New probe of White House Saudi nuclear plan

US President Donald Trump is seated during the Arab Islamic American Summit at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center in Riyadh in 2017Image copyright
MANDEL NGAN VIA GETTY IMAGES

Image caption

President Trump at the Arab Islamic American Summit in Riyadh in 2017

The US is rushing to transfer sensitive nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, according to a new congressional report.

A Democrat-led House panel has launched an inquiry over concerns about the White House plan to build nuclear reactors across the kingdom.

Whistleblowers told the panel it could destabilise the Middle East by boosting nuclear weapon proliferation.

Firms linked to the president have reportedly pushed for these transfers.

The House of Representatives’ Oversight Committee report notes that an inquiry into the matter is “particularly critical because the Administration’s efforts to transfer sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia appear to be ongoing”.

President Donald Trump met nuclear power developers at the White House on 12 February to discuss building plants in Middle Eastern nations, including Saudi Arabia.

And Mr Trump’s son-in-law, White House adviser Jared Kushner, will be touring the Middle East this month to discuss the economics of the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Saudi Arabia has said it wants nuclear power in order to diversify its energy sources and help address growing energy needs.

But concerns around rival Iran developing nuclear technology are also at play, according to US media.

Previous negotiations for US nuclear technology ended after Saudi Arabia refused to agree to safeguards against using the tech for weaponry, but the Trump administration may not see these safeguards as mandatory, ProPublica reported.

Critics say giving Saudi Arabia access to US nuclear technology would spark a dangerous arms race in the volatile region.

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Getty Images

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Adviser Jared Kushner watches alongside a member of the Saudi Delegation during a meeting between President Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

What does the report say?

The House report is based on whistleblower accounts and documents showing communications between Trump administration officials and nuclear power companies.

It states that “within the US, strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia”.

These commercial entities could “reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia”.

Mr Trump is reportedly “directly engaged in the effort”.

The White House has yet to comment on the report.

The report includes a timeline of events and names other administration officials who have been involved with the matter, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Mr Kushner, Mr Trump’s inaugural committee chairman Tom Barrack and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Flynn was found guilty of lying about Russian contacts by special counsel Robert Mueller as a part of the inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The commercial entities implicated in the report are:

  • IP3 International, a private company led by ex-military officers and security officials that organised a group of US companies to build “dozens of nuclear power plants” in Saudi Arabia
  • ACU Strategic Partners, a nuclear power consultancy led by British-American Alex Copson
  • Colony NorthStar, Mr Barrack’s real estate investment firm
  • Flynn Intel Group, a consultancy and lobby set up by Michael Flynn

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Reuters

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Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was deeply involved with the nuclear plans, the report says

The report states that Flynn had decided to develop IP3’s nuclear initiative, the Middle East Marshall Plan, during his transition, and while he was still serving as an adviser for the company.

In January 2017, National Security Council staff began to raise concerns that these plans were inappropriate and possibly illegal, and that Flynn had a potentially criminal conflict of interest.

Following Flynn’s dismissal, however, IP3 continued to push for the Middle East Plans to be presented to Mr Trump.

According to the report, one senior official said the proposal was “a scheme for these generals to make some money”.

And whistleblowers described the White House working environment as “marked by chaos, dysfunction and backbiting”.

What next?

The report says an investigation will determine whether the administration has been acting “in the national security interests of the United States or, rather, [to] serve those who stand to gain financially” from this policy change.

These apparent conflicts of interest among White House advisers may breach federal law, and the report notes that there is bi-partisan concern regarding Saudi Arabia’s access to nuclear technology.

The oversight committee is seeking interviews with the companies, “key personnel” who promoted the plan to the White House, as well as the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Defence, State, Treasury, the White House and the CIA.

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