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New U.S.-U.A.E. Deal Raises Eyebrows Amid Concern Over Iran's Nuclear Program

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, south of Tehran, in April 2008.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, south of Tehran, in April 2008.
By Golnaz Esfandiari
The United States has signed an agreement to cooperate in developing a civilian nuclear energy program in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).

The deal -- signed in Washington on January 15 by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her U.A.E. counterpart, Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nayhan -- has been promoted by the Bush administration as a major foreign-policy accomplishment and an expression of Washington’s interest in cooperating with countries that are committed to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

But critics are concerned that the agreement, inked as President George W. Bush prepares to leave office, could lead to a nuclear-energy race in the Middle East amid growing concern over Iran’s nuclear activities.

The agreement must be approved by the incoming administration of Barack Obama before being sent to Congress. From there, Congress will have 90 days to act.

'Commerce Above Common Sense'

So far, Obama and his team have been silent about the deal, but others in the Democratic camp have been vocal in their opposition to it.

One is Ed Markey, a congressman from Massachusetts who has been a strong critic of nuclear energy. Markey has urged Obama to reject the deal and halt what he has termed "the Bush administration's policy of placing nuclear commerce above common sense." He further warned that, "In the Middle East, a nuclear-energy race could be as perilous as a nuclear-arms race."

In the Middle East, a nuclear-energy race could be as perilous as a nuclear arms race.
On the other side of the fence, Rice has called the nuclear agreement with the U.A.E. "a powerful and timely model for the region." She said the willingness of the U.A.E. to import, rather than produce, the fuel that would be used in its proposed nuclear reactors "almost" eliminates the proliferation risks.

Bruno Pellaud, a former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and president of the Swiss Nuclear Forum, believes the deal will allow a "smooth introduction" of nuclear power in the Middle East.

"The partners of the United States [allow] access to sensitive nuclear technology like enrichment and reprocessing, so [the agreement] is a good thing," Pellaud says. "However, it is not in line with the world's arrangements, which set the limits and the conditions for use of sensitive technology under the [Nuclear] Nonproliferation Treaty.

"So, therefore, it’s a matter of choice for a country to renounce [its right to] such technologies or not, but there is nothing in the context of the prevailing international order which forbids a country which is in good standing with the IAEA to engage in such technology," he said.

'Responsible Development'

The State Department has contrasted the agreement with Iran's nuclear program, saying the U.A.E.'s approach "has the potential to usher in an era of responsible nuclear-energy development throughout the Middle East."

Leaders of the United Arab Emirates have pledged to work closely with the IAEA on the country's planned nuclear activities, and have also agreed to provide complete access to nuclear sites.

The U.A.E. has also pledged to forego any domestic nuclear enrichment or reprocessing that could be diverted for military purposes.

Uranium enrichment is a key issue in the crisis over Iran's nuclear program. Despite three sets of UN sanctions, Tehran has refused to give up sensitive enrichment activities, raising concerns that they could be used for the development of nuclear weapons. Tehran says that under the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty., it has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

Washington accuses Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons and has introduced measures to pressure and isolate the Islamic republic in order to make it change course. Tehran denies the charges.

The United Arab Emirates is Iran’s major trading partner, and some U.S. lawmakers and nonproliferation experts have said that the United States should use the agreement with the U.A.E. to increase pressure on Iran.

Smuggling Concerns

There is also concern that the nuclear technology delivered to the U.A.E. could get to Iran. The country has reportedly been used in the past by nuclear smugglers, but Washington has argued that the U.A.E. has taken measures to prevent money laundering and implemented stricter export-control measures.

Despite this, a ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee has introduced legislation that would condition implementation of the agreement on the U.A.E. making more progress against nuclear smuggling, "The Washington Times" reported on January 16.

Iran has not reacted to the deal. But some observers believe Iranian officials are likely to criticize it as another example of what Tehran has in the past termed as U.S. double standards.

Reza Taghizadeh, a political analyst based in Glasgow, Scotland, believes the deal sends a strong message to Iran.

"The U.S. wants to send the message that they’re not against the development of peaceful nuclear energy by Persian Gulf countries, so Iran will face a situation where its neighboring countries will have the possibility to access nuclear energy and nuclear development will be facilitated for them," Taghizadeh says.

"But Iran, because of its insistence to develop nuclear fuel, will not only face problems in the development of electricity through its nuclear program, but will also face problems in economic cooperation with the free world and the countries in the region," he says.

The United States is reportedly working on nuclear pacts with a number of other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

Pellaud, for one, believes the risks of such deals are minimal.

"I think if it's properly done with proper transparency -- in particular in multinational regional arrangements, topping the verifications carried out by the IAEA -- I see no special risk of proliferation in the region," Pellaud says.
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Comments page of 2
by: Kiumars from: Tehran
January 16, 2009 19:18
Let me see, so Arabs pay any price that USA wants and get a black box that they don't even know what is in it or how it works and then they by the fuel for any price that USA wants to sell to them to run it? <br />Isn't it stupid? <br />Isn't it total dependency to the USA?<br />Isn't this what Iran is trying to avoid?<br />Honestly!

by: spOILweapon from: USA
January 17, 2009 06:12
For Israel:<br />TO BE or NOT TO BE? THAT IS THE QUESTION.<br /><br />MR. NO-BOMBER, or A NEW US O-BOMBER??<br /><br />Although he was such a vocal critic of Bush's War Policies, immediately after the election, Obama suddenly and curiously became so very silent on such important issues. Perhaps he has been tryinng to figure out what to do, or perhaps he already knows. At least we know that he decided to keep the highly criticized Bush Administration's Defense Secretary, Robert Gates. Maybe he knows what's going on and exactly what to do.<br /><br />Will Israel &amp; the US let Iran go NUCLEAR?

by: No need
January 17, 2009 06:57
That is another sign of playing with Asian countries by US and using them as a pressure on each other. I think whatever that they will do will not stop Iranian nuc. program so far all the countries that are today nuc. power despite 2-3 went through all this sanctions. That will not work. Now for US is better to sign agreement of non proliferation of nuc technology with Iran and establishing strong diplomatic relations.

by: Winston Smith
January 17, 2009 09:22
Yet another foolish move by the US to interfere and start another power play in the Middle East. Arabs &amp; Persians don't want Americans there. The American people don't want to be there. The West should stay out of their affairs...they will run out of oil someday and they can fend for themselves. Let them figure it out...sink or swim. Arabs/Persians only criticize any help the US provides anyway so just don't provide any and watch the great &quot;Caliphate&quot; squirm because it doesn't seem they can pull together to create any form of society or peace in their own world.

by: alpal from: florida
January 17, 2009 16:04
Another huge hoax by the Bush admin, on the american people. why is this story under the radar?

by: elo from: bangkok
January 17, 2009 19:52
I don't really understand this. Is the UAE in the NPT, does this deal violate IAEA rules or not? because, if the UAE follows the rules, they should be able to import enriched fuel for nuclear reactors legally, unlike India, which wants to do it without joining the NPT. what's missing here?

by: Pedram from: europe
January 18, 2009 13:18
it is clear, the UAE has promissed to be transparent, unlike Iran. I think there is no doubt that Iran if after bomb.

by: Socius from: Canada
January 20, 2009 05:49
EXACTLY Kiumars. What the United States has been planning for decades is a monopoly over Uranium resources which it can play with, the same as the arabs do with oil today.<br /><br />The second part of this which is HILLARIOUS is that the United States says: &quot;A country like Iran has so much Gas/Oil that it has no NEED for a Nuclear Plant. Building one clearly means they want to make Weapons.&quot;<br /><br />So then when the other gulf countries who have FAR MORE oil/gas per capita than Iran gets the United States to build a Nuclear Plant for them, what does that tell you about lies and hypocrisy?<br /><br />Furthermore, the Americans had SUGGESTED to Iran early in the 1960's or 70's to start building Nuclear Plants, and even built them their first reactor, because they said it would be very important for their future growth. And Iran's population since then has about there's an even bigger need for it.<br /><br />And so what if Iran gets nukes? Pakistan has them and it's run by a bunch of terrorists, and is in a constant state of War with India, yet you don't see them bombing eachother.

by: elo from: bangkok
January 20, 2009 11:44
Actually, Socius, Canada is one of the main exporters of uranium in the world. And then Australia. I'm sorry if this doesn't fit into your high-school view of the world in which America is the big bad guy.<br /><br />Also, the West (not just the US) has issues with the fact that Iran is enriching uranium far past the point that is needed to make nuclear energy. I don't think anyone has said they shouldn't have a nuclear power plant.

by: Socius from: Canada
January 20, 2009 18:37
As a Canadian, I'm very well aware of our Uranium resources. I'm also aware of the fact that the United States gets what it wants. NAFTA? I mean, seriously...Canada signed on to NAFTA with more restrictions than MEXICO. <br /><br />As for your comment about &quot;Iran enriching uranium far past the point that is needed to make nuclear energy.&quot; I'd like you to cite a source for that, as all I've seen from the IAEA and even from the American agencies, is that thus far there has been no activity which would suggest over-enrichment. They've kept enrichment at about 3%-5% while you need somewhere around 90%+ for weaponry. So I'm not sure where you get your information from. <br /><br />I guess I didn't think you could watch Fox News in bangkok.
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