I recently wrote about the Obama administration's about-face on allowing Middle East countries to pursue nuclear fuel enrichment. Now, a distinguished group of conservative defense experts (including John R. Bolton, Eric S. Edelman, Jamie M. Fly, Stephen J. Hadley, John P. Hannah, Clifford D. May, Gary J. Schmitt and Henry D. Sokolski) have written to the president expressing their dismay. The letter reads, in part:
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.
A participant at the “Defending Defense” event hosted today by the Foreign Policy Initiative, American Enterprise Institute, and the Heritage Foundation tells me that Sen.Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) commented on the Obama administration’s abandonment of the nuclear nonproliferation “gold standard,” saying, “Iran, we all understand what’s going on there. And then here’s something interesting. At the very point in time that we should be emphasizing nonproliferation, and demanding conditions on countries that, quote, want to go nuclear, [conditions] that prevent them from developing weapons grade material, the administration is weakening the requirements — the former ‘gold standard’ that we had applied to countries in our nuclear cooperation agreements. In the agreements proposed with Jordan and Vietnam, we would not require those countries to relinquish their right to enrichment — something that, of course, we’re asking Iran to do, and that we had asked other countries to do.”
This is not only a sore point with conservatives. A great number of liberals have invested time and political capital on this issue. In fact Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) just coauthored a piece with John Bolton decrying Obama’s move. (“the Obama administration is now poised to send this ‘gold standard’ to the trash heap”). This should be an issue on which there can be bipartisan agreement and oversight in the House and Senate.
This is one of many moves by Obama that can only be characterized as the path of least resistance in an election year — drop the “gold standard” on nuclear fuel, gin up hope for talks with the mullahs, drastically cut defense spending, warn Israel not to strike Iran and pull out troops from Afghanistan. If you are trying to win the base this all makes sense; If you are trying to conduct a coherent national security that aims to maintain U.S. influence in the world, it is disastrous. One of the GOP presidential candidates might want to make note of this. Our enemies certainly are.