FPI's Edelman and Fly sign NPEC letter urging the President to uphold the "Gold Standard" for civilian nuclear agreements

February 14, 2012

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear President Obama,

We write to urge you to uphold the so-called nonproliferation "Gold Standard" in all future U.S. civil nuclear cooperative agreements with countries that lack nuclear weapons. This new standard—which was created by the U.S. civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) that President Bush began and that you finalized—requires non-nuclear-weapons states not only to forgo uranium enrichment, spent-fuel reprocessing, and other nuclear fuel-making activities, but also to open themselves up to intrusive international inspections.

The nonproliferation Gold Standard enjoys strong bipartisan support because it creates a powerful model for constructive nuclear behavior throughout the world—one that isolates Iran’s dangerous efforts to acquire nuclear weapons capability in violation of its international obligations. News reports, however, suggest that your Administration has decided to abandon this standard in favor of a "case-by-case review". We believe that dropping this standard is a prescription for nuclear proliferation mischief that will only embolden Iran and other potential nuclear weapons-seeking states.

The "case-by-case" approach risks displeasing our friend, the United Arab Emirates. The Emirates was asked to meet the nonproliferation Gold Standard and obliged. The U.A.E. agreement, however, stipulated that if the United States negotiates more generous terms with any other Middle Eastern state, then the Emirates has a right to demand similar treatment. If your Administration takes the "case-by-case" approach in negotiating future civil nuclear cooperation agreements with Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other countries, then this will only ensure the undoing of the new standard entirely. Undermining our good relations with the Emirates would only add insult to this injury.

More important, if the United States is willing to allow Vietnam, Jordan, or South Korea to make nuclear fuel—a process that brings nations to the very brink of acquiring nuclear weapons—how will the United States and its supporters be able to persuade other states, including Iran, to forgo such dangerous nuclear activities? The question answers itself.

The counterargument made by officials in the State and Energy Departments is that the United States must be in the nuclear export business to have any hope of controlling it, and that tightening nonproliferation conditions on U.S. nuclear exports will only reduce America’s sales opportunities. This line of argument, however, is misguided and poorly informed. Certainly, after the Fukushima nuclear disasters in Japan, demand for nuclear power has declined, especially for reactors from U.S. vendors, all of whom require the prospective recipient to forswear ever suing them in the case of a nuclear accident. As such, new significant exports of controlled U.S. nuclear goods are unlikely.

Instead, the United States itself is an important market for foreign nuclear fuel-making and reactor vendors. Rather than abandon efforts to tighten nonproliferation controls on civil nuclear exports, the United States should be leveraging access to our market to encourage French, Russian, and Asian nuclear suppliers to tighten their own rules to meet the nonproliferation Gold Standard.

We stand ready to support you in making such an effort. We certainly believe the current course that you have reportedly set is the wrong one.


John R. Bolton Stephen J. Hadley Kori Schake

Jack David John P. Hannah Gary J. Schmitt

Paula A. DeSutter Robert G. Joseph Henry D. Sokolski

Eric S. Edelman Clifford D. May William H. Tobey

Jamie M. Fly Gary Milhollin Mark D. Wallace

Christopher A. Ford Samantha Ravich R. James Woolsey

Victor Gilinsky Henry S. Rowen Dov S. Zakheim

- Download a copy of this letter in PDF format

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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