Big news this morning about the continuing pressure to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Ken Dilanian was the first with the story, and Washington Post is catching up. Like a lot of stories about the Trump administration’s dicey connections with foreign governments, it adds some new information to a story that I’ve been following for a long time.
The current emphasis is that Saudi Arabia (which I’ll refer to as KSA) wants a nuclear program that might eventually be used to produce weapons. That misses a lot. Michael Flynn was trying to sell nuclear technology to the Saudis for quite some time. That attempt has continued. I have a copy of the report from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, but what I want to do here is discuss the context of the actions described there. This post will be a quick outline, without most of the links it should have.
Early on, Flynn was working with IP3 to sell nuclear reactors to KSA. At the time, KSA said they wanted 16 nuclear reactors. Flynn’s plan included working with Russia and perhaps China to provide the reactors; it also included a heavy security plan that looked likely to include a contractor like Erik Prince to provide the muscle.
As the price of oil went down, KSA could no longer afford 16 reactors, and the plan cratered. But Flynn continued to try to sell reactors to them. He also included American reactor manufacturers. When Flynn was taken down by his Russian connections, interactions to sell reactors to KSA continued.
As recently as last week, Donald Trump was meeting with reactor manufacturers on the subject. Current concerns revolve around safeguards against KSA’s using its nuclear technology to develop nuclear weapons. To do this, the United States requires what is called a 123 Agreement, named for its legal basis. The trend has been toward disallowing uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel, the two pathways to nuclear weapons, although they can also be justified for peaceful use. KSA does not want those restrictions. It appears that the news today is that some in the administration are trying to meet KSA’s preferences.
The bigger story is that the administration, via Flynn and now others, has been eager to supply KSA with the technology it wants. Other recent news, like the administration’s unwillingness to admit KSA’s brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, suggests a relationship similar to Trump’s favoritism toward Russia.
In January 2017, Erik Prince met with Russian and Middle Eastern representatives in the Seychelles.
There is a nonproliferation issue here, but I think the larger issue is the quid pro quo. KSA wants the nuclear technology. What is the quo?