In a move expected to raise eyebrows on Capitol Hill, the US has said it is working towards a civil nuclear deal with the UAE -- which has strong trade links with Iran engaged in a controversial atomic programme -- on the lines of the one it has signed with India.
The Bush Administration stressed that pursuing a 123 Agreement with the UAE would not contribute to an arms race in the region while insisting that the two sides were many, many steps away from finalising any kind of a concrete arrangement.
"We have been working on... A so-called 123 agreement. I think now everybody understands what a 123 agreement is after talking about it for so much time concerning India.
"We have engaged the UAE on this topic, because we think it is an important way for countries in the region to potentially realise peaceful uses of nuclear energy and clearly prescribing the limits of the use of nuclear technology," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
His comments yesterday followed a Wall Street Journal report that said the Bush Administration plans to sign its first nuclear cooperation agreement with United Arab Emirates within the next few weeks.
According to the Journal, the agreement which is the first the US plans to sign with a West Asian nation, has raised concerns among Congressional critics who say the deal could fuel nuclear proliferation in the region.
The proposed deal, the paper said, has attracted attention because the UAE's largest trading partner is Iran. The UAE has served in the past as a transshipment point for technology with military applications headed to Iran.
The move could place US President-elect Barack Obama in a political tight spot with a key ally by forcing him to decide whether to push Congress to ratify the deal.