In a story that migrated off the New York Times’ home page far too quickly, David Sanger and William Broad asked a searingly important question that has yet to seize the world imagination: Can Saudi Arabian leaders be trusted with the means to create nuclear weapons? The Times article, “Saudis Want a US Nuclear Deal. Can They Be Trusted Not to Build a Bomb?”, focuses on a continuing US intelligence effort to determine whether the assumed next king of Saudi Arabia, 33-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has been “laying the groundwork for building an atomic bomb” while negotiating the terms of a nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States.
Such a “123 agreement” (named after a section of the US Atomic Energy Act of 1954) would impose a set of nonproliferation criteria on Saudi Arabia if it were to use US technology and equipment in its nascent nuclear program. But, Sanger and Broad write, “there is a hitch: Saudi Arabia insists on producing its own nuclear fuel, even though it could buy it more cheaply abroad, according to American and Saudi officials familiar with the negotiations. That raised concerns in Washington that the Saudis could divert their fuel into a covert weapons project—exactly what the United States and its allies feared Iran was doing before it reached the 2015 nuclear accord, which President Trump has since abandoned.”
The Washington Post recently reported that US Central Intelligence Agency has concluded that the Saudi crown prince, sometimes known as MBS, ordered the bizarre October assassination and butchering of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. In their article, Sanger and Broad suggest that “lurking behind” the 123 negotiations “is the question of whether a Saudi government that assassinated Mr. Khashoggi and repeatedly changed its story about the murder can be trusted with nuclear fuel and technology.”
Legitimate as that question may be, it understates the degree to which experts are concerned about Saudi Arabia’s plans for a massive nuclear power program, and the prospect it might be used as a front for the creation of a Saudi Bomb. Here is a quick overview of some of that concern, as expressed in the Bulletin recently:
By Robert Einhorn, January 12, 2018