U.S. Must Hold Saudis to Gold Standard in Any Nuclear Cooperation Agreement; Congress Must Strengthen Oversight Role, Says Ros-Lehtinen

Mar 21, 2018

U.S. Must Hold Saudis to Gold Standard in Any Nuclear Cooperation Agreement; Congress Must Strengthen Oversight Role, Says Ros-Lehtinen

 

“That is why Brad and I, along with Judge Poe and Ranking Member Keating of our Nonproliferation subcommittee, introduced a bill today that would amend this process – the Nuclear Cooperation Reform Act. We want to amend the Atomic Energy Act – the underlying law that governs these 123 agreements and the approval procedures – so that Congress reasserts its proper oversight role.”

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement at a subcommittee hearing entitled, “Implications of a U.S.-Saudi Arabia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement on the Middle East.” Statement by Ros-Lehtinen (as prepared for delivery):

“Just last week, in an interview aired on CBS News, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia stated “but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we would follow suit as soon as possible.” This interview aired just days after Energy Secretary Rick Perry flew to London to discuss a 123 – or nuclear cooperation agreement – with senior Saudi officials. Saudi Arabia is planning to build two nuclear reactors along the Persian Gulf in the near future, with plans to expand to at least 16 reactors across the country.

But what should alarm all of us is Saudi Arabia’s insistence that it be allowed to have enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and statements about acquiring nuclear weapons. The Crown Prince’s interview just last week is reason enough to have the administration pump the breaks on the negotiations and insist that there will be no 123 agreement that includes enriching and reprocessing. Unfortunately, from the little we do know from the Administration, it is looking at this deal in terms of economics and commerce, and national security implications only register as a minor issue, if at all.

I am not completely opposed to Saudi Arabia having a peaceful nuclear program, but the idea of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program with the ability to enrich is a major national security concern. There are security risks to consider. As we all know, the Middle East region is constantly ensnared in conflict and instability or on the verge of conflict. We needn’t look further than on Saudi Arabia’s own borders, where the Kingdom is leading a coalition against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. The Houthis already targeted Riyadh’s airport in a missile attack, Hezbollah is amassing its presence in Yemen, and you can be sure that any nuclear infrastructure that goes up will be a target as well.

There are also proliferation risks to consider and the precedent we may set if we allow Saudi Arabia to enrich, as other countries in the region will want similar capabilities. When we negotiated the UAE 123 agreement, our partners in the UAE voluntarily agreed to renounce enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and technologies. This was a watershed agreement, and this has become what we now know as the Gold Standard. The previous Administration abandoned the pursuit of the Gold Standard for all nuclear cooperation agreements after the UAE deal and it appears the current Administration is following suit.

That is why, yesterday, I joined our colleague from California, Brad Sherman, in sending a letter to the Administration urging it to pursue nothing short of the Gold Standard in its negotiations with the Saudis. Without those assurances, we feel it would be necessary to oppose the agreement - there are too many concerns and there’s no justification for our friends in Saudi Arabia to have enrichment and reprocessing capabilities. Unfortunately, the way the current system is set up, it is rigged in favor of the Administration getting its 123 agreements approved no matter what.

When the Administration submits its agreement to Congress for our review period, we have hearings and we debate the merits of the agreement, but then the only way Congress can block the proposal is by passing a joint resolution of disapproval. Not only would Congress need a majority of votes for the disapproval, we would need a large enough majority in order to override a Presidential veto. That is not how this should work – these are agreements that have great national security implications. They all should have robust debate, they all should be thoroughly vetted, and then, if there is no Gold Standard, Congress should have to vote to approve the proposal and say in the affirmative, we agree with the President, this deal is a good deal.

That is why Brad and I, along with Judge Poe and Ranking Member Keating of our Nonproliferation subcommittee, introduced a bill today that would amend this process – the Nuclear Cooperation Reform Act. We want to amend the Atomic Energy Act – the underlying law that governs these 123 agreements and the approval procedures – so that Congress reasserts its proper oversight role. Our bill would force a vote of approval on any 123 agreement that falls short of the Gold Standard, and that is the way it should be. We should not allow these agreements to come into force passively and we should not cede our authority to oversee and approve these agreements to the Executive Branch. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”