Saudi Arabia and relations with the oil-rich kingdom have been a fixed matter of dispute between Democrats of the Congress and President Donald Trump. While row between the two is up after Trump recently vetoed a Congress bill prohibiting arms sales to Saudi Arabia and Washington’s participation into the war against Yemen, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a couple of reports has begun an investigation into the administration’s efforts to help Saudi Arabia become a nuclear state. One of the reports suggests that independent and non-state individuals with close relations to Trump have developed a sway over the American policy towards Saudi Arabia.
“New documents show that Thomas J. Barrack, Jr.—a longtime personal friend, campaign donor, and inaugural chairman—negotiated directly with President Trump and other White House officials to seek powerful positions within the Administration—including Special Envoy to the Middle East and Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates—at the same time he was (1) promoting the interests of U.S. corporations seeking to profit from the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia; (2) advocating on behalf of foreign interests seeking to obtain this U.S. nuclear technology; and (3) taking steps for his own company, Colony NorthStar, to profit from the same proposals he was advancing with the Administration,” part of the report read.
The lobby is aimed at bypassing the “gold standard” provisions for 123 agreements that require the states reaching a nuclear deal with the US to avoid uranium enrichment on their soil and also activities that can lead to the development of nuclear weapons.
According to a 60,000-page report that reveals the government’s efforts to pave the way for private companies with close ties to Trump to influence the US policy on Saudi Arabia, the IP3 International, a consortium of American companies, is helped by the administration to win contracts to build nuclear power plants for Saudi Arabia. The company is revealed to have pressured the president not to hold strict on Saudi Arabia when it comes to gold standard because binding the company to this standard will bar it from hugely profitable nuclear contracts with the Arab monarchy. The Committee questions if Trumps puts his friends’ interests first to the American people security and the American global goal of preventing nuclear proliferation.
The New York Times on March 2 in a report had disclosed relations between the Trump family and the nuclear companies selling technology to Saudi Arabia. According to the report, the real estate company belonging to Jared Kushner, Trump’s advisor and son-in-law, has failed to pay for Manhattan office tower at 666 Fifth Avenue it has acquired earlier. Brookfield, Barrack’s company, said it had agreed to a 99-year lease of the tower and so paid its price, which is reportedly $1.1 billion, at once. Brookfield is the owner of Westinghouse Electric Company, a company Barrack bought out of bankruptcy in association with Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Westinghouse is a nuclear company that seeks to supply reactors to the two Arab countries.
Trump and competition in the profitable Saudi nuclear market
In 2016, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled Saudi Vision 2030 that is meant to cut the Saudi reliance on oil incomes. Part of the road map sets blueprints for Saudi Arabia to become a nuclear state. The plan eyes building 17 nuclear reactors with the capacity to produce 16,000 megawatts of power. The cost of the project is predicted to be well beyond $80 billion.
The kingdom also approaches the East for its nuclear program. One of the main objectives of Saudi Arabia’s “focus on the East” policy that was adopted over the past few years is pushing forward the nuclear program. During his last year visit to Saudi Arabia, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked about nuclear cooperation with the Saudi officials. Announcing the Russian readiness to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia, the top Russian diplomat hoped Moscow would participate actively in civilian Saudi nuclear program.
Trump, struggling not to fall behind in such a lucrative race, seeks to take a lion share in the Saudi nuclear program after huge sales of weapons to the Arab kingdom for the good of personal and friends’ profit.
Saudi Arabia is fast turning into a nuclear state. In 2018, bin Salman announced starting two nuclear reactors. Bloomberg news network on June 25 reported that construction operation of the first reactor in the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology on the outskirts of the capital Riyadh finished and in near future the Arab country can obtain the capability to enrich uranium and produce plutonium.
Nuclear Saudi Arabia and the threat to American and Israeli security
Critics of Trump’s help to the ambitious nuclear plans of Prince Mohammed argue that the huge profits the White House seeks in the program have forced a redefinition of the US West Asia policy that is in contradiction to the US and region’s security. This is the idea and concern of many American elites, Europeans, and even sometimes the Israeli leaders. The critics alert the Trump administration not just about the start of a nuclear arms race in the region but also they argue Saudi Arabia turning into a nuclear state is harmful to Tel Aviv as a key ally to Washington. A black record by Saudi Arabia to use the Western-supplied arms to back terrorism and radicalism and commit crimes against Yemeni civilians borrows the alert credibility.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed their opposition to Arab countries’ procurement of nuclear technology. Prince Mohammed in an interview with the CBS in March 2018 said that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb we will follow suit as soon as possible.” The remarks largely question the veracity of claims that the Saudi nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Saudi acquisition of nuclear technology draws even further worries among the American political circles as the passage of time makes documents about the Saudi state hands in 9/11 attacks come to surface. Recently, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused 9/11 mastermind who is held in Guantanamo, has said he was open to testimony against Saudi Arabia in victims’ lawsuit if the US not to seek death penalty against him, implying that Riyadh helped the 2001 attacks. Now we should wait to see if Congress can take on Trump in the Saudi nuclear case or its bills will meet a fate similar to that of the arms sales ban.