On January 15, 2009, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed signed an Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the United Arab Emirates Concerning Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (a so-called ‘123 Agreement’ after the relevant section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act) in Washington.
This Agreement marks an important achievement for the United States and the UAE in establishing a foundation for the responsible development of peaceful nuclear energy under strong nonproliferation controls. This Agreement reflects the UAE’s commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing capabilities on its territory and provides for legal consequences if that commitment is not followed. It serves as a model for states in the region to emulate in developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes with the full confidence of the international community. This approach stands in direct contrast to Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear capability in a manner that is inconsistent with IAEA and UN Security Council resolutions.
Once the agreement enters into force, it will establish the necessary legal framework for the United States and the UAE to cooperate in the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes to assist the UAE in meeting its growing energy demand.
Nuclear Development in the Middle East
This Agreement is a tangible expression of the United States’ desire to cooperate with states in the Middle East, and elsewhere, that want to develop peaceful nuclear power in a manner consistent with the highest nonproliferation, safety and security standards. The agreement will not only establish a firm foundation for mutually beneficial cooperation in nuclear energy, but also has the potential to usher in an era of responsible civil nuclear energy development throughout the Middle East.
In March 2008, the United Arab Emirates published its policy for the development of nuclear energy in a report entitled, “Policy of the United Arab Emirates on the Evaluation and Potential Development of Peaceful Nuclear Energy.” In it, the UAE committed itself inter alia
to “pursuing the highest standards of nonproliferation” and “the highest standards of safety and security.”
In signing this Agreement, the UAE has demonstrated its commitment to develop civil nuclear energy in the responsible way, in full conformity with its nonproliferation commitments and obligations. Our cooperation with the UAE will also serve as a distinct counterpoint to countries that have chosen a different path.
The UAE’s expressed commitment not to pursue enrichment and reprocessing capabilities represents a marked contrast to Iran, which has failed to comply with its international obligations and seeks indigenous nuclear capabilities unnecessary for civil nuclear power, but critical for the development of nuclear weapons.
The UAE recognizes the value of international cooperation for establishing a nuclear power program as well as the need to develop domestic human resources. It has stated that it expects to hire a foreign consortium to construct, operate and partially own its first nuclear power plants while local expertise is developed.
U.S. industry is poised to assist with the development of a nuclear power program in the UAE, and the Agreement for Cooperation will facilitate its involvement. U.S. technology in this area is leading-edge, and the United States anticipates that the UAE will give it strong consideration as the UAE moves forward in implementing its plans.
A Strategic Partnership
- The United States and the UAE are entering into the Agreement with the understanding that it is the intention of the UAE to rely on existing international markets for nuclear fuel services as an alternative to the pursuit of uranium enrichment and nuclear fuel reprocessing on the territory of the UAE.
- In its March 2008 Policy Paper, the UAE committed itself to not to seek to develop domestic capabilities in the areas of enrichment and reprocessing, either as part of its evaluation of nuclear energy or as a component of a future nuclear energy program.
- The UAE has contributed $10 million to an International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear fuel bank in support of reliable fuel supply.
- The UAE acceded to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) on September 26, 1995 and its IAEA Safeguards Agreement entered into force on October 9, 2003. It has committed to concluding the Additional Protocol to its Safeguards Agreement in tandem with its evaluation of peaceful nuclear energy.
- The UAE ratified the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material on November 15, 2003 and has committed to concluding the 2005 Amendment strengthening the Convention in tandem with the aforementioned evaluation.
- It acceded to the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism on January 10, 2008.
- The UAE continues to work to implement UNSC 1540 – a resolution that, among other things, requires UN Member States to adopt and enforce laws prohibiting non-State actors from manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, transferring or using weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery, in particular for terrorist purposes.
- The UAE actively participates in the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and the Proliferation Security Initiative.
- The UAE participates in the Container Security Initiative and in DOE’s Megaports Initiative.
- The UAE is a key partner in the Global War on Terror and actively works to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.
- The UAE has stated it intends to implement export and import control rules for nuclear and nuclear-related equipment and technology in strict accordance with the Nuclear Suppliers Group Guidelines for nuclear transfers. This will enhance the UAE’s export control system and assist its government in preventing the UAE from being used as an illicit transshipment point for sensitive nuclear technologies.
- Under a 2007 Federal Law, the UAE has established a legal regime for commodities that are subject to import and export control procedures, including nuclear materials, technologies, and equipment.
Key Features of the Agreement
This Agreement includes all the requirements of Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act governing Agreements for Cooperation between the United States and non-nuclear-weapon states such as the UAE.
- The Agreement has a term of 30 years, and permits the transfer of material, equipment (including reactors), and components for nuclear research and nuclear power production, and generally facilitates the transfer of related technology.
- The Agreement does not provide for transfers of high enriched uranium or plutonium (except for small quantities for analytical or experimental use) or Restricted Data, and does not permit transfers of sensitive nuclear technology, sensitive nuclear facilities (such as facilities for enrichment or reprocessing), or major critical components of such facilities.
- In light of the importance to the United States of the UAE’s commitment not to engage in enrichment or reprocessing within its borders, activities contrary to that commitment will be grounds for the United States to terminate the Agreement.
- The Agreement provides advance, long-term approval by the United States to the UAE for the retransfer of spent nuclear fuel. The spent nuclear fuel subject to the Agreement may be retransferred to France and the United Kingdom, if consistent with their respective policies, laws and regulations, for storage or reprocessing subject to specified conditions. These conditions include that the UAE does not possess sensitive nuclear facilities within its territory and is not otherwise engaged in activities within its territory relating to enrichment of uranium, reprocessing of nuclear fuel, or fabrication of nuclear fuel containing plutonium.
- This U.S. approval does not include approval for the return to the UAE of plutonium or other special fissionable material recovered from the spent fuel by such reprocessing.
- The arrangement approving retransfers of spent fuel from the UAE to France and the United Kingdom assists with ensuring that spent fuel is not stored permanently in the Middle East.
This arrangement furthers the President’s policies on Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation as articulated in his address at the National Defense University in February 2004, in particular his statement that enrichment and reprocessing are not necessary for nations seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and his call for measures aimed at restricting enrichment and reprocessing transfers to states that do not already possess full-scale, functioning enrichment and reprocessing plants.