April 04, 2019

Knowing when to walk: What is the best alternative to a formal US-Saudi nuclear agreement?

By Eric Brewer

For years, Washington has been working to finalize a deal with Riyadh in regard to Saudi Arabia’s planned nuclear energy program. Although negotiations for this deal—known as a “123 agreement,” which is legally required if the United States wants to transfer key nuclear technologies to any country—are continuing, there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of this tunnel. Indeed, it may be getting darker.

Thus far, the Kingdom has resisted US requests for added transparency measures and constraints on Saudi Arabia’s ability to enrich and reprocess nuclear material (known as “ENR” capabilities), which can be used in creating fuel for nuclear power plants, but are also critical for creating the highly enriched uranium or plutonium used in nuclear weapons. Moreover, increasing congressional scrutiny of Saudi Arabia—including the administration’s nuclear dealings with the Kingdom—means that there is a real risk that an agreement that meets the minimum legal threshold would not survive Congress. Indeed, members of his own party in October requested that President Trump pause nuclear negotiations because the Kingdom’s involvement in the murder of US resident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi demonstrated that the Saudis cannot be trusted with nuclear technology.

Read the full article in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

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