We’re here this morning to begin to assess the proposed agreement between the United States and Russian governments to expand civil nuclear cooperation. One key factor we’ll take into account during this process is the extent to which Russia is cooperating with the United States, the European Union and others to discourage Iran’s development of a nuclear weapons capability.
One of the greatest potential threats to the security of the United States and its allies is an Iranian Bomb. We’ve all heard the crude threats that President Ahmadinejad makes against Israel, which he repeated as recently as last week. But Israel’s not the only state feeling the heat from Tehran’s radioactive rhetoric.
Other states in the Middle East are now, suddenly, interested in developing their own nuclear energy programs, emulating Iran. I don’t believe this is a pure coincidence. As we know all too well, allegedly peaceful nuclear power programs can be used as a cover for the clandestine development of nuclear weapons.
Not only would a nuclear-armed Tehran have the ability to intimidate other states in ways that could cripple U.S. national interests in the region and beyond – it would also effectively end the global nonproliferation regime.
Unfortunately, we currently face a situation in which Iran is enriching uranium faster than sanctions are being applied to stop it.
To date, the multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the United Nations are woefully inadequate. They have failed to change Tehran’s calculation that the benefits of a nuclear weapons capability outweigh the costs.
In other words, our current policy at this particular point -- and I hope it changes, but at this particular point -- is not working.
Russia’s role in persuading and pressuring Iran to cease its dangerous nuclear activities is absolutely crucial. Yet in the past, Moscow has often been the main stumbling block to tougher sanctions.
While Russia recently has been more supportive, its commitment to effective international action remains in question. Just two weeks ago, Russian Prime Minister Putin publicly declared that there is no evidence that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability; he said this the very same week that the International Atomic Energy Agency seemed to be moving toward the opposite conclusion.
It is in this context that the Bush Administration has signed a new agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation with Moscow, something that has long been promised and upon which Russia places a high value.
The Foreign Affairs Committee formally received the proposed nuclear cooperation agreement on May 13th. For the record, we are now on Day 19 of the statutory Congressional review period of 90 continuous days of session.
The agreement will enter into force if, during this 90-day period, Congress does not enact a joint resolution of disapproval or approves a resolution of approval with conditions over the President’s veto. This Committee has statutory responsibility to review the proposed agreement and report to the House on whether it should be approved or disapproved. This hearing is an initial step in that process.
There has already been a significant amount of commentary on the benefits and drawbacks of this agreement. Its proponents argue that it may encourage Russia to be more forthcoming on tougher sanctions on Iran; critics counter that Russia will do so only if we hold the agreement back as a point of leverage.
Proponents claim this agreement will allow the U.S. and Russia to work together to create a nuclear fuel bank and multilateral fuel assurances to reduce incentives for countries, like Iran, to develop their own uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing plants, that can make fuel for reactors or bombs. Critics respond that these things can be done now without this agreement.
Advocates claim that this agreement will allow greater cooperation with Russia to develop proliferation-resistant reprocessing methods to extract useful uranium and plutonium from spent reactor fuel with minimal risk of diversion to military ends. Opponents charge that any reprocessing is dangerous, and efforts to expand reprocessing globally will inevitably encourage other states to start their own reprocessing efforts. To the extent that the Russia cooperation agreement assists this effort, opponents charge, it actually works against nonproliferation efforts to reduce the amount of plutonium available for nuclear weapons.
We’re going hear from several distinguished witnesses, whom I will introduce individually, and the Committee is asking all of you to address all aspects of this agreement, including its relative value for promoting greater cooperation in U.S. nuclear nonproliferation goals and policies.
And we are particularly interested in the degree to which Russia is cooperating with U.S. nonproliferation and sanctions policy toward Iran. As you know, for years there have been reports and rumors of Russian entities conducting WMD-related business in Iran. We want to hear whether, to your knowledge, this cooperation has ceased -- and what assurances, if any, Moscow has given our government.
Further, I want our witnesses to tell us whether this proposed agreement advances or undermines U.S. efforts to pressure Iran to halt its uranium enrichment and other activities that could support a nuclear weapons program. Does the United States have more leverage over Russian polices and behavior toward Iran by bringing this proposed agreement into force now? Or could we gain leverage by delaying its implementation, or by insisting on Presidential certifications regarding Russian behavior before it can be implemented?
Today’s hearing is meant to address these and other questions. But in our limited time, let me offer up the single most important issue of all, with respect to nuclear cooperation with Russia: In light of the potential threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iran, has Moscow been a good enough partner in helping us bring Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons to a halt -- and if not, shouldn’t we make this goal the highest priority in our relations with Russia from this point on?