Trump Ready to Let Riyadh Go Nuclear

June 5th, 2019 - by Middle East Eye & Patricia Zengerle / Reuters

Federal watchdogs probe Trump administration push for nuclear deal (Photo:Daily Beast)

US Approved Transfer of Nuclear Expertise to Riyadh after Khashoggi Murder

Middle East Eye

WASHINGTON (June 4, 2019) — The Donald Trump administration issued two authorisations for the transfer of technical “nuclear expertise” to Saudi Arabia after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi late last year, US Senator Tim Kaine has revealed.

Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia, where Khashoggi resided, called the decision “shocking” — as it came amid global outrage over the Saudi journalist’s gruesome murder on 2 October.

The two approvals were issued on 18 October — only 16 days after Khashoggi was killed — and on 18 February, respectively.

Known as “Part 810 authorisations”, they allow US companies to discuss and work on nuclear-related projects in the Gulf kingdom.

“I have serious questions about whether any decisions on nuclear transfers were made based on the Trump family’s financial ties rather than the interests of the American people,” Kaine said in a statement on Tuesday.

The senator said the Energy Department provided the recent details in response to queries by his office and other members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. 

A Department of Energy official confirmed to Middle East Eye late on Tuesday that two authorisations were issued after 2 October to enable US companies to “compete in the international civil nuclear market”.

However, the official added that the approvals do not allow the transfer of “nuclear material, equipment or components”.

“The process involves a thorough interagency review that requires the Department of Energy to secure the concurrence of the Department of State, and consult with the Departments of Defense and Commerce, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” the official said in an email.

Lawmakers from both major parties introduced legislation in April to require US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to report to Congress about the transfer of nuclear technology to foreign nations.

During a congressional hearing earlier this year, Kaine also personally grilled Perry over when the nuclear transfers to Saudi Arabia were approved.

Perry said at the time that he did not know the specific dates of the approvals.

The Energy Department has also kept the companies involved in the sharing of nuclear technology information with Saudi Arabia confidential, citing the need to protect business interests, Reuters reported.

‘Fuelling a Dangerous Escalation’

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the government in Riyadh, was killed by Saudi agents inside the country’s consulate in Istanbul last autumn.

His death led to unprecedented criticism of Riyadh in Congress.

Last December, every single US senator voted in favour of a resolution stating that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the crime, a conclusion that was also reached by the CIA.

Still, Trump has continued to stand by his Saudi allies.

The White House missed a deadline mandated by the Global Magnitsky Act, a human rights law, to determine the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s murder.

The US president also vetoed a bill to halt US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, and last month, the Trump administration bypassed Congress to push through a weapons sale to the Gulf kingdom.

The uthorizations for the transfer of nuclear information to Saudi Arabia come amid growing concerns about the possibility of an atomic arms race in the Middle East.

Earlier this year, bin Salman told CBS News that his country would “without a doubt” try to acquire a nuclear weapon if Iran develops one.

“President Trump’s eagerness to give the Saudis anything they want, over bipartisan congressional objection, harms American national security interests,” Kaine said in his statement on Tuesday.

It is also “one of many steps the administration is taking that is fuelling a dangerous escalation of tension in the region”, he said.

Related Stories

•  Congress probes plan by Trump officials to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia

•  Trump bypassed Congress on Saudi weapons sale. Here’s how he did it

US Lawmakers to Push Back Against Trump on Saudi Weapons Sales

Patricia Zengerle / Reuters

WASHINGTON (June 5, 2019) — Members of the US Congress, including some of President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats, are preparing legislation seeking to block his plan for $8 billion in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan, congressional aides and lawmakers said on Tuesday.

The first measures could be introduced within days, congressional aides said.

Declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, the Trump administration informed congressional committees on May 24 that it was going ahead with the 22 military deals, circumventing a long-standing precedent for lawmakers to review major weapons sales.

The decision angered members of both parties, who worried that Trump’s decision to blow through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to prevent not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

The array of military products cleared for sale by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo included offensive equipment like precision-guided munitions, mortars and fighter jet engines, some of which would take many months to be produced and shipped, which lawmakers said belied the administration’s contention that it was addressing an emergency.

Some of the licenses would allow US defence contractors like Raytheon Co and Boeing Co to run production lines in Saudi Arabia.

In the House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, lawmakers were considering a bill that would require the 22 licenses approved by the administration to be pulled back and resubmitted through the regular notification procedure, including a 30-day congressional review, Democratic congressional aides said.

House members also may seek to rewrite the Arms Export Control Act of 1976 to impose tighter restrictions on the use of the “emergency authority” provision, tightening the loophole the Trump administration used to justify the sale so it could only be used for “true emergencies,” aides said.

Bipartisan Support

House members said they expected any measure would have support from members of both parties.

“There’s a bipartisan resolve that we need to re-evaluate our relationship with Saudi Arabia, most especially the weapons that we sell them,” Representative Joaquin Castro, a Democratic member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters.

Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as human rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

When Pompeo announced the sales in May, Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs panel, called the action “unfortunate” and likely to damage future White House interactions with Congress.

In the Senate, congressional aides said, lawmakers planned to file “resolutions of disapproval,” setting up votes on each of the weapons deals approved by the Trump administration.

Senator Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump’s, told the Washington Post that they would work together to introduce 22 resolutions.

The Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to vote on whether to stop major weapons sales by passing a resolution of disapproval.

Opponents of the weapons sale plan said strong bipartisan support for such resolutions would send a strong message to the administration — as well as defence contractors and the three countries — that Congress was unhappy about the process.

Backers of the plan also said it was possible, given the level of congressional anger over Trump’s use of the emergency declaration, that some of the resolutions would garner the two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House needed to override a Trump veto.

Lawmakers could also include legislation related to the weapons sale in a must-pass bill such as the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a massive defence policy measure currently making its way through Congress.

The US military has cited what it sees as a threat of potential attack by Iran to deploy hundreds of troops to the Middle East, in addition to Patriot missiles, bombers and the accelerated movement of a carrier strike group.

However, administration officials have also sought to reassure members of Congress, and the public, that they are not rushing to war with the Islamic republic.

Additional reporting by Mike Stone. Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes