Saudis' nuclear endeavors benefit from US loopholes

Published 20.08.2019 00:08

In February 2019, the House Oversight Committee released a report, prepared for Chairman Elijah E. Cummings, revealing efforts within the White House to transfer U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

Since 2017, Cummings has been seeking information about former U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's business interests in Saudi Arabia and his dealings with IP3 International, a private company seeking to profit from building nuclear plants in the kingdom.

He wrote to three companies – Flynn Intel Group, IP3 and ACU Strategic Partners – to find out whether Flynn used his position in the White House to pursue this plan without divulging his past trips, foreign contacts or conflicts of interest.

More than 60,000 pages of documents obtained by the committee show that Flynn notified his business counterparts about his upcoming trips to Russia and the Middle East, where he would meet officials – including Russian President Vladimir Putin and then-Saudi deputy, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Flynn proposed to "relay any messages to specific people" regarding the transfer of nuclear technology to the Middle East.

The committee found that IP3 representatives visited Saudi Arabia in December 2016, shortly before Donald Trump's inauguration, to seek an investment worth $120 million from MBS against a 10% stake in the company. Apparently, IP3 solicited the deal by highlighting the incoming Trump administration's support for the company's plan of nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia.Under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, the United States regulates the transfer of nuclear technology to a foreign country, as such deals would require the approval of Congress.

The documents further unveiled that the Trump administration obliterated nonproliferation standards to control the spread of nuclear weapons. Corporate and foreign interests outweighed government policymaking as the administration was at the disposal of private parties, including Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a close friend of Trump.

As Trump was scheduled to deliver a speech on energy policy in May 2016, new documents show that Thomas J. Barrack, Trump's major campaign donor, exchanged the first draft of the speech with Saudi and Emirati officials to align the pro-Gulf language.

The draft was shared through Rashid Al-Malik, a businessman from the United Arab Emirates, who conveyed suggestions back to Barrack, which were allegedly incorporated in the final speech.

According to the report, Barrack aspired to buy Westinghouse Electric Corp, the sole U.S. manufacturer of nuclear reactors, utilizing Saudi and Emirati funds. He was also negotiating with Trump to push his appointment as a special envoy to the Middle East, promoting the Westinghouse's work on nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia.

Barrack's endeavors to get the special envoy post never paid off, and the plan to make Saudi Arabia a nuclear power ceased due to the kingdom's resistance of American nonproliferation policies that prohibit the enrichment of nuclear technology for weapons.

However, satellite images published in January 2019 suggested that Saudi Arabia built its first ballistic missile plant, which demonstrated the kingdom's increasing military and nuclear ambitions under MBS.

The suspected missile plant based in al-Watah, southwest of Riyadh, would enable Saudi Arabia to manufacture its own ballistic missiles, doubling the odds of an arms race against its regional rival Iran.

If the nuclear deal with the U.S. stalled, how did Saudi Arabia obtain the technology to build the facility? Experts believe that China could be the potential supplier. Saudi Arabia and other nations have purchased ballistic missiles and their production capabilities from China in the past.

The United States has universally prevented the proliferation of technological expertise for ballistic missiles. Washington imposed sanctions on China in the 1990s for supplying missile launchers and components to Pakistan.

But the Trump administration has been unreasonably pushing the sale of these weapons to Saudi Arabia, except for a hypocritical national security threat from Iran.

The congressional report raises serious concerns about whether the White House will give precedence to the income gains of Trump's friends over the national security of the United States.

* Researcher on foreign policy based in North Yorkshire, holding Ph.D. in Mass Communication

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