Congress: White House should inform us about nuclear talks with Saudi Arabia

Senators believe the Trump administration is keeping them in the dark.

The State Department and the US Department of energy should commit to regularly briefing relevant congressional committees on negotiations on nuclear energy cooperation with Saudi Arabia. This is stated in the report of the US chamber of accounts.

The report notes that Congress should consider amending the atomic energy Act of 1954 to require the state Department and the Department of energy to brief the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate foreign relations committee.

Lawmakers concerned about nuclear nonproliferation issues related to the development of nuclear power have repeatedly noted that they are kept in the dark about the trump administration’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia, many of which were led by former US energy Secretary Rick Perry. Concerns grew after crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said on CBS in 2018 that the Kingdom did not want to get a nuclear bomb, but would do so if Iran – Saudi Arabia’s rival – acquired nuclear weapons.

Riyadh may announce a tender this year for the construction of two nuclear reactors. Russia, China, South Korea, and France have also negotiated their development.

The state Department, under the atomic energy Act, is required to keep Congress “fully informed of the current state of Affairs.” The report by the US chamber of accounts notes that it was “unclear” whether this was the case.

“Congressional staff provided us with examples of the need to search for information about negotiations from other sources, such as articles in the press,” the accounting chamber noted.
Some American lawmakers want the United States to push for Saudi Arabia to agree to the so-called gold standard, which restricts uranium enrichment and reprocessing-potential routes to producing fissile material for nuclear weapons. The United States entered into such an agreement with the United Arab Emirates in 2009.

The US chamber of accounts said that Congress should consider whether to amend the existing law from 1954, requiring briefings every quarter, and indicate what is expected from them.
Democratic Senator Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Marco Rubio last year asked the Accounting chamber to analyze the US Department of energy’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia on nuclear issues, in part out of concern that the Department, rather than the state Department, plays a significant role in them.

The senators said they would study the legislative changes recommended by the accounting chamber. “Congress must reaffirm its tole in reviewing nuclear cooperation agreements to ensure that these agreements do not pose an unnecessary risk to the United States,” they said.

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