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US nuclear accord with a Persian Gulf state raises concerns about proliferation

Backers say the agreement with the United Arab Emirates is a model for other countries in the region. But critics worry about the UAE's ties with Iran.

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The Obama administration, anxious to demonstrate America's willingness to deepen relations with reliable partners in the Muslim world before the president's much-heralded speech to that community early next month, has signed a controversial nuclear cooperation agreement with the United Arab Emirates.

The nuclear accord, negotiated by the Bush administration but left for President Obama's sign-off, is touted by the new administration – as it was by the former – as a model for future civilian nuclear cooperation with Arab countries.

With Obama set to lay out his vision for America's cooperation with Muslim countries from Cairo June 4, the US-UAE accord is also seen as a counterpoint to Iran's nuclear program and its combative relations with the international community.

In endorsing the accord, administration officials highlight the UAE's agreement to forego the production of nuclear fuel, which could eventually be used for production of a nuclear weapon – the issue at the crux of Iran's standoff with the US and other world powers.

But opponents of the accord blast it as a short-sighted plan designed to secure lucrative contracts for US corporations that build nuclear reactors, yet one which may result in a string of plants producing nuclear fuel across a very volatile region.

"The US does not have a strategy to deal with this very real issue of proliferation, all they have is a sale," says Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, an organization that promotes a nuclear-weapons-free world. "We shouldn't be sprinkling the Middle East with nuclear power reactors until we figure out how to stop them from turning out nuclear bombs."

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