Trump may be rushing nuclear transfer to Saudis

AFP, WASHINGTON

Thu, Feb 21, 2019 - Page 1

US lawmakers on Tuesday said they were probing whether US President Donald Trump is rushing to sell sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia to please corporate supporters who stand to profit.

The US House of Representatives committee in charge of investigations, led by the Democratic Party since last month, said that “multiple whistle-blowers” warned of conflicts of interest “that could implicate federal criminal statutes.”

House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman Elijah Cummings asked the White House to turn over documents, including those related to a meeting two months into Trump’s tenure between his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad bin Salman, who shortly afterward became crown prince.

An initial report by the committee said that “strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively” to transfer sensitive technology to Saudi Arabia.

“These commercial entities stand to reap billions of dollars through contracts associated with constructing and operating nuclear facilities in Saudi Arabia — and apparently have been in close and repeated contact with President Trump and his administration to the present day,” the report said.

The US cannot legally transfer nuclear technology to countries without reaching Section 123 agreements, which provide assurances of peaceful energy use.

The leading proponent of building nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia has been IP3 International, a company whose subsidiary in 2016 listed retired US Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn as an adviser, the committee said.

The Trump administration in its very first week tried to rush through approval of IP3’s bid to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia until a legal adviser ruled that Flynn had a conflict of interest, the committee said, citing whistle-blowers.

IP3’s influence has apparently not ended, with the committee voicing alarm at a report by news site Axios that Trump personally met with representatives of the company among other firms just last week.

Another key proponent of transfers to Saudi Arabia has been Thomas Barrack, a businessman with long-standing interests in the Arab world who organized Trump’s inauguration, the committee said.

The US in 2009 completed an agreement with the United Arab Emirates in which the US ally pledged not to enrich domestic uranium or reprocess spent fuel, steps that could be used to build a nuclear bomb.

Saudi Arabia has walked back from similar promises, although some experts believe Riyadh is talking tough largely to pressure Iran, and that it is unlikely to seek nuclear weapons as long as it enjoys US security guarantees.