Wednesday, June 27, 2007

H.R. 1400 Passes House Foreign Affairs Committee

On June 26, the House Foreign Affairs Committee passed H.R. 1400 by a vote of 37-1. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) was the lone voice voting against the measure in committee, but Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) remained silent on the measure. Below are some of my thoughts about H.R. 1400 (and S. 970, the Senate companion bill).

A section in the bill essentially threatens Russia to end nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran or the US will not enter into any 123 Agreement with Russia, which it has long sought from the US. It has actually been the long-standing policy of both the Clinton and Bush administrations to withold the 123 Agreement as a bargaining chip to gain leverage with Russia regarding the issue of Iran.

A Section 123 Agreement is the necessary agreement for the US to enter into nuclear cooperation with another country, as stipulated originally in the US Atomic Energy Act. It provides and outlines the "terms, conditions, duration, nature, scope, and other requirements of proposed agreements for cooperation; Presidential exemptions; negotiations; Nuclear Proliferation Assessment Statement."

In July, 2006, Bush and Putin announced they were open to negotiations on an agreement that would permit full nuclear cooperation between the two countries. Russia has long sought a 123 Agreement with the US.

We need Russia’s support within the UN Security Council to maintain and increase international pressure on Iran, which is more meaningful and will have better results than US unilateral sanctions and pressure alone. If in fact this section of H.R. 1400/S. 970 becomes law, Russia could feel threatened and would not have any incentive to continue to help foster support for ramping up pressure in the Security Council. In addition, Russia could renege on its agreement to accept Iranian nuclear waste from Buhsher, but rather let the waste stay in Iran, a move that would provide more fissionable material for the Iranian nuclear program.

I also want to point out that Russian missile/air defenses supplied or to be supplied to Iran would not threaten U.S. security. This provision is a direct result of a perceived Israeli security threat.

H.R. 1400 & S. 970 are unlikely to come to a vote on the House or Senate floor before Fall, possibly even before October, simply because of everything facing Congress. S. 970 has been stalled in the Senate and H.R. 1400 still must go through Financial Services and Ways and Means. Leg. Affairs at State Department also does not approve of H.R. 1400 as is, though we could see it amended to administration liking as we did with the Iran Sanctions Act (Iran Freedom and Support Act) in the wee hours of the morning on the last day of the Senate session before October recess last year.

Meanwhile, another bill, H.R. 957 (expanding and clarifying sanctions from aforementioned bill) is moving rapidly and we could see a vote on it this summer.

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