The U.S. and a key Persian Gulf ally put into force Thursday a landmark agreement on nuclear cooperation that Washington sees as a model for limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.
The agreement, originally signed during the final days of the administration of President George W. Bush, commits the U.S. to supporting the development of a civilian nuclear power industry in the United Arab Emirates.
It creates a legal framework for the U.S. to transfer nuclear equipment, reactors and materiel for civil nuclear research to the emirates, a federation of seven semiautonomous sheikdoms that includes glitzy and now debt-saddled Dubai.
For its part, the emirates commit to not enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel for plutonium, which is used in nuclear bombs. It will buy fuel for its civilian nuclear reactors from abroad. The Obama administration reviewed the deal after taking office in January and submitted it to Congress in May.
The emirates' government approved the agreement in October, and on Thursday at the State Department, officials from both countries initialed and exchanged diplomatic notes to formally put the accord into force.
Ellen Tauscher, the undersecretary of state for arms control, called the deal _ in particular the emirates' commitment not to enrich uranium or reprocess spent nuclear fuel _ "a new bargain for the Middle East region."
At a signing ceremony, Tauscher applauded the emirates for its partnership in international efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, but it has refused international pressure to stop enriching uranium. It recently acknowledged a long-concealed uranium enrichment plant and announced that it has plans to build an additional 10 such plants.
The emirates have long-standing, close commercial and cultural ties with Iran.
Since late 2008, some members of Congress have claimed that the emirates have not done enough to stop transfers of militarily sensitive technology to Iran. On that basis, some members argued that there should be no nuclear cooperation agreement until the emirates' government has taken additional measures against such technology transfers.
According to a report in October by the Congressional Research Service, an arm of Congress, the U.S. government has stated publicly that some emirates-based entities are involved in Iranian weapons-related procurement activities. The report cited an October 2008 Justice Department fact sheet that states that eight companies, five of which are based in the emirates, were charged the previous month with crimes related to their participation in exporting dual-use items to Iran.