As the fighting in Gaza grinds on, it’s difficult to think about what will come next. In the attached Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist piece, “The coming US-Saudi nuclear deal: Keep it Honest,” Sharon Squassoni and I, though, focus on what’s most likely — a U.S.-Saudi civilian nuclear cooperation agreement that the White House has already floated as part of a Saudi-Israeli normalization of relations package.
As Sharon and I make clear, the nuclear weapons proliferation risks associated with any U.S.-Saudi nuclear cooperative deal are significant. As a result, we recommend hiving the deal off from any US-supported Saudi-Israeli normalization package (which is likely to include military assurances, arms sales, etc.) and having Congress vote in both houses to approve any nuclear agreement.
This would require Congress to amend the U.S. Atomic Energy Act and press our intelligence agencies to explain how we can get timely warning of any military nuclear diversions.
January 5, 2024
Authors: Henry Sokolski and Sharon Squassoni
With the daily parade of Gaza calamities, American, Saudi, and Israeli officials have quietly shelved normalizing Israeli-Saudi relations. But a Saudi-bankrolled “peace” deal and a generous US civilian nuclear agreement to get Riyadh to recognize Israel is really just a matter of time. For those within the Beltway, the deal is too audacious to let die.
The real problem is the nuclear bit, which raises the curtain on a Saudi bomb and a future nuclear food fight in the Middle East. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants Washington to green-light Saudi efforts to enrich uranium, which could bring the Kingdom within weeks of acquiring a bomb—just as enrichment capabilities already did for Iran. The Saudi crown prince, known as MBS, has been brutally frank: He will not hesitate to dump the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) if he thinks Iran is building bombs. Of course, whatever Washington allows MBS to do with his nuclear program will prompt other Middle Eastern states Washington has nuclear cooperation agreements with—the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt—to demand the same, creating not one, but potentially many nuclear weapons-ready states.
Ever eager to close a deal with Riyadh, nuclear enthusiasts will be quick to note that any cooperation would be safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Nuclear enthusiasts further suggest that Saudi uranium enrichment could be conducted under the watchful eyes not just of the IAEA but of Americans, and that key portions of the plant might be “black boxed” to keep the Saudis from diverting any sensitive technology. Others have suggested introducing remote shutdown mechanisms for the plant.
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