Senate committee approves US-Vietnam civilian nuclear agreement


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WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation between the U.S. and Vietnam, as Washington looks to expand its relationship with its former Southeast Asian foe.

The agreement would allow U.S. companies into Vietnam's expanding market for nuclear power. The U.S. and Vietnamese governments reached the agreement in October, and it was approved by President Barack Obama in February this year. It now has to be endorsed by the full Senate. The prospects for passage remain uncertain.

Nonproliferation activists and some lawmakers are concerned the agreement does not forbid Vietnam from enriching uranium itself or reprocessing plutonium. Those capabilities can be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Instead, Vietnam signed a nonbinding memorandum with the U.S. saying it does not intend to seek that capability.

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