WASHINGTON, Oct 16, (Agencies): Amid fears of an atomic arms race in the Middle East, a senior United Arab Emirates official has told a top US lawmaker that it too might seek the right to enrich uranium that Iran has asserted under the recently signed nuclear deal. The landmark Iran accord to curb its nuclear weapons in exchange for economic sanctions relief allows Tehran to enrich uranium.
In barely noticed testimony last month, Rep Ed Royce, R-California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the UAE’s ambassador in Washington, Yousef al-Otaiba, had informed him in a telephone call that the country no longer felt bound by its previous nuclear agreement with the United States. “He told me, ‘Your worst enemy has achieved this right to enrich. It’s a right to enrich now that your friends are going to want, too, and we won’t be the only country,’” Royce said in a phone interview with The Associated Press this week, elaborating on his testimony.
In a 2009 pact with the UAE, the United States agreed to share materials, technology and equipment for producing nuclear energy. In the accord — known as a 123 Agreement — the UAE made a bold pledge not to enrich uranium or reprocess spent fuel to extract plutonium, two pathways to an atomic weapon.
Asked to respond, the UAE Embassy in Washington sent a one-sentence email that said the “government has not formally changed its views or perspective on the 123 Agreement or commitments.” The UAE has said in the past that it welcomes the nuclear deal reached with Iran. However, Royce said al-Otaiba told him that the UAE “no longer felt bound” by those provisions of the agreement. While he said al-Otaiba did not explicitly state that his country was walking away from them, Royce said, “I took that to mean that they had the right to do that and that it was under consideration.” The State Department declined requests for comment. Royce and other opponents of the Iran nuclear deal have repeatedly warned that the accord will unleash a cascade of proliferation in the unstable Middle East or set off an arms race in a hotbed for terrorists. Proponents say it will make the region safer by preventing Tehran from having the means to produce bomb material for more than a decade or longer.
At a House subcommittee hearing on Sept 10, Rep Michael Turner, R-Ohio, quizzed Frank Klotz, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, about whether the UAE had contacted the US about wanting to forego the part of the 123 Agreement that restricts it from enriching uranium. Klotz said he had no knowledge of it. A week earlier, Rep Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep Devin Nunes, R-California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, pressed the Obama administration for details on whether any nation had asked to renegotiate or alter obligations in 123 Agreements signed with the United States after the Iran deal.