Trump’s cronies are in secret talks to sell nuclear tech to Saudi. The risks are clear

“The 1954 US atomic energy act also insists prior congressional approval must be obtained for export of potential dual-use technology – in keeping with International Atomic Energy Agency rules. Yet, according to the report, private commercial interests “have been pressing aggressively” to bypass these controls, in concert with Trump associates. “These commercial entities stand to reap billions of dollars.”

….”The implications of this as-yet incomplete inquiry are wide-ranging – and grim. The nuclear scheme appears to provide further evidence of attempts to monetise the Trump presidency and of possible conflicts of interest and corruption.

Trump’s cronies are in secret talks to sell nuclear tech to Saudi. The risks are clear

The congressional report on this multibillion-dollar scheme provides further evidence of attempts to monetise the Trump presidency
Mohammed bin Salman and Donald Trump at the White House in March 2018.
Mohammed bin Salman and Donald Trump meeting at the White House in March 2018. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The idea that the US might sell state-of-the-art nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, potentially enabling Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reckless regime to build nuclear weapons, sounds so far-fetched as to be almost grotesque.

After all the near-hysterical American and Israeli warnings about the risk of Iran, the Saudis’ arch-rival, acquiring the bomb, surely even Donald Trump would balk at such breathtaking – and dangerous – hypocrisy?

Apparently not. According to a congressional inquiry, senior White House officials, retired generals and Trump’s close relatives and business cronies have been secretly pursuing a multibillion-dollar scheme to cut a nuclear deal with Riyadh.

The talks are said to be continuing, despite increased public scrutiny and legal advice that a technology transfer lacking strict conditions could contravene US law, breach international counter-proliferation safeguards, and fuel a nuclear arms race.

The inquiry’s interim findings, published last week by newly empowered Democrats on the House of Representatives’ oversight committee, were based in part on testimony from “multiple” whistleblowers, its authors said. They focus in particular on two high-profile figures – Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy, and General Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser. Both have featured prominently in Robert Mueller’s almost completed federal probe into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. The committee said it would urgently expand its inquiry “to determine whether the actions being pursued by the Trump administration are in the national security interests of the US or, rather, serve those who stand to gain financially”.

The investigation has become “particularly critical because the administration’s efforts to transfer sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia appear to be ongoing”. As evidence for its view, the report cited a White House meeting on 12 February this year between Trump and “nuclear power developers” about sharing technology with the Saudis and other regional countries. It also raised a red flag over Kushner’s scheduled visits this week to Middle East capitals, including Riyadh, ostensibly to discuss economic development and Middle East peace.

“Experts worry that transferring sensitive US nuclear technology could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons that contribute to the proliferation of nuclear arms throughout an already unstable Middle East,” the report said. It goes on to quote Salman’s 2018 declaration that “without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”.

Hiroshima aftermath.

Despite large oil reserves (and solar and wind power), the Saudis say they need nuclear power. American advocates of nuclear sales argue that if the US does not provide technology, China or Russia will. But effective safeguards are crucial. Barack Obama’s attempt to negotiate a nuclear cooperation deal foundered over the Saudis’ refusal to sign a legally binding pledge eschewing uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing – established pathways to the bomb.

The 1954 US atomic energy act also insists prior congressional approval must be obtained for export of potential dual-use technology – in keeping with International Atomic Energy Agency rules. Yet, according to the report, private commercial interests “have been pressing aggressively” to bypass these controls, in concert with Trump associates. “These commercial entities stand to reap billions of dollars.”

Discussions have been “shrouded in secrecy”, the report said. But it identified a company, IP3 International, at the centre of the proposal to build dozens of nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia. It said Flynn was employed as an adviser to an IP3 subsidiary and lobbied for the deal when he worked in the White House. Another retired general, Jack Keane, was a co-founder of IP3. He reportedly helped organise the 12 February meeting with Trump. “Another key proponent of this effort was Thomas Barrack, Trump’s personal friend of several decades and the chairman of his inaugural committee,” the report stated. Barrack is reputedly a top Trump fundraiser with extensive contacts in the Gulf. A spokesperson said last week he was involved in the region to pursue “better aligned Middle East and US objectives”.

The implications of this as-yet incomplete inquiry are wide-ranging – and grim. The nuclear scheme appears to provide further evidence of attempts to monetise the Trump presidency and of possible conflicts of interest and corruption.

If the sale goes ahead, Iran, whose 2015 agreement to limit nuclear activities was repudiated by Trump last year, may refuse to exercise continued self-restraint. Other Middle East countries could follow, ultimately fuelling a nuclear arms race.

A clear risk exists that the international counter-proliferation apparatus, already damaged by US-Russian scrapping of arms control treaties, may be further undermined by American double standards.

The “nukes-to-Saudi” affair may also help explain why Trump exculpated Salman’s regime over its murder of the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, and has ignored Saudi atrocities in Yemen and other abuses. As they say in New York business circles, he has skin in the game.

This article from the Guardian

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