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December 10, 2019 10:32 am

US Defense Policy Bill Requires Nuclear Power Inspections for Saudi Arabia: Sources

avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes part in a meeting with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Sept. 18, 2019. Photo: Mandel Ngan / Pool via Reuters.

Saudi Arabia and other countries seeking to use US technology to develop nuclear power plants must agree to comprehensive UN inspections under legislation to be included in the defense policy bill expected to be announced as soon as early this week, two Democratic congressional aides said on Monday.

The measure, spearheaded by Democratic US Representative Bradley Sherman, requires countries to sign the so-called Additional Protocol. The measure requires the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, to conduct snap inspections of nuclear power facilities to ensure countries are not developing materials for nuclear weapons.

The language is included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, one of the few pieces of legislation that Congress must pass every year, the two aides said. The $700 billion NDAA bill could be announced in coming days after months of negotiations.

President Donald Trump’s administration has long held quiet talks with Saudi Arabia, which wants to build two nuclear power plants and could use US technology to do so.

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Lawmakers have been seeking more oversight over any deal with Saudi Arabia after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last year his country does not want nuclear weapons but will pursue them if rival Iran develops them. Concern in Congress about Saudi Arabia’s quest for nuclear power increased after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.

Nonproliferation experts said including the measure in the bill was a good step, but that Congress needs to do more. “The bad news is it took Saudi misbehavior to get this legislation; the good news is we finally have it,” said Henry Sokolski, head of the nonprofit group the Nonproliferation Education Center.

In September, former US Energy Secretary Rick Perry sent a letter to Saudi officials saying any deal on nuclear power must also contain a so-called 123 commitment to forgo enrichment of uranium or reprocessing, two pathways to making fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Separately, a Republican congressional aide said legislation by Senator Ted Cruz to impose sanctions on companies building Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, will also be included in the NDAA bill.

The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, opposes the pipeline, saying it will increase Russia’s political and economic grip over many European countries.

Germany and Russia have said the pipeline, expected to be completed sometime next year, is a commercial project.

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