US senators plan to block Riyadh from obtaining nukes

US senators plan to block Riyadh from obtaining nukes
US Congress wants to block the possible path to nuclear weapons for Saudi Arabia.
2 min read
13 February, 2019
Riyadh is looking to nuclear power for domestic energy use [Getty]

US senators have struck a plan to block any attempts by Riyadh to obtain nuclear weapons as Washington looks to move ahead with a plan to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia.

The plan would see the civilian nuclear cooperation agreement between Washington and Riyadh curtailed by limits on the enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of plutonium, which could be converted for military use, according to Reuters.

Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ed Markey and Republican Rand Paul have put forward the measure, which still has to be voted for by a majority of the 100-member Senate and can still be ignored by the government.

But it follows other moves taken by American lawmakers to protest the Saudi-led war in Yemen - supported by Washington - and the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

"If Saudi Arabia is going to get its hands on nuclear technology, it's absolutely critical that we hold it to the gold standard for non-proliferation," Merkley said in a release. 

"The last thing America should do is inadvertently help develop nuclear weapons for a bad actor on the world stage."

Riyadh claims it has no wish to obtain nuclear weapons, and only wants supplies for domestic energy consumption, freeing it to use more of its locally produced oil and gas for export.

But erratic Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - who has forced Saudi Arabia down a path of more aggressive foreign and military policy - did say last year that Riyadh would pursue gaining nuclear weapons, if its arch-rival Iran did.

Iran has come under tough economic sanctions after the US pulled out of an agreement with Iran, intended to curb any block any military use for the country's civilian nuclear energy programme.

Riyadh is also rumoured to have an agreement with Pakistan on gaining Islamabad's nukes in the event of Tehran becoming nuclear-armed.

Although a number of nuclear commercial giants are bidding for Saudi Arabia's reactors project, US builder Westinghouse is tipped to be favourite to clinch the deal.

But Saudi Arabia has refused to sign an agreement with a US company unless it is able to enrich uranium, and President Donald Trump has been keen to seal the deal.