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House Investigating White House Deal to Give Saudi Arabia Nuclear Tech

President Donald Trump speaks with Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, during their meeting Tuesday, March 14, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
President Donald Trump speaks with Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, during their meeting Tuesday, March 14, 2017, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

A new House investigation is looking into the Trump administration’s push to transfer sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, possibly in violation of U.S. law.

According to a recently released report prepared for Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, the Trump administration has rushed the sale of sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia – a potential violation of U.S. law and without the legally required congressional authority.

The potential transfer of nuclear technology sparks concern that the sale may enable Riyadh to create nuclear weapons in the future and could trigger an arms race in the Middle East. The deal is also alarming as it would violate the Atomic Energy Act (AEA).

According to the House report, under the AEA “the U.S. may not transfer nuclear technology to a foreign country without the approval of Congress, in order to ensure that the agreement reached with the foreign government meets nine specific nonproliferation requirements.”

Prior to the report’s release members of Congress had expressed worry about the stability of the Saudi administration and relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia under Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) since the killing of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the Yemen War.

The report claimed that several private U.S. commercial interests with much to benefit from a transfer were pushing the White House to make the deal.

“Within the United States, strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia—a potential risk to U.S. national security absent adequate safeguards. These commercial entities stand to reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia—and apparently have been in close and repeated contact with President Trump and his Administration to the present day,” said the House report.

The congressional report said it was written in response to several whistleblowers who spoke up about the White House’s efforts to advance the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

“The whistleblowers who came forward have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes,” Representative Elijah Cummings, the Democrat chairman of the committee, wrote in a letter to the White House on Tuesday.

Some of the officials in the Trump administration argued that if the U.S. does not sell its nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia either China or Russia would grab the opportunity – inferring that Riyadh could form a strategic partnership with either country, something Washington does not want to happen.

In response to the report, the House committee said it would expand its investigation “to determine whether the actions being pursued by the Trump administration are in the national security interests of the US or, rather, serve those who stand to gain financially”.

Michael Flynn, NSC Leading Saudi Deal

The report also claimed that the efforts to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia were pushed by Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser under Trump until his resignation in February of 2017. A National Security Council (NSC) official close to Flynn who is still at the White House is reportedly carrying on with the plan.

The Committee report contained specific details on the potential transfer of nuclear technology and included several email communications. The emails showed how the National Security Council (NSC) and other ethics officials had repeatedly warned that the transfer could violate the federal laws on Conflict of Interest and regulations on nuclear technology transfers to other countries.

The report from the Committee is almost similar to the file released by ProPublica in 2017, which explicitly described concerns over nuclear technology transfer called “Marshall Plan for the Middle East.”

Iran Calls Washington’s Nuclear Technology Sale to Saudi a ‘Hypocrisy’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif scolded Washington for being hypocritical in light of the report and U.S. withdrawal from the Iran deal.

“Day by day it becomes clearer to the world what was always clear to us: neither human rights nor a nuclear program have been the real concern of the U.S. First a dismembered journalist; now illicit sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia fully expose #USHypocrisy,” Zarif tweeted.

An Iranian senior parliament member warning that the U.S.’ plan to hand over nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia could be disastrous for Israel.

“The fate of the monarchy’s crown and Saudi Arabia’s nuclear bomb are similarly unpredictable. Israel will be wiped out by Saudi nuclear bombs,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the chairman of Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said in his tweet.

Iran had its nuclear program restricted by the 2015 Iran deal, formally called the JCPOA, but the U.S. pulled out of the agreement under the Trump administration. Tehran claims its nuclear technology is for peaceful purposes. However, the U.S. has claimed Iran is only using its civilian nuclear programs as a cover for a nuclear weapons program, an allegation which Iran had repeatedly denied.

Does Saudi Arabia Have Nuclear Technology Already?

In March last year, Saudi crown prince MBS said in an interview that Saudi Arabia was ready to build nuclear weapons if Iran did it first. The prince also likened Iranian’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to former Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Last January, The Washington Post report said that satellite images showed that Saudi Arabia had made its first ballistic missile factory at the al-Watah base near Riyadh. Ballistic missiles are often designed with the capability to carry nuclear warheads.

Several missile experts studying the images agreed that the high-resolution pictures allegedly showed the missile production and testing facilities.

However, the images could not tell whether the facility is complete or able yet to make missiles. The existence of a strategic missile base at al-Watah was first made publicly known in mid-2013 after Jane Weekly Defense published imagery satellites of a military facility which allegedly housed ballistic missiles bought from China.

China’s military support for the kingdom came at the time as no surprise. China has sold armed drones to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern nations. China also sold variants of the Dongfeng ballistic missile to Saudi Arabia, the only missile previously believed to be in the kingdom’s arsenal.

In the 1990s, Pakistan secretly built a factory of intermediate-range missiles using blueprints and equipment from China. Pakistan’s factory has reportedly attracted attention from Saudi’s high ranked officials. However, it is unclear whether China or Pakistan was involved in developing the al-Watah base.

Despite being one of the richest oil countries in the world, Saudi Arabia likely realizes it cannot rely on only oil forever. One way to maintain the black gold supply for a more profitable export is to add alternative energy resources, and the country had made plans to do so.

Saudi Arabia is planning to build 16 nuclear power plants in the next 25 years.  The country has secured bids for the first two reactors from China, Russia, France, South Korea and the U.S.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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