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US officials question Saudi’s nuclear plans

Cooling towers of a nuclear power plant [file photo]
Cooling towers of a nuclear power plant [file photo]

Doubts have been raised about Saudi Arabia’s plans for its nuclear capabilities, which it maintains are for peaceful purposes, to meet its population’s energy needs.

However a US body charged with looking in to Saudi’s nuclear plans has warned that “many whistleblowers have warned against conflicts of interest that could fall within the scope of the Federal Criminal Law.”

The Committee on Oversight and Reform issued the warning after President Donald Trump announced he intended to sell “sensitive nuclear technology” to Saudi Arabia to benefit US companies.

Committee head Elijah Cummings asked the White House to hand over files and documents relating to a meeting that took place two months after Trump took office in 2017 and which brought together his son-in-law and  chief advisor Jared Kushner and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

“Strong private commercial actors have put very hard pressure for the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology to Riyadh, in exchange for billions of dollars of contracts for the construction and operation of nuclear infrastructure in the kingdom,” the committee’s preliminary report said.

The Committee added that “Riyadh seems to have close and frequent contacts with President Trump and his administration so far.”

It expressed concern that the kingdom would use this US technology to manufacture an atomic bomb.

Read: US lawmakers press for oversight of any Saudi nuclear deal

Ballistic missiles

This concern coincided with a report published by AP in early February, quoting experts and satellite images that Saudi Arabia was trying to test and possibly produce ballistic missiles.  The agency said that the satellite images showed the presence of structures large enough to build and test ballistic missiles in a military base located in the province of Dawadmi, central Saudi Arabia.

It explained that the images also clearly showed a platform for testing ballistic missile engines on one side of the base.

The agency quoted experts as saying that such equipment is essential for countries seeking to produce such missiles.

Media reports also linked Bin Salman’s recent Asia tour, including to Pakistan, India and China, to his need to find alternative sources of nuclear technology following increasing pressure from Washington.

Riyadh seems to put China among the alternative options in its ambitious endeavours. On 15 January 2012, China and Saudi Arabia signed a deal to increase nuclear cooperation.

It said then, that “the goal is to promote cooperation between the two countries in the development and use of atomic energy for peaceful purposes.”

According to Saudi media, the agreement “paves the way for promoting scientific, technological, and economic cooperation between the Republic of China and Saudi Arabia, focusing on areas such as the maintenance and development of nuclear power plants and research reactors, as well as the processing of nuclear fuel components. This agreement is the fourth nuclear agreement of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Read: US sees ‘shared interests’ between Israel, Arab states

In 2015, Crown Prince Bin Salman visited Russia and agreed that 16 nuclear reactors would be built for peaceful purposes and that Russia would have the most prominent role in operating these reactors.

However former Saudi foreign minister Adel Jubeir has previously said that Saudi Arabia would “build its own nuclear programme”.

With  Saudi Ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed Bin Nawwaf Abdulaziz, telling the Guardian:  “We hope we have received assurances that Iran will not seek this type of weapons, but if not, all options are on the table for Saudi Arabia.”

He pointed out that Saudi Arabia is ready to develop its nuclear programme, if Iran does not stop developing its nuclear bomb.

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