‘I doubt that China or Russia would supply Saudi with enrichment or reprocessing tech’

TEHRAN, Dec. 01 (MNA) – “I doubt that China or Russia would supply Saudi Arabia with enrichment or reprocessing technology but, if North Korea can do it, Saudi Arabia probably could as well,” Frank N. von Hippel tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

Professor Frank N. von Hippel, former assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology says that “I don’t think that South Korea could sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia if Saudi Arabia does not have a 123 agreement with the US.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

Saudi Arabia started its research nuclear reactor in Abdulaziz city while it has not reached an agreement with the US on nuclear activities. Some believe that this is a message from SA to the US that it will advance its nuclear activities even without US What do you think of this?

I am worried about Saudi Arabia’s interest in nuclear technologies. Part of its interest may be in generating electricity. But there are many ways to do that more cheaply today – especially photovoltaics in Saudi Arabia.  I think that part of the interest is due to the fact that some nuclear-power technologies can be dual use.  They create a nuclear-weapon option. This is, of course, the cause of the controversy about Iran’s enrichment program.

Saudi Arabia insists on having Uranium enrichment and its reprocessing while the US wants “Gold Standard” in its agreement with Riyadh which doesn’t include enrichment and reprocessing. Based on 123 treaty, will US finally give up to Riyadh demand?

The Trump Administration is divided on this. Some in the State Department believe strongly in nonproliferation and support the “Gold Standard.”  Some in the Energy Department are more concerned that what remains of the US nuclear-reactor supply industry (not much) could have a rare financial opportunity to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia.  If those interested in supporting the US nuclear industry prevail within the Administration, I think that there would be a strong challenge to a non-gold-standard 123 agreement in the House of Representatives, which will be controlled by the Democrats starting in January. Whether the Senate would join the House in a blocking action, I can’t judge.

Will Saudi Arabia accept a nuclear agreement with US like the one US has signed with UAE?

Saudi Arabia indicates that it will not.  There is some talk of a compromise under which Saudi Arabia would agree to be constrained as long as Iran is constrained by the JCPOA.  Not being able to do what Iran can do naturally fuels a feeling of grievance in Saudi Arabia. 
This is one reason why my preference would be for Iran to turn its national enrichment program into a multinational program in which Saudi Arabia and other countries could join.  Even better, in my view – although probably even more politically difficult for Iran – would be for Iran to abandon its uneconomic national enrichment program and lead a campaign to ban national enrichment programs worldwide in favor of multinational programs like Urenco.  I have been urging this on the US as well. Because our national enrichment program was privatized and then went bankrupt, the only enrichment plant in the United States today is owned by Urenco.

US knows very well that if it tries to include firm and serious terms in possible agreement with Saudi Arabia, this may result in Riyadh’s tendency to have nuclear cooperation with Russia and China or South Korea. How will Washington solve this problem?

I am not an expert but I don’t think that South Korea could sell nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia if Saudi Arabia does not have a 123 agreement with the US. This is because much of South Korea’s nuclear reactor design came from the US. The US could not block Russia or China, however – just as it was unable to block Russia from building the Bushehr reactors in Iran.  I doubt that China or Russia would supply Saudi Arabia with enrichment or reprocessing technology but, if North Korea can do it, Saudi Arabia probably could as well.  This is one reason I find Saudi Arabia’s refusal to agree to the Additional Protocol so worrisome. That suggests that it might try to hide some of its nuclear activities.

Some say that the US will never agree with granting a strategic concession like enrichment to Saudi Arabia that can change the balance of power against Israel. What do you think of this?

Israel, obviously, has been campaigning against Iran’s enrichment program.  I am not close enough to the debate to be aware of whether it is campaigning for a Gold Standard 123 Agreement for Saudi Arabia. 

Of course, I don’t think that Israeli or US nuclear weapons are usable by sane leaderships. I worry, however, about leaderships that are not entirely sane.  In the US and Russia, where some nuclear weapons are on “hair-trigger,” I also worry about false warnings of incoming attack and, increasingly, about hackers.

Interview by Javad Heirannia

MNA/TT

News Code 140072

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