WASHINGTON // As American concerns rise over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the UAE yesterday was once again held up as a model for countries seeking to develop nuclear energy. In a Senate foreign relations committee hearing, high-level state department officials and an outside nuclear expert praised the UAE for agreeing to rigorous international inspections and a strict ban on enrichment and reprocessing technology. Such transparency, they said, was a welcome contrast to Iran, which just two weeks ago revealed a secret nuclear site near Qom.
"They want to do it right; they have seen the example of Iran," Janet Sanderson, the deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, said of the UAE Government. "They are offering the international community an alternative example of how to move forward on peaceful nuclear power." Vann Van Diepen, the acting assistant secretary for international security and non-proliferation, called the proposed US-UAE nuclear sharing accord a "significant non-proliferation achievement" and put it in "marked contrast" to Iran.
The hearing to discuss the so-called "123 agreement", which has been strongly backed by the Obama administration, was the first held by the Senate and is taking place just a few weeks before the pact is expected to come into force. A similar hearing was held in the House of Representatives in July. Like their House counterparts, senators largely endorsed the agreement, though concerns about the UAE's proximity and trade relationship with Iran also figured in the hearing.
Russ Feingold, a Democrat, voiced his "strong concerns" that a US policy of promoting nuclear technology in the Middle East would spark a regional arms race. However, James Risch, a Republican, cautioned against comparing the UAE's nascent civilian programme to Iran's secretive one, which the United States believes is aimed at developing weapons. He said: "You are talking about the difference between night and day."