U.S. Moves To Ditch Nuclear Agreement

WASHINGTON -- U.S. lawmakers have taken a first step toward rejecting a civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and Russia, but it was not clear whether opponents would be able to muster the votes to block it.

A resolution opposing the deal was introduced Tuesday by the top Democratic and Republican lawmakers on the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee.

This begins a lengthy legislative process. Opponents, who fear the deal would undermine efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, would have to pass the resolution by two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate to block it.

The Democratic sponsor of the resolution, Howard Berman, said he would not necessarily oppose the deal but needed to introduce the resolution to allow more time to consider the deal.

"There are some good arguments for the agreement, and some good ones against it," he said, adding that the administration needs to convince him that the deal will help international efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program. "I chose to introduce a resolution of disapproval today because I want the administration to understand that I will not support the agreement until that question, on the most critical foreign policy issue facing our nation today, is answered to my satisfaction."

Iran acknowledges that it is enriching uranium but insists it is for peaceful civilian usage.

The administration of President George W. Bush views the agreement with Russia as a breakthrough in cooperation reached at a time of rising tensions between Washington and Moscow over issues including missile defense, NATO expansion and differences on Iran. Opponents believe that the deal will reward Russia at a time they say Moscow is not doing enough to stop Iran's nuclear program.

The resolution's other sponsor, Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is seeking to block the deal.

The agreement would give the United States access to state-of-the-art Russian nuclear technology and would help Russia establish an international nuclear fuel storage facility.

Under U.S. law, Bush's notification of Congress on May 13 began a process to complete the deal. The agreement will take effect unless both chambers of Congress pass resolutions opposing it within 90 working days. The law also requires that both chambers introduce their resolutions by a deadline this week if they intend to block it.

Bush reached the deal during a meeting with then-President Vladimir Putin in Sochi in April.