Israel said to express concerns to US over Saudi nuclear program
PMO reportedly treading carefully due to worries about harming unofficial ties with Riyadh, amid reports Saudis developing nuclear facility with China’s help
By TOI staff
19 August 2020https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-said-to-express-concerns-to-us-over-saudi-nuclear-program/
Two buildings, located near Saudi Arabia's Solar Village research institute, that some analysts believe could be nuclear facilities (Google Earth screen grab)
Israeli security and intelligence officials have recently reached out to their US counterparts to express concerns over Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program, the Walla news site reported Wednesday.
Quoting an unnamed Israeli official, the report said the Prime Minister’s Office was treating the matter with high levels of sensitivity due to concerns about harming Israel’s unofficial ties with Saudi Arabia.
Israel views Saudi Arabia as a strategic partner, particularly in combating mutual foe Iran and its proxies, and Jerusalem hopes the kingdom will follow the lead of the United Arab Emirates and agree on a normalization deal, or at least encourage other Gulf nations to do so.
According to the report, these factors have led to the Prime Minister’s Office instructing officials not to publicly comment on the matter.
“There are worrying signs but it’s still not that clear to us what exactly is happening at this facility,” an Israeli official told the news site, referring to the recent reports that Saudi Arabia is developing a nuclear facility with China’s help.
“It’s pretty unclear to the Americans and the International Atomic Energy Agency what is going on there, and IAEA officials intend to check into this with the Saudis,” the Israeli official added.
Both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times last week cited US intelligence officials as saying they were worried about Riyadh possibly heading toward nuclear weapons capability after the kingdom, aided by China, constructed a facility to extract uranium yellowcake from uranium ore, which can be enriched into fuel for a nuclear weapon.
The Saudis began working on various nuclear energy projects more than a decade ago; one of them aims to construct 16 nuclear reactors by 2040, another trains technicians for uranium mining and extractions.
Saudi Arabia has acknowledged having extracted small amounts of uranium from ores, with the assistance of China and Jordan, which has led international researchers and intelligence officers to look for possible facilities suitable for processing uranium ores and the production of uranium ore concentrate, yellowcake.
The Walla report said that Saudi Arabia had chosen China for the project because Beijing would not require assurances that the nuclear capabilities would be for peaceful purposes only. However, the Saudis are thought to ultimately prefer to work together with Washington on the matter of nuclear power, especially given Beijing’s alignment with Tehran.
Saudi Arabia has never hidden its intention to become a nuclear power if Iran sets the precedent.
Israel, which is believed to have a nuclear arsenal, has always actively opposed efforts by other states in the region to acquire non-conventional weaponry.
Covert ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have reportedly been warming in recent years. The shift in policy has reportedly been led by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, who sees Israel as a strategic partner in the fight against Iranian influence in the region.
However, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Riyadh will not normalize relations with Israel before an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord is reached.
The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that a nuclear power plant has been connected to the country’s power grid.
In this undated photograph published by the United Arab Emirates’ state-run WAM news agency, employees work at the Barakah Nuclear Power Plant in the UAE’s far western desert (WAM via AP)
The $20 billion Barakah nuclear power plant was built by the Emirates with the help of South Korea. It’s the first nuclear power plant on the Arabian Peninsula.
The US has praised the UAE’s nuclear program for agreeing never to acquire enrichment or reprocessing capabilities, which prevents it from being able to make weapons-grade uranium. The US says that’s a model agreement for other countries seeking nuclear power while also encouraging the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.
Last year, a nuclear expert told the British Telegraph that the nuclear program of the UAE could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, and its lack of crucial safety features could lead to a nuclear disaster.
Dr. Paul Dorfman of the Nuclear Consulting Group said the UAE may be hoping to use the program to develop a nuclear weapons arsenal. He also warned that Abu Dhabi’s nuclear plants could be a prime target for terrorists.
Pompeo: Tamping down ‘risk’ of Saudi nukes is a top US priority
By Ebony Bowden and Steven Nelson
August 19, 2020 https://nypost.com/2020/08/19/pompeo-tamping-down-risk-of-saudi-nukes-is-a-top-us-priority/
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that nuclear proliferation by Saudi Arabia is a real “risk” — listing it among rogue regimes that the United States is keeping its eye on.
The remarks follow reports the Middle Eastern kingdom is building a secret uranium processing plant with help from China — a charge that the secretary did not deny when repeatedly pressed on whether the intelligence was true.
“We’ve made it a real priority in this administration, working on these proliferation issues,” Pompeo, 56, told The Post during an exclusive interview in his office on Wednesday where he confirmed he would be seeking a “snapback” of sanctions on Iran at the United Nations.
“We’re trying to take down risk of proliferation all across the world, whether that’s in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea, or Russia,” he said, naming the oil-rich country along with basket-case regimes.
The secretary did not deny reports that the strategic US ally is constructing a secret mill to process yellowcake, a basic material for uranium enrichment, in the Saudi desert with the help of Chinese technicians.
Pompeo went as far to suggest that Chinese officials offered the wealthy Arab country a deal that was “too good to be true.”
“We’re certainly working with parties throughout the Middle East, sharing with them our concerns about the Chinese Community Party and the risk that’s created when the Chinese Communist Party shows up with a deal that looks too good to be true,” he said.
“Perhaps I’ll just leave it at that,” he continued, declining to go further.
The kingdom reportedly wants to pursue nuclear energy but the move has spooked Saudi Arabia’s neighbors, including Israel who fear the secret uranium site is part of a future military program, according to an Axios report published Wednesday.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, said in 2018 that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Unnamed Israeli officials told the publication they believe the Saudis made the deal with China because the Chinese government does not need assurances that the facility will be only used for peaceful purposes.
According to the Axios report, the US conditions any nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia on the assurance that the uranium will not be used for warfare or any other nefarious purposes.
The Saudi Energy Ministry told the Wall Street Journal that it “categorically denies” claims it is building the extraction facility.
The alleged deal comes as the relationship between Beijing and Washington grows increasingly strained, with President Trump blaming China for concealing the origins of the coronavirus and for cracking down on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
However, Saudi Arabia is considered a strategic ally against Iran in the region and Trump last year defied the wishes of both parties by vetoing a bill that would withdraw US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Pompeo on Wednesday said he hoped China would come to the table and work with them on nuclear proliferation.
“We’ve asked the Chinese to participate in our strategic dialogue on these very same types of weapon systems,” he said.
“It’s like, ‘Hey if you want to be a global player, you should engage in strategic dialogue with us on this,’ and to date they’ve not been permitted to be part of these trilateral conversations,” he said.
“I hope they change their mind.”