Congressmen fear US-Russia deal will help Iran

Agreement on civilian nuclear power provokes swift criticism from lawmakers, but it remains unclear whether opponents have sufficient votes to block it.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, WASHINGTON
June 12, 2008 23:28
2 minute read.
Congressmen fear US-Russia deal will help Iran

Howard Berman 224.88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Members of Congress criticized the Bush administration's nuclear pending cooperation deal with Russia on Thursday, in part out of concern that it could hurt efforts to prevent Iran from getting nuclear arms. Representatives on both sides of the aisle assailed Russia for not doing more to isolate Teheran and worried that the new pact might strengthen Iran's nuclear program. Although announcement of the US-Russian agreement on civilian nuclear power last month provoked swift criticism from lawmakers, it remains unclear whether opponents have sufficient votes to block it. It would give the United States access to state-of-the-art Russian nuclear technology and would help Russia establish an international nuclear fuel storage facility. The congressman used a hearing convened by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-California) to question John Rood, acting under secretary of state for arms control and international security, on whether he believed Iran was attempting to build nuclear weapons. Rood said he had "deep, deep suspicions" about Iran's intentions with its nuclear program, and "strong concerns" about its nuclear, missile and terrorist activities. "We think they pose a major, perhaps the preeminent, security challenge to the United States in the 21st century," he said. Rood argued, however, that the deal would help address the threat posed by Iran. "With regard to Russian assistance to Iran, we have gained greater cooperation from Russia as a result of this agreement," he said. Some supporters see the deal as key to easing tensions between the US and Russia. The agreement would give the US access to state-of-the-art Russian nuclear technology and would help Russia establish an international nuclear fuel storage facility, which America would like to take advantage of. Rood testified that the deal was in accord with all of the legal nonproliferation controls and could produce energy benefits by increasing nuclear energy production and could help develop tools for preventing nuclear terrorism. But several members of Congress indicated they believed Russia was not doing enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and questioned whether in some cases it was supporting proliferation. They also voiced concerns about whether nuclear technology and fuel transferred under the agreement couldn't end up in Iranian hands. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), the committee's ranking member, described the deal as "certain to be regarded around the world as a major political victory by the Russian government" and questioned why the US would want to reward it. "The president should not have submitted this agreement until Russia halted all cooperation with Iran's nuclear sector, including its obstruction of tough UN Security Council resolutions' sanctions, and also stop selling to Teheran advanced conventional weapons, including missiles," she declared. David Scott (D-Georgia) also lambasted the agreement. The widespread Congressional criticism was a sign of the growing discomfort with the leadership of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as well as frays in the US-Russia relationship. But it was also a sign of the focus on Iran in the context of nuclear issues and the prominence the issue has in Congress. Though Congress would normally need to pass veto-proof resolutions blocking the deal within a 90-day window to keep it from going forward, because of a technical glitch in the timing of when the agreement was submitted, the legislative session might run out before the 90 days has expired, resetting the clock on the window and complicating the administration's efforts to seal the deal. AP contributed to this report.


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