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America’s Nuclear Export Controls are Fundamentally Flawed

Washington must identify countries or regions that ought to not receive significant nuclear goods or technology, starting with the Middle East.

Congressional battles over U.S. nuclear exports revolve around terms in civil cooperation agreements intended to protect against their diversion to military uses. The latest example is the whether the proposed agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia should include a bar to uranium enrichment. It definitely should, but is this enough to keep the kingdom from making bombs?

The question applies not only to the kingdom. The civil cooperation agreements with importers are the legal basis of American trade in nuclear technology. The fundamental requirement, the sine qua non, is that such exports be subject to periodic inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). There are generally additional conditions concerning the disposition of produced plutonium and production of enriched uranium. Such agreements make sense among countries with a history of observing their international commitments.

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