Brad Sherman’s Saudi Nuclear Amendment Included In Annual Defense Bill
The final text of the annual defense bill released on December 9, 2019 includes an important provision authored by Congressman Brad Sherman to prevent Saudi Arabia from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The Sherman Amendment requires countries that want to sign an agreement (called a 123 Agreement) to purchase U.S. nuclear technology to agree to the Additional Protocol. The Additional Protocol is the strongest international nuclear safeguards and has been signed by over 130 countries.
Given Saudi Arabia’s stated desire to potentially seek a nuclear weapon, the Sherman Amendment could be the most important nonproliferation legislation signed into law in recent memory. For the first time, the Additional Protocol will become an official part of the 123 Agreement process.
Saudi Arabia, which is negotiating a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with the Trump Administration, has thus far refused to sign the Additional Protocol. This refusal has raised further concerns that Saudi Arabia’s nuclear power program is actually designed to acquire nuclear weapons.
“A government that cannot be trusted with a bone saw shouldn’t be trusted with nuclear weapons,” said Congressman Sherman, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Nonproliferation, referencing the Saudi government’s murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. “This Amendment will help ensure that Saudi Arabia’s nuclear energy program will be under the strongest possible safeguards.”
Congressman Sherman has been leading efforts in Congress to prevent the Trump Administration from signing a 123 Agreement with Saudi Arabia that doesn’t include strong prohibitions and safeguards. Earlier this year, Sherman introduced the Saudi Nuclear Nonproliferation Act of 2019 with Rep. Ted Yoho, the Ranking Member of the Nonproliferation Subcommittee. This bill, which was introduced in the Senate by Senators Edward Markey and Marco Rubio, would require Congress to approve any 123 Agreement with Saudi Arabia.
The Sherman Amendment comes as the country mourns the loss of three U.S. sailors who were shot and killed by a Saudi Air Force officer at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has said that it is investigating the shooting as an act of terrorism. The gunman reportedly posted anti-American and anti-Israel tirades on his social media before carrying out the shooting.
“Even if President Trump trusts the Saudi Crown Prince, it’s clear that we cannot trust members of the Saudi military with the world’s most dangerous weapons,” said Congressman Sherman.
Nuclear experts and arms control groups praised the Sherman Amendment, including:
- Dr. Ed Lyman, a Senior Scientist and Acting Director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists: “Rep. Sherman’s critical, common-sense amendment will close a dangerous loophole in U.S. nonproliferation law. It will help deter prospective nuclear trading partners with the United States such as Saudi Arabia from misusing nuclear technology to develop clandestine nuclear weapons programs at undeclared sites.”
- Former Congressman John Tierney, the Executive Director of the Council for a Livable World: “The Council for a Livable World supports the NDAA language proposed by Representative Sherman and colleagues as it will significantly strengthen the United States' standard for nuclear cooperation with foreign partners and prevent the United States' complicity in proliferating nuclear technology. Congress' consideration of a nuclear deal would now be contingent on that state acquiescing to international best practices - signing an Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA - to ensure all fissile material is accounted for and not diverted for military purposes.”
- Caroline Dorminey, Policy Director at Women’s Action for New Directions: “This amendment will ensure that Congress has more opportunity to fulfill its duty to provide oversight and accountability in the 123 Agreement process. Women’s Action for New Directions supports the amendment’s commitment to upholding high standards in international negotiations.”
- Henry Sokolski, the Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Education Center: “The bad news is it took Saudi misbehavior to get this legislation; the good news is we finally have it.”
- Jeff Carter, the Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility: “Nuclear weapons proliferation is a health hazard and we must make every effort to reduce proliferation risks. Therefore, Physicians for Social Responsibility welcomes Representative Brad Sherman's provision in the Fiscal Year 2020 NDAA that seeks to limit future civilian nuclear cooperation agreements to countries that have signed and implemented an Additional Protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency.”