The US administration has been negotiating since 2017 with Saudi Arabia the supply of nuclear reactors, which could lead to the manufacture of the atomic bomb.
To justify his hesitation to incriminate the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), suspected by the CIA of sponsoring the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Donald Trump does not hesitate to mention the 110 billion arms contracts that the United States has concluded with Saudi Arabia in 2017. According to the US President, these signatures would represent the creation of nearly a million jobs. Yet experts agree that, for the time being, only $ 14.5 billion worth of contracts have actually been signed between Riyadh and Washington, which has resulted, for now, only 500 new American jobs.
However, there is another aspect of the US-Saudi strategic relationship that the White House resident has been careful not to mention in recent weeks. According to the New York Times, the Trump administration is negotiating with Saudi Arabia to sell nuclear reactors. Conducted since 2017 by the US Department of Energy, as well as the State Department, discussions would amount to about 80 billion dollars (65 billion euros).
16 nuclear reactors
On November 5, the Saudi Crown Prince posed with great pomp, at the Science City of Riyadh, the first stone of the first nuclear research reactor of the kingdom, out of the sixteen planned over the next two decades, according to the agency SPA official press. To prevent the announced end of hydrocarbons, and the growing needs of its population of 30 million – including 20 million Saudis and 10 million expatriates – the kingdom al-Saud intends to diversify its sources of energy, currently based mainly on oil and natural gas.
This “National Policy on the Atomic Energy Program” was officially approved by the Saudi government last March. Riyadh plans to start construction of its first reactors next year, for commissioning in 2027. In the long run, the petromarchy wants to produce 17.6 gigawatts of electricity by 2040, or 10% of production making it one of the most ambitious nuclear programs in the world.
According to the New York Times, the construction of the first two reactors would be entrusted to the American firm Westinghouse, which would operate locally through South Korean companies. Secret, the negotiations are led by Secretary of State for Energy Rick Perry, who went to Riyadh in late 2017, says the American daily. Last February, he was in London to discuss a 1-2-3 nuclear non-proliferation agreement, along the lines of those already concluded with South Korea, India and the United Arab Emirates. It provides for the supply to Saudi Arabia of fuel over a period of ten to fifteen years. But problem: the Saudis have already refused.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the al-Saud kingdom wanted to enrich its uranium itself, while it would cost less to import fuel from outside. “It would not be natural for us to bring enriched uranium from a foreign country,” he told Reuters in March. With a low level of enrichment (less than 5%), this process makes it possible to produce the fuel needed to manufacture electricity or for the production of medical isotopes, which are used to diagnose certain cancers. But if it is 90% enriched, uranium can be used to make the atomic bomb, which is formally prohibited under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which Saudi Arabia signed – but not ratified.
As in Iran
It was precisely the discovery of a secret uranium enrichment program in Iran in 2002 that provoked the Iranian nuclear crisis, as the international community suspected Tehran of wanting to acquire atomic weapons under the guise of a program for civilian purposes. After four rounds of UN sanctions, a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic was averted thanks to the signing, in July 2015, of a historic agreement on Iran’s nuclear power, which significantly reduced Iran’s enrichment capabilities, in exchange for a lifting of sanctions against Tehran. Since then, thirteen times, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has announced that Iran is honoring its commitments.
Yet this deal is more than ever threatened because of Donald Trump’s withdrawal last May. The US president considers the text insufficient (he does not deal with the Iranian missile program and “destabilizing activities” of Iran in the Middle East, he believes) and he pronounced against Tehran the “hardest” sanctions of history “to compel him to accept his conditions.
“If Iran develops a nuclear bomb, we will follow without delay”
But now doubts are emerging about the purely civil nature, as the Saudis say, of the future nuclear program of Saudi Arabia, a country much closer to the United States, which Donald Trump called “ally unshakable “, despite the Khashoggi affair, which tarnished his image. Especially since, according to the New York Times, quoting US officials, Riyadh has reported to Washington his refusal to sign an agreement allowing IAEA agents to come to inspect the future Saudi nuclear program, as required the NPT.
Saudi official statements only fuel suspicion. In March, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman assured, in an interview with the American channel CBS, that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire the nuclear bomb”. Not without adding: “Without doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we would follow without delay. A warning since repeated by the Saudi Minister of Energy, as well as his foreign counterpart, Adel al-Joubeir. But Saudi Arabia, along with the United States, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, is one of the few countries to denounce the Iran nuclear deal, which they believe will last for ten years – does not rule out, eventually, the risk of an Iranian atomic bomb.
Towards a bomb race in the Middle East?
Especially since the country of the Two Holy Mosques is not amateur in the military nuclear field. It was Saudi Arabia that financed Pakistan’s acquisition of the atomic bomb in the 1980s. It is still Riyadh that, according to the New York Times, bought in 1988 from China medium range missiles designed to carry nuclear, chemical or biological warheads.
At a time when Donald Trump is showing some largesse vis-à-vis his Middle Eastern ally, stuck in the Khashoggi affair, in the name of US business interests, many are wondering if the president The US would not be paving the way for a nuclearization of Saudi Arabia, a prelude to a generalized bombshell in the Middle East.
In a letter sent in late October to the White House resident, reported by Reuters, five influential US senators, Democrats and Republicans, urged Donald Trump to suspend the ongoing nuclear talks with Riyadh, threatening to use their veto in the case otherwise (they would need the majority in both rooms). “The revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as some Saudi actions relating to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised serious concerns about the transparency, accountability and judgment of the current leaders in Saudi Arabia,” write the elect.