U.S. nuclear aid may be going to countries like Iran and Syria

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 Updated:

The State Department is refusing to block United Nations nuclear technology aid to countries that are on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism because it does not want to set back other countries in the program.

The United States provides $20 million a year to help finance the International Atomic Energy Agency, which promotes peaceful use of nuclear energy. But some IAEA funds have gone to countries that could potentially use nuclear technology for weapons, Congress' watchdog warns.

Neither the State Department nor IAEA have sought to limit the so-called technical cooperation (TC) aid to terror-linked nations such as Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria, or countries which are not party to the non-proliferation treaty, such as India, Israel, and Pakistan, the Government Accountability Office warned.

“State officials told us that the United States did not systematically try to limit TC projects in Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria—which the department designated as sponsors of terrorism,” the report said. “These four countries received more than $55 million in TC assistance from 1997 through 2007.”

During the same time frame, India, Israel and Pakistan received $24.6 million in technical assistance even though none is a party to the non-proliferation treaty.

Nuclear equipment and technology, even if geared towards peaceful purposes, can also contribute to the development of nuclear weapons. Yet, the former head of the TC program told GAO that requests for technical assistance are evaluated strictly on technical merits, thereby thwarting efforts to assess national security concerns.

The GAO has repeatedly suggested the State Department withhold the U.S. contribution to IAEA that would go to countries of concern.

“The United States has applied several types of sanctions limiting foreign assistance and trade to states it has designated as sponsors of terrorism and to other countries. To avoid the appearance of an inconsistent approach and to foster greater cohesion in U.S. policy toward such nations, we believe that it is fair for Congress to consider requiring State to withhold a share of the U.S. contribution,” the GAO said.

Withholding funds would undermine the Department’s ability to convince other member countries to contribute to the fund, and since the funding is not traced to specific projects, it would punish all recipients in the program, the State Department said in response.

The IAEA provides minimal information on project proposals, usually just project titles, which further hinders efforts by the Department of Energy to assess the risk of proliferation in countries requesting assistance.

This story is an update from our previous March 17th, 2011, entry in the Daily Watchdog.

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