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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Congress Promotes Weapons Program

WASHINGTON -- Momentum is building in the U.S. Congress to revamp and expand a program credited with destroying thousands of nuclear weapons from Soviet stockpiles and keeping them out of terrorists' hands.

For 14 years, the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program has paid for the dismantling of Cold War-era nuclear warheads and other weapons of mass destruction. But bureaucratic logjams have resulted from rules set by Congress to make sure that the billions of dollars spent on the program are not misspent.

The program's co-founder, Republican Senator Dick Lugar, said he would introduce legislation to ease those restrictions and make it easier for the program to be used outside the former Soviet Union. Lugar is also proposing a separate program to destroy conventional weapons stockpiles.

While prospects for passage are uncertain given the vagaries of the legislative process, Lugar has some powerful allies.

U.S. President George W. Bush has backed the Nunn-Lugar program, and in last fall's presidential debates, said the prospect of nuclear weapons falling in the hands of terrorists represented the single most serious threat to the United States.

The independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks recommended the United States do all that it can to support Nunn-Lugar.

At her confirmation hearing last week, Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice said she supports Lugar's proposals and would push for their approval.

"I really can think of nothing more important than being able to proceed with the dismantlement -- safe dismantlement of the Soviet arsenal," she said under questioning from Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which was considering her nomination. She was approved by the Senate on Wednesday.

Some Republicans in the House of Representatives have had reservations about the program, saying that millions of dollars have been spent on facilities that could not be used or projects that had little to do with weapons of mass destruction.

But a leading House Republican on national security issues, Heather Wilson, said the question is: "Is it worth the risk of possible wasting of some dollars to achieve an end which is the greater control of nuclear materials in other countries?

"There are people who think we shouldn't do any of these programs unless we have a great audit trail," she said. "Well, there are some places where we are never going to have a great audit trail, where it might still be worth pursuing the program."

Another House Republican leader, Christopher Cox, said U.S. disputes with President Vladimir Putin should not interfere with cooperation on dismantling arms.

"I have a lot of concern with Putin's attack on the media, Putin's attack on democracy and his attack on human rights. None of those concerns is a reason for us not to cooperate on proliferation initiatives," he said.

Cox and Wilson spoke at a news conference in which House Republicans released a broad nuclear nonproliferation strategy that included support for expanding Nunn-Lugar, "while seeking to improve business practices where needed."

Separately, three House Democrats offered their own bill to step up nonproliferation efforts. That bill calls for an expansion of cooperative threat reduction programs.

Iran vowed Thursday never to dismantle its uranium enrichment program, a day after a confidential EU document showed that France, Britain and Germany had told Tehran they would not settle for anything less, according to a Reuters report. Iran insists that atomic fuel production is a sovereign right it will never abandon.