After multiple whistleblowers came forward, the U.S House Oversight and Reform Committee have released a staff report which shows that the White House has been seeking to fast track the sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Not only has the White House has sought to proceed with the sale without a legally required congressional review, the sale would also likely be in violation of the Atomic Energy Act. The technology transfer would be part of a multi-billion dollar deal for a private company called IP3 International, which wants to build about 40 power plants in Saudi Arabia in the coming decades. There are fears that US nuclear technology could be used by Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons, which could cause a destabilising arms race in the Middle East and increase the risk of rogue actors gaining access to nuclear materials.
The report claims that “strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia—a potential risk to U.S. national security absent adequate safeguards. These commercial entities stand to reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia—and apparently have been in close and repeated contact with President Trump and his Administration”.
A group of five Republican Senators have written to the White House requesting that they suspend efforts to transfer the technology. The Democrat-controlled House Oversight and Reform Committee will be investigating the proposed deal and any attempts by U.S power companies to gain the support of White House officials. Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings said in a letter to the White House that “The whistleblowers who came forward have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes”.
It is a promising sign that opposition to the deal has so far been bipartisan. The Democrat-controlled congress and Republican-led Senate should do everything in their power to block the deal and investigate any potentially illegal activity that may have led to it progressing this far. The U.S should not be engaging in deals with Saudi Arabia during a time when the kingdom has been receiving widespread condemnation for its human rights abuses, most notably its actions in the ongoing war in Yemen and the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi . Helping the Saudis to achieve such a significant deal may be seen as exonerating.
The Obama administration had tried to negotiate a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia, but the agreement failed because the Saudis refused provide a legal commitment to forgo plutonium reprocessing and uranium enrichment (key steps towards producing nuclear weapons). The current administration’s apparent willingness to risk enabling an oppressive dictatorship like Saudi Arabia to gain nuclear weapons, after putting so much effort into preventing Iran and North Korea from having them, highlights a great amount of hypocrisy on their part. It gives the impression that an opportunity to make money for American energy companies is more important than preventing nuclear proliferation and standing up for human rights. This damages U.S credibility in this area and may undermine future efforts to convince North Korea to denuclearize, and to gain the support of other nations in preventing any future efforts from Iran to gain nuclear weapons.
With pressure coming from both legislative chambers, a Democrat controlled House Oversight and Reform Committee, senior Republicans and the threat of legal challenges, it seems like the deal will struggle to progress any further. To repair U.S credibility, the full extent of the law should be used to ensure that anyone in the administration who is guilty of any wrong doing is held appropriately accountable.
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