Murder of Khashoggi hardened Congress resistance to nuclear agreement with KSA: Daryl Kimball

TEHRAN, Dec. 02 (MNA) – Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, says “I do not believe the Congress will approve a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia if it does not meet the “Gold Standard.”

He adds that “murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi has hardened resistance in Congress to any nuclear agreement, especially one that would allow for the transfer of sensitive enrichment or reprocessing technology to Saudi Arabia.”

Kimball tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview that Saudi Arabia probably will not accept a nuclear agreement with the US like the one US has signed with the UAE.

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 the US What do you think of this?

Saudi Arabia has already concluded nuclear cooperation agreements with France, Argentina, South Korea, and Kazakhstan. Some of these states need but do not have authorizations from the United States for the transfer of nuclear services, technology or assistance to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia currently has a Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, they have not concluded an Additional Protocol arrangement with the Agency.

The Nov. 6 groundbreaking recently announced by the Saudis does not necessarily mean that this is ground being broken for the two nuclear power reactors which the Kingdom is getting bids on from the US and other countries. To do so, Saudi Arabia needs to conclude its negotiation on a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States under the terms of the US Atomic Energy Act, which Congress can block if it is not satisfied with the terms of the agreement.

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

The US-Saudi negotiations are not going well. US Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been pressured by many members of Congress to ensure that Saudi Arabia agrees not to pursue uranium enrichment technology or plutonium separation technology, also known as the “gold standard.” The Saudis are, according to our sources, are steadfastly opposed to any restrictions along these lines and they do not want to give the IAEA inspection authority under the terms of the Additional Protocol.

There have been many statements of concern from Congress this past year, but most recently of interest includes reports of legislation to be introduced by Democratic Rep. Brad Sherman would require a “gold standard,” and would also amend the process of approval for civil nuclear cooperation agreements to make it more difficult to pass Congress. See: https://www.vox.com/2018/11/9/18072660/saudi-arabia-nuclear-deal-congress-123-agreement-sherman

Furthermore, some members of Congress have called for the US-Saudi negotiations to be suspended altogether. A letter sent to President Trump on Oct. 31 signed by five Republican Senators (Marco Rubio (R-FL), Todd Young (R-IN), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Rand Paul (R-KY) and Dean Heller (R-NV) https://www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/press-releases?id=8F7CFEEC-998A-472C-AD87-C664404C4CD7 and a similar letter by Democratic Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) https://www.markey.senate.gov/news/press-releases/senator-markey-calls-for-suspending-all-civil-nuclear-cooperation-with-saudi-arabia suggest suspending the talks.

In recent weeks, the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi has hardened resistance in Congress to any nuclear agreement, especially one that would allow for the transfer of sensitive enrichment or reprocessing technology to Saudi Arabia.

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

Probably not. Responsible states should--as the UAE did—pledge not to pursue uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, and ratify the additional protocol. There is a glut of uranium for nuclear electricity production. Domestic uranium enrichment is not necessary to exploit nuclear energy production. Plutonium is not needed for civilian nuclear purposes and is well-suited for nuclear weapons.

We and many others will oppose any US-Saudi nuclear cooperation agreement that does not include the "Gold Standard" and certain additional nonproliferation safeguards. Our more detailed assessment of the risks and the options is described in this Arms Control Association report from April 2018: https://www.armscontrol.org/issue-briefs/2018-04/risks-nuclear-cooperation-saudi-arabia-role-congress

The 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?

Even if Saudi Arabia chose to go with a South Korean firm, it would still need consent by the United States for various nuclear technology transfers.

Also, Russia and China may not be appealing partners for Saudi Arabia because US technology has a better record of safety and reliability than what Russia and China have available for export, and another reason the kingdom may not desire Russian systems is that they are the top supplier of nuclear reactors to Iran.

Furthermore, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (which includes Russia and South Korea) has a set of voluntary guidelines that prohibit its member’s states from transferring sensitive uranium enrichment or plutonium reprocessing technology to be transferred to any state in a region of proliferation concern, such as Saudi Arabia.

The US always expresses its concern about the issue of non-proliferation which will be contradictory to US possible agreement with Saudi’s enrichment. If Trump administration agrees with Saudi demand, will the congress approve it?

I do not believe the Congress will approve a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia if it does not meet the “Gold Standard."

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?

The Israelis have been vocal about their concerns regarding an expansion of the Saudi nuclear program, and have raised their concerns multiple times with the US administration. However, Israel realizes their ability to stop the deal is limited, and so have presented to administration their preferred parameters for a deal. For more on that, see https://www.axios.com/israel-united-states-red-lines-demands-saudi-arabia-nuclear-deal-d010de3e-69ad-4de1-bc5e-0387dd5b91dc.html While many members of Congress have been very vocal about retaining a 123 agreement that adheres to strong nonproliferation standards, few, if any, have used a balance of power against Israel as a justification for their beliefs.

Interview by: Javad Heirannia

MNA/TT

News Code 140113

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