At the G-20 meeting in India last week, President Biden publicly shook Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman’s (MBS’s) hand and met with him privately. It’s unclear what the two talked about. The good news is that there was no further mention of any U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation with the Kingdom.
As I make clear a recent Jerusalem Post op-ed, “Helping Saudi Arabia Go Nuclear Won’t Stop Iran from Doing It Too,” lending civilian nuclear assistance to Saudi Arabia is a prescription for nuclear weapons proliferation, not only in Saudi Arabia, but in the Middle East region and beyond.
As is well known, MBS is keen on matching Iran’s bomb option with a bomb option of his own. That’s why he has demanded that Washington collaborate with the Kingdom on developing nuclear power and permitting it to enrich uranium, a process that can bring states within weeks of acquiring nuclear arms. This is MBS’s demand for recognizing Israel. Those that want to bribe MBS should find something else to focus on.
What if MBS gets his nuclear assistance from China? This would be bad but having Washington give it would be worse. Consider if Washington caved in to this request the UAE, who Washington forced to forswear enriching uranium, is on record wanting to reopen this matter if Washington offers any of UAE’s neighbors an opportunity to enrich. After that, count on Turkey (a NATO ally), South Korea (a mutual security treaty ally), and possibly Egypt (the next largest recipient of US aid after Israel) wanting similar treatment. Each might also follow MBS’s example of making threats to secure our consent.
As for counting on our intelligence agencies or the International Atomic Energy Agency reliably detecting military diversions in a timely fashion from a Saudi enrichment or reprocessing plant, good luck. The track record of both watch dogs in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere is hardly encouraging
Even helping the Saudis build power reactors without green lighting enrichment or the reprocessing of plutonium would be a mistake. Why? Nuclear power programs are bomb starter kits. Iran, in fact, used its “peaceful” power reactor program as a conduit for acquiring all it needed to supply its covert nuclear weapons-sensitive activities. This is something the CIA belatedly verified in a highly classified report (after it was too late to throttle Iran’s program). NPEC published an unclassified version of that analysis. The point surely is not lost on any of Iran’s neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.
Of course, we still must do what we can to roll back Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. But having the United States help MBS with a “peaceful” nuclear program would hardly help. Just the reverse.
September 8, 2023
Author: Henry Sokolski
Saudi Arabia wants the Biden administration to help it build nuclear power plants and enrich uranium, which could bring the kingdom to the brink of building bombs. This is the quid pro quo Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud (MBS) is demanding for normalizing relations with Israel. Biden officials, eager to get Saudi Arabia to recognize Israel, are now twisting every which way to get to a nuclear yes.
It’s a bad bribe.
Although few experts admit it, the harmful security implications of America backing Saudi uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing via China, MBS’s second choice for nuclear supplies, could easily dwarf any specific nuclear nonproliferation concern. Yes, enrichment and reprocessing could bring Saudi Arabia within weeks of a bomb. And if Washington offers Riyadh nuclear assistance permitting these nuclear activities, the UAE, Turkey, Egypt, South Korea, and Vietnam (all states in historic war zones and that currently have nuclear cooperation agreements with the United States) will demand the same.
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