- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 11, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Tomorrow morning, the House Foreign Affairs Committee holds a hearing on a U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation agreement signed last month in Moscow. The State Department has been touting the accord as a means to win Russian support for peaceful nuclear cooperation with the international community. But absent a verifiable halt to Russian support for Iran’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, the deal should be killed.

Washington and Moscow have long disagreed on whether Iran should receive atomic assistance. Presidents Clinton and George H.W. Bush declined to negotiate an agreement to permit civil nuclear cooperation with Russia until Moscow ended all nuclear and missile aid to Tehran. During the current President Bush’s first term, Washington strongly opposed Russian assistance for Iran’s light-water reactor at Bushehr. The Department of Energy estimated that the reactor could produce enough plutonium to build between 50 and 60 nuclear weapons. Washington withheld funding for Russian work on the international space station because of Moscow’s support for Tehran’s efforts to develop nuclear-capable missiles.

However, during Mr. Bush’s second term, the administration has softened its approach to Bushehr and purported “peaceful” nuclear cooperation involving Moscow and Tehran. In a joint declaration signed by Mr. Bush and then-Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 6, the two leaders described Moscow’s completion and fueling of Bushehr as a “welcome step” that would undercut Tehran’s argument in favor of enriching uranium. The administration also persuaded Congress to lift the ban on U.S. payments for the space station.

But the agreement will likely face considerable bipartisan opposition on Capitol Hill. Last September, the House voted 397-16 in favor of H.R. 1400, which would block any U.S.-Russian nuclear agreement until the president certifies that advanced Russian-Iranian nuclear and missile cooperation have ended. The Senate version of the bill (H.R. 970) has 71 cosponsors. Congressional skepticism is well warranted. In a March 2007 letter to the State Department, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence concluded: “We assess that individual Russian entities continue to provide assistance to Iran’s ballistic missile programs. We judge that Russian-entity assistance, along with assistance from entities in China and North Korea, has helped Iran move toward self-sufficiency in the production of ballistic missiles.” While this has taken place, Moscow has angrily protested U.S. and NATO-backed efforts to build a limited ballistic missile defense system in part to protect the United States and Europe from Iranian missiles.

The most positive development is that Democrats and Republicans are asking tough questions about the U.S.-Russia accord. Democratic Rep. Edward Markey is expected to testify against it at tomorrow’s hearing. Ranking committee member Illeana Ros-Lehtinen and 13 of her Republican colleagues sent a letter urging the administration to withdraw the agreement. Unless it can demonstrate that Russia has ended military collaboration with Iran, the administration has no business going forward with this deal.

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