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U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Mohammed bin Salman one month before he was elevated to crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh, May 20, 2017 (AP photo by Evan Vucci).

The Race to Win Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Reactor Bid Raises Fears of Proliferation

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Amid all the focus on whether the Trump administration will recertify the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Iran’s regional rival, Saudi Arabia, has rekindled nuclear ambitions of its own. Later this month, Saudi Arabia will announce the winner of a multibillion-dollar contract to build the nation’s first two nuclear reactors, set to be constructed along the Persian Gulf. A U.S. consortium is competing with many others in what has become a geopolitical contest, but not without controversy.

The United States has participated in over 100 nuclear deals like this before, so what makes one with Saudi Arabia so divisive? Riyadh wants to retain uranium enrichment capabilities, an essential feature of building nuclear weapons that caused so much concern in Iran’s hands. Wary of igniting a regional arms race, the U.S. is hesitant to drop its safeguard clauses meant to keep civil nuclear technology from being used for military purposes, which would mean in effect bending the rules for Saudi Arabia. But insisting on tighter restrictions would likely drive Saudi Arabia into the arms of a Chinese or Russian bidder who would not require such stringent modifications to its reactor to address nonproliferation concerns. In addition, as a result, the already-lagging American nuclear sector would lose another business opportunity. ...

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