U.S. hails Emirates nuclear deal as model

WASHINGTON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - The United States formally signed a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates on Thursday, hailing it as a “new bargain” that could help prevent the spread of dangerous atomic technology.

“This is a new bargain for the Middle East region and the United States welcomes and applauds the UAE’s decision,” Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary for arms control, said at the signing ceremony.

The pact, which President Barack Obama approved in May and sent to Congress for a 90-day review period, is potentially worth billions of dollars to General Electric Co GE.N and Westinghouse Electric, a subsidiary of Toshiba Corp 6502.T.

Tauscher said the agreement -- under which the wealthy Gulf state will import nuclear fuel rather than develop its own ability to enrich and reprocess uranium -- reflected a joint commitment to “the highest standards of safety, security and non-proliferation.”

She also noted that the UAE was a “valued partner” in U.S. efforts to prevent nearby Iran from obtaining the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

The administration of former President George W. Bush signed the UAE agreement just days before leaving office in January.

The UAE is the world’s third-largest oil exporter, but it is planning to build a number of nuclear reactors to meet an expected need for an additional 40,000 megawatts.

Obama endorsed the agreement after a national security review determined it would not pose an “unreasonable risk” to the United States.

Although some lawmakers raised concerns about UAE’s close trade ties to Iran, there was no push in either the U.S. House of Representatives or Senate for a vote to block the pact.

The Obama administration has underscored that the agreement contains unprecedented commitments that ensure the UAE will not use American technology to develop a nuclear weapon or to help others in the region do so.

The deal comes as concern over Iran’s nuclear program prompted the House on Tuesday to approve new sanctions on Tehran. The Senate is likely to approve a similar bill, but it is uncertain how soon it will vote. (Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by David Alexander and Eric Walsh)