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Iran, Nuclear Amendments Added to Defense Authorization Bill

By Patrick Disney, NIAC

Washington, DC - On Wednesday, amid lengthy debate over the Defense Authorization Act of 2009, Senator Norm Coleman (R-MN) offered an amendment to prevent the United States from entering into an agreement for civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia.  The so-called 123 Agreement had been signed by President Bush and the Russian Foreign Ministry in May of this year, but requires Congressional approval to go into effect.  After the outrage over Russia's conduct in its recent conflict with Georgia made it nearly impossible Congress would approve of the deal, President Bush withdrew the offer last week. 

Now if Senator Coleman's amendment passes, the United States will be strictly prohibited from entering into a 123 Agreement with Russia until the President certifies that 1) Russia has suspended all nuclear assistance and arms transfers to Iran; and 2) all Russian forces have been withdrawn from Georgian territory.  The deal would greatly improve US-Russian cooperation and trade on nuclear energy-related projects, but critics have argued that the United States should not reward Russia at a time when Russia has refused to put heavier pressure on Iran for its nuclear program.  The recent conflict in Georgia only compounded the growing frustration in Congress over Russia's seemingly hostile attitude toward world opinion of late.

The Fiscal Year 2009 Defense Authorization Act is one of the few pieces of legislation expected to pass before Congress adjourns at the end of September, and most lawmakers view it as an opportunity to attach less popular bills as amendments because it is seen as a "must-pass" bill.  Part of the overall appropriations process, it is intended to set maximum spending limits on defense appropriations. 

The White House has objected to a number of provisions in the Defense Authorization Act, even threatening to veto it over key provisions regarding security contractors in Iraq and controversial interrogation techniques.  It is unclear at this point whether Sen. Coleman's amendment will be approved by the Senate. 

Other amendments proposed for the bill include another round of Iran sanctions proposed by Senators Dodd (D-CT) and Shelby (R-AL).  Originally titled the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, their amendment seeks to expand the scope of current sanctions and codify existing US export bans on goods sent to Iran.

... Payvand News - 09/13/08 ... --

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