With US administration paving the way for a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia, US companies are gearing up to grab the opportunity to win the bid for selling nuclear equipment to Riyadh. Ironically, US, a nuclear superpower, is not quite a superpower when it comes to development and exporting of technology, an area where Russia and China are significantly ahead of it. Hence the US companies, mindful of the fact are contemplating forming a consortium and tying up with South Korean firms to order to secure contracts for the nuclear project in Riyadh.
What looks like a clear-cut plan is a double edged sword because if US companies are able to win the bid against Russian and Chinese companies, it would raise concerns in the US government. US government would need to make sure that Gulf nation commits to the highest standards of inspection and verification, which US calls ‘gold standards’.
The alarms about the deal were being raised since earlier this year, as an oversight committee under the House of Democrats released a 24-page long report revealing the transfer of sensitive nuclear technology from US to Saudi Arabia, in a bid to build nuclear reactors across the Kingdom. The report also indicated direct engagement between US President Donald Trump with the American companies, who pushed for the transfer of the nuclear technology.
US President Donald Trump also had a meeting with the firms developing nuclear technology at the White House on 12 February to discuss building plants in Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia.
Since US Atomic Energy Act would compel the US’s government to ensure Saudi Arabia adheres to certain nuclear safeguards, US firms are more inclined towards making the transfer of technology via South Korea.
In an extensive analysis of the entire issue the Daily Beast revealed that the nuclear technology that would eventually find its way to Riyadh would be of South Korean origin, not American. Therefore, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia would not need a 123 Agreement. The U.S. companies would only provide other services such as technical expertise, security and staffing.
Saudi Arabia is keen on obtaining nuclear technology in order to diversify its energy sources to meet its needs. ProPublica, which was the first to expose the details of US-Riyadh nuclear dealings added that that earlier nuclear negotiations between US and Saudi Arabia ended as Saudi Arabia refused to commit to not using the technology for weaponry. Hence, transferring the technology via South Korea takes the burden of legalities away from US.
Trump’s Mideast peace if executed would definitely be a landmark plan, which might not fetch him a Nobel Peace Prize as he expects but increase the chances of nuclear war. According to the oversight committee report, “Experts worry that transferring sensitive U.S. nuclear technology could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons that contribute to the proliferation of nuclear arms throughout an already unstable Middle East.”
US Officials, particularly in the Department of Energy, are trying to persuade South Korea to uphold higher standards of verification and inspection.