprocessing commitment.

I also believe that it is desirable to incorporate some incentives for states to accept a no-enrichment-or-reprocessing provision.

As this bill progresses through the legislative process, we should consider what sort of incentives might be useful, such as loan guarantees for nuclear exports to those countries, which was in my bill, fuel-leasing, or other incentives.

As we move this legislation to the Floor, it would be useful to have the Administration give us their views on the bill, the utility of the Gold Standard for our global nonproliferation efforts, and their efforts to persuade other countries, bilaterally and through the Nuclear Suppliers Group, to adopt comparable nonproliferation conditions in their civil nuclear commerce.

I’m also pleased the Chairman accepted some of the other provisions from my bill, including prohibitions on assistance to any country that withdraws from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and the creation of a new “State Sponsor of Proliferation” list, that mirrors in functions and scope the State Sponsor of Terrorism list.

I urge my colleagues to support the Amendment.