Two years ago, the possibility of a U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperative agreement that would allow Riyadh to enrich uranium or reprocessing spent fuel now seemed a sure cert. Today, at best, it seems a distant possibility.
As Victor Gilinsky and Henry Sokolski write in the piece, "The Nonproliferation Gold Standard: The New Normal?" in Arms Control Today, the gold standard is no longer viewed as extreme, inpractical, or unnecessary. Just the opposite. Not only has Secretary of State Pompeo publicly stated that America wants both Riyad and Tehran to forswear enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel, but even the best known boosters of selling Saudi Arabia-U.S. reactors (IP3), now think acceptance of the gold standard is essential. This does not mean that the White House won't seal a deal with Riyad or that Congress will have the strength or will to demand the gold standard, but now opponents of the standard have some explaining to do.
At a minimum, three problems demand attention. First, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman announced on 60 minutes that he would be willing to violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if he thought Iran had acquired a bomb. Second, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the Saudi government's attempted cover up raises first order questions about how trustworthy any Saudi nuclear promises might be. Finally, the Kingdom's indiscriminate bombing of Yemen has undermined congressional faith in the Crown Prince's judgement. All of these points have strengthened demands that Riyad adhere to the gold standard. There are other reasons besides, including Israel's opposition to any deal that would allow Riyad to enrich or reprocess.
Of course one can question if it makes sense for any nation in the Middle East to be building large reactors. More recently, the drone attacks against Saudi oil refining plants reinforced already strong apprehensions Middle East nations have about the military vulnerability of nuclear facilities in the region.
At the very least, if there is to be nuclear exports to the Middle East, or to any other state that lacks nuclear weapons, the gold standard provides "welcome protection" and ought to be the new normal.