Obama approves renewal of secret US-UK nuclear weapons agreement

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A controversial treaty which allows the transfer of nuclear weapons technology between the USA and the UK has been given top-level go-ahead for renewal for a further ten years.

The two nations agreed to extend the US-UK Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) at a signing ceremony behind closed doors in Washington earlier this month, and President Barack Obama has now written to the US Congress requesting support for an amendment which will extend the treaty.

The President's message to Congress states that he has “approved the amendment” and “authorized its execution” and urges Congress to give it “favorable consideration”.  Under US constitutional arrangements the amended treaty must be placed before Congress for 60 days to provide an opportunity for its adoption to be vetoed.

The UK Parliament will also be notified of the amendment to extend the MDA in the near future, although Parliament is currently in recess until September.  In contrast to arrangements in the USA, there is no obligation for the government to obtain Parliamentary approval for ratification of the treaty. Despite this, 19 members of Parliament have signed an Early Day Motion calling for a debate on plans to extend the MDA.  In response to a Parliamentary Question from Jeremy Corbyn MP, the former leader of the House of Commons, has said he will “look at the precedent” and “discuss internally” whether a debate on the MDA is appropriate.

President Obama's message informs Congress that  “the United Kingdom intends to continue to maintain viable nuclear forces into the foreseeable future” and that the MDA will be extended for   ten years until December 31, 2024.

Extending the terms of the MDA will permit the transfer between the USA and the UK of technology, materials and equipment, and classified information concerning nuclear weapons.  It will also allow joint training of personnel, evaluation of potential enemy capability, and development of delivery systems.  As well as allowing co-operation on the development of nuclear weapons, joint exchanges are also permitted on the research, development, and design of naval nuclear submarine reactors.  

Details of the amendments to the unclassified parts of the MDA have not yet been published, and classified pasts of the amended agreement will remain secret.

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