Domino: UAE Considering Exercise of “Right to Enrich” Uranium

The United States’ 2009 agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in which the UAE pledged not to enrich uranium is no longer binding, the UAE’s ambassador told the House Foreign Affairs Committee member Ed Royce (R-CA).  The congressman warned his committee in recent testimony that in a conversation with the ambassador, the ambassador told him that the Iran deal voided the bargain on the subject of enrichment.  In the 2009 agreement, the UAE had pledged in return for certain US technical assistance to avoid both uranium enrichment programs and spent fuel reprocessing.  Both of those methods can be used to produce the kind of material needed for nuclear weapons.  In the wake of the Iran deal’s concession to Iran of a “right to enrich,” which Secretary of State John F. Kerry had long asserted did not exist, the UAE may proceed with declaring itself to have a right to enrichment activities as well.

Royce told the AP in a later phone interview that the ambassador had said to him, “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.”

The State Department has refused to comment on the testimony, according to FOX News, which made inquiries after the AP report.

In an ironic twist, enriched uranium may come from Iran to the UAE under the terms of the Iran deal.  The irony of that is twofold.  First, the reason the UAE may consider enrichment is that it distrusts Iran, a long-time bad actor in the region and an expansionist advocate of a radical branch of Shi’a Islam.  The second irony is that the Iran deal was billed by the Obama administration as a counter-proliferation effort.  Though the Obama administration long knew that the deal would certainly provoke an arms race in the region, they believed they could contain that race to conventional weapons through extremely generous arms deals with regional Sunni powers as well as Israel.  The UAE’s comments prove that the ‘counter-proliferation’ deal not only establishes Iran as a threshold nuclear state that will certainly obtain nuclear weapons eventually, it will prove to have undermined existing counter-proliferation agreements as well.

The way in which Iran might end up providing enriched uranium to the UAE has two parts.  First, the Iranian government may not dilute its uranium to a low enrichment status as was suggested during negotiation of the deal.  Instead, Iran may sell its stockpile of highly enriched uranium to Russia.  At a time when Iran is fighting several wars on several fronts, this would give it another source of ready cash to invest in its operations.  Russia can expect to receive much of the money back in the form of weapons purchases, such as the S-300 advanced anti-aircraft missiles that it is planning to sell Iran in violation of international sanctions.  Iran is also likely to purchase additional weapons from China, with whom it has already inked a billion-dollar deal.  The extra money from the uranium sales could help to cover those expenses related to Iran’s expansionist ideas.

Russia, in turn, has just gotten a new client for enriched uranium:  the UAE.

Russia will be among the suppliers of enriched uranium needed for the UAE’s nuclear power plant, the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation confirmed.

The 15-year commercial contract between Rosatom and the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation could also result in further collaboration….

He said the UAE was a strong player on the international nuclear market. “We want to be strategic partners and a part of this very positively developed nuclear project, not just the construction of one power plant,” he said.

Russia is currently claiming that the uranium it will sell to the UAE will be produced in Korea, but of course that could change if a new source became readily available.  Curiously, the “15 year” timeline is the same one being talked about as governing the Iran deal.