U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Brad Sherman Launch Bipartisan Effort to Reform Atomic Energy Act; Urge Administration to Pursue “Gold Standard” In Saudi Nuclear Negotiations
Washington, D.C. – Today Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, and Brad Sherman (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, were joined by Ted Poe (R-TX) and William Keating (D-MA), the respective Chairman and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade in introducing HR 5357, the Nuclear Cooperation Reform Act of 2018.
The bill seeks to ensure that U.S. partner countries in any civilian nuclear cooperation agreement (known as 123 agreements for the section of the Atomic Energy Act that govern such agreements) renounce the pursuit of enrichment and reprocessing technologies and capabilities. The bill will require a stronger Congressional approval process, including an affirmative vote, for U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements that fail to meet the so-called Gold Standard and will strengthen protections against nuclear proliferation.
“Nuclear cooperation agreements – especially in an unstable region like the Middle East – are very serious issues for U.S. national security and should always contain restrictions on the enrichment and reprocessing necessary for a nuclear weapon,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen. “Agreements without these restrictions must be fully and openly scrutinized and debated and then face an up or down vote of approval from Congress. For too long, the Executive Branch has been able to minimize Congress’ role in approving these agreements, and it is time for the Legislative Branch to reassert its proper oversight role.”
“Congress must ensure that U.S. national security interests are not trumped by political concerns,” said Rep. Sherman. “By requiring stronger conditions for Congressional approval of nuclear cooperation agreements, this bipartisan bill will enable Congress to raise the standards for these agreements, and add much-needed protections against nuclear proliferation.”
Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman also sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan urging the United States to “press for the inclusion of binding commitments against enrichment and reprocessing” in its negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a nuclear cooperation agreement.
Ros-Lehtinen and Sherman write, “Without such commitments and assurances, we feel it may be necessary to introduce a resolution of disapproval, and given the severity of the matter, we also feel it necessary to introduce a legislative fix to the Atomic Energy Act in order to assert Congressional oversight…”
BACKGROUND: The Atomic Energy Act of 1954 (AEA) governs U.S. nuclear cooperation agreements with other countries. Currently, these agreements are negotiated by the President and automatically go into effect after 90 days of continuous session unless Congress adopts a joint resolution of disapproval. The guaranteed presidential veto of such as resolution in effect requires a 2/3 majority in both Houses to stop these agreements, a barrier that greatly undermines Congressional input. The AEA also prescribes a number of nonproliferation standards that nuclear cooperation agreements must meet.