The Obama administration on Thursday submitted to Congress a nuclear trade accord with Vietnam after a reported Tuesday signing ceremony. The pact could potentially proceed into force later this year.
The 30-year bilateral agreement — under which the United States could share nuclear materials, technologies and information with the Southeast Asian nation — could be implemented if lawmakers do not act to block it within 90 days of continuous legislative session.
Congressional sources said the document was signed earlier this week. Hanoi’s official news agency released a photo showing a Tuesday signing ceremony between Minister of Science and Technology Nguyen Quan and U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam David Shear.
Typically such nuclear trade pacts between Washington and other capitals around the globe go forward with few U.S. lawmakers even taking notice.
This first-ever nuclear accord tying the United States to Vietnam could be different, though.
Some powerful members of the House and Senate have raised concerns about rewarding Hanoi when it has a spotty human rights record. Numerous nonproliferation experts and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle also have criticized the U.S.-Vietnam pact for lacking binding provisions aimed at preventing Vietnam from undertaking sensitive nuclear fuel-making activities that could contribute to building nuclear weapons.
At a late-January hearing, for example, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) demanded to know why Washington accepted a political side note with Vietnam indicating that Hanoi would not enrich uranium or reprocess plutonium domestically, rather than insert that “important statement into a binding part of the agreement.”
“I’d like to have an answer to that,” said the chairman, backed by a number of panel Republicans and Democrats.
Menendez said he might allow the Vietnam pact to proceed, but only if it is accompanied by “a parallel resolution on human rights as part of our comprehensive partnership understanding.”
U.S. nuclear lobbyists — supported by some lawmakers and nonproliferation advocates — say that Washington would retain more positive influence with nations developing their own atomic-power capabilities if it helps facilitate their work.
“If you look at the Vietnam of 15 years ago and you look at Vietnam today, it’s a dramatically changed nation,” Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said at the Jan. 30 committee hearing. “This agreement is another step in what has evolved into a partnership between the United States and Vietnam.”
The Obama administration has deliberated internally over its nuclear trade and nonproliferation policy for years, leading to some dramatic splits between senior Energy and State department officials, among others.
Last year, the White House concluded it would take what officials call a “flexible” policy toward negotiations on atomic cooperation pacts, demanding only in selected cases that global partners promise not to produce their own nuclear fuel in exchange for Washington’s nuclear blessing.
What We're Following See More »
First, it was Sean Spicer. Then Reince Priebus. Now, presidential adviser Steve Bannon, perhaps the administration's biggest lightning rod for criticism, is out. “White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Steve Bannon have mutually agreed today would be Steve’s last day,” the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said in a statement. “We are grateful for his service and wish him the best.” That's not to say the parting of ways isn't controversial. Bannon says he submitted his resignation on Aug. 7, but earlier today, "the president had told senior aides that he had decided to remove Mr. Bannon."
"The Trump administration has ended Operation Choke Point, the anti-fraud initiative started under the Obama administration that many Republicans argued was used to target gun retailers and other businesses that Democrats found objectionable. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told GOP representatives in a Wednesday letter that the long-running program had ended, bringing a conclusion to a chapter in the Obama years that long provoked and angered conservatives who saw Choke Point as an extra-legal crackdown on politically disfavored groups."
"Liberal groups are raising questions about a speaking appearance Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch plans to make next month at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. Gorsuch is scheduled to headline a luncheon celebrating the 50th anniversary of conservative group The Fund for American Studies on September 28, days before the next SCOTUS term begins October 2. Steve Slattery, a spokesman for The Fund for American Studies, said Gorsuch had nothing to do with venue choice, which was made long before the group asked Gorsuch to speak."
"The Trump administration has lost a handful of individuals serving in top cybersecurity roles across the federal government in recent weeks, even as it has struggled to fill high-ranking IT positions. The developments present hurdles for the new administration and speak to the longstanding challenge the federal government faces in competing with the private sector for top tech talent." Among those resigning is Richard Staropoli, "a former U.S. Secret Service agent who served as chief information officer (CIO) of the Department of Homeland Security for just three months," and Dave DeVries, the CIO at OPM. Separately, the White House announced today that President Trump has directed that United States Cyber Command be elevated to the status of a Unified Combatant Command focused on cyberspace operations.