US And Saudi Nuclear Program: The Trump Administration’s Secrecy

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Above photo: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting with Donald Trump.

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program has reached an advanced stage while the International Atomic Energy Agency’s monitoring of it, is weak and inadequate.

A few days ago the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) called on the US State Department and the Department of Energy to keep the Congress informed about the ongoing nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

According to the GAO, Congress must amend the 1954 Atomic Energy Act to require the relevant ministries to report to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House of Representatives.

Most US Congressmen are concerned that President Donald Trump’s administration will not keep them in the nuclear talks with Saudi Arabia, especially since Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman claimed in an interview with CBS in 2018 that Saudi is not looking to acquire a nuclear bomb, but if Iran does so, he will not hesitate.

Members of Congress insist that Saudi Arabia, like the UAE, adhere to the gold standard of restriction on “Enrichment of uranium” and “plutonium reprocessing”, otherwise the UAE will seek similar privileges.

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program has advanced

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently launched seven strategic projects in King Abdulaziz, including a nuclear reactor, in line with his policy of moving toward nuclearization. The opening of the first research project pushed the Saudi nuclear program into a new phase.

This was despite the fact that no agreement has yet been signed between Washington and Riyadh on the nature of Saudi Arabia’s nuclear activities. So with the opening of the reactor, the Saudis sent a message to Washington that they are committed to implementing the decision themselves, regardless of the outcome of the talks. This is at a time when Americans are pushing hard for Saudi Arabia to get all the nuclear technology it needs from American companies.

US-Saudi nuclear cooperation

While the United States has keyed in some of its hidden nuclear ties with Saudi Arabia, Congress wants to cooperate under Agreement 123, which requires US cooperation with foreign parties.

What the US Congress intends to do is conclude a model like the United Arab Emirates with Saudi Arabia. The US nuclear cooperation model with the United Arab Emirates was signed several years ago. According to this model, the UAE has accepted the issue of “Enrichment of uranium” and “plutonium reprocessing” in exchange for receiving technology, equipment, and nuclear materials from the United States. In fact, the two so-called “gold standards” were resolved in the 2009 US nuclear deal with the UAE, and a similar deal with Saudi Arabia could be waived by the “gold standard.”

But the cooperation of American companies with Saudi Arabia requires the conclusion of a 123 agreement with this country.

Accordingly, the nuclear deal that the United States will have with Saudi Arabia must guarantee the non-deviation of Riyadh in a way that prevents Riyadh’s adventures. The most important issue is the uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing, which allows dual-use technologies. But Saudi Arabia also insists on having these two rights.

However, there are differences in the Trump administration over its nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia, which is a sign of the Trump administration’s secrecy.

A recent report by the US House of Representatives revealed that Trump administration has accelerated the process of transferring “very sensitive” nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

The US House of Representatives has revealed that the Donald Trump administration has tried to provide Saudi Arabia with highly sensitive and advanced nuclear technology as soon as possible, regardless of legal and security concerns, the report said.

The report also expressed concern about the Trump administration’s secretive engagement with Saudi Arabia.

The report goes on to say that private companies that are in close contact with Trump and his administration are putting a lot of pressure on Saudi Arabia to transfer the technology, given the multi-billion dollar revenue generated by the technology.

According to the report, the transfer of this technology without considering security issues could be a threat to the United States. The report states that the legal route may be diverted to Saudi Arabia as soon as possible.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn is also said to have been named to transfer the technology.

Also, according to some reports, the US Department of Energy has somehow bypassed the U.S. state department regarding Saudi’ nuclear program.

The congressional hearing about that was exactly where the Trump administration came from in the nuclear talks with Riyadh, often during the time of former Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

Last year, Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio called on the GAO to review the nuclear talks with Saudi Arabia. They were more concerned that instead of the State Department, the Ministry of Energy might take over.

Accordingly, the GAO has required the State Department to report fully and continuously to Congress.

IAEA and Saudi Nuclear Program

Currently, the activities of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Saudi Arabia are not related to the development of its nuclear program. The agreement between the Agency and Riyadh dates back to a time when Riyadh’s activities were not as developed, and this cooperation was pursued under a bilateral agreement so-called Small Quantities Protocol (SQP).

Although Saudi Arabia signed and ratified the NPT in 1998, it has not yet signed the Additional Protocol or the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. Only in 2005 did Saudi Arabia sign a protocol of the so-called Small Quantities Protocol (SQP).

“Saudi Arabia has not really demonstrated nuclear transparency, by concluding and ratifying, for example, the IAEA Additional Protocol. We have also not seen clear nuclear energy plans other than stating numbers of nuclear reactors to be built. They have also not been open on their plans to construct research reactors. The statements of the Saudi authorities are also worrisome with regard to the technologies, which they may acquire,” said Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director-general for safeguards at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a professor at Harvard University.

The review of the Saudi missile and nuclear program confirms that these programs are being expanded without the necessary sensitivities by International institutions and western countries.

Javad Heirannia is visiting fellow of the Persian Gulf department in the Center for Middle East Studies in Iran and Head of International Desk, Mehr News Agency. (@J_Heirannia). Ph.D, International Relations.