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Senator Looks to Attach Terror Treaty Legislation to Defense Bill

By Douglas P. Guarino

Global Security Newswire

Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), shown in August 2011, is looking to attach his version of legislation implementing nuclear terrorism treaties to a defense bill now before the Senate. The stand-alone version of the legislation is stalled in the upper chamber. (AP Photo/Ryan Foley). Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), shown in August 2011, is looking to attach his version of legislation implementing nuclear terrorism treaties to a defense bill now before the Senate. The stand-alone version of the legislation is stalled in the upper chamber. (AP Photo/Ryan Foley).

WASHINGTON – Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is looking to attach his version of contentious nuclear terrorism legislation to the defense authorization bill currently being debated on the Senate floor.

The legislation, the stand-alone version of which is stalled in the upper chamber, is meant to ensure the United States meets legal standards mandated by the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Terrorism. The pact requires member nations to criminalize the possession and use of nuclear weapons and related radioactive material. Now with 82 state parties, it went into force in 2007.

The measure would also bring the United States into line with a 2005 amendment to the Convention of the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material. The accord originally focused on protecting international shipments of civilian nuclear material, but the change would add security standards for domestic storage, use and transfer of nuclear material to the pact.

Grassley has complained that legislation the House passed on the issue lacks provisions explicitly applying the death penalty to nuclear crimes and extending federal wiretapping authorities. His amendment to the fiscal 2013 defense authorization legislation includes those measures, which were backed by the Obama administration in an early draft submitted to Congress.

Speaking at the Hudson Institute on Thursday, Thomas Countryman, assistant secretary of State for international security and nonproliferation, said the implementing legislation was “one of many top priorities for the administration in this current session and … certainly the top priority for my bureau and my boss, Acting Undersecretary [Rose] Gottemoeller.”

Countryman said that the administration would prefer the issue be settled in the current legislative session, and said the easiest way to do it would be for the Senate to approve the House version of the nuclear security bill. He told Global Security Newswire that the State Department is actively discussing the issue with the Senate.

The Senate began debating amendments to the annual defense bill, which authorizes spending across a broad range of Pentagon programs, on Wednesday and is expected to continue doing so through the end of the week.

At press time, Grassley’s proposal and several other amendments pertaining to nuclear security were awaiting consideration on the Senate floor, according to Kingston Reif, nuclear nonproliferation director at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation.

Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), introduced an amendment that would require the United States to maintain 450 operational land-based ICBM launch facilities in active or reserve status.

The chamber approved by unanimous consent an amendment expressing the sense of the Senate that the United States should maintain its nuclear triad and is committed to modernizing the complex of land-, air- and sea-based delivery systems. It similarly approved another measure “allowing the secretary of Defense to maintain the readiness and flexibility of the ICBM force.” Some lawmakers have raised concerns that the Obama administration has not provided adequate funds to maintain the force.

Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) introduced an amendment requiring the secretary of Defense to give Congress regular briefings on the military implications of U.S. and Russian proposals on nuclear arms, missile defense and long-range conventional strike systems. The departing senator and other lawmakers have criticized President Obama for saying earlier this year he would have more "flexibility" after being re-elected to find a resolution with Moscow on U.S. plans for a Europe-based missile shield.

Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) filed an amendment that would set up a congressional advisory panel on the governance structure of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which has been under fire this year following a high profile intrusion at its Y-12 nuclear arms site in Tennessee. The House version of the defense authorization bill contains more controversial language that would significantly curb the Energy Department’s oversight of NNSA activities.

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GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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