How the Department of Energy’s decision to approve the sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia puts the whole world at risk
Last week, the Department of Energy approved seven different companies’ requests to engage in an exchange of nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia.
Critics have warned that the maneuver may ultimately assist in putting the Saudis on track to developing nuclear weapons, while also noting that the Trump administration’s decision to approve the transaction without congressional support demonstrates a lack of transparency and may constitute a potential conflict of interest. Calls for further investigation into these nuclear dealings have worked to finally bring attention to one of America’s strongest, and most problematic, relationships.
Recently, U.S.-Saudi relations have been the target of intense congressional scrutiny following the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of the Saudi government last October. Long heralded as a particularly close and special relationship, the alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States has grown uniquely prominent in recent years, especially as the U.S. continues selling weapons to the Saudi kingdom despite its role in the ongoing slaughter in Yemen.
Recently proposed nuclear sales have been portrayed as assisting Saudi efforts to pursue energy modernization. The reality is, however, that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s push toward nuclear technology has far more to do with developing nuclear weapons as a means of countering Iranian influence than with providing a source of renewable energy. In fact, the Crown Prince stated last year that “without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Despite the repeated insistence of the Trump administration that Iran is the greatest state sponsor of terrorism (and thus must be subject to regime change), the State Department remains silent on Saudi Arabia’s role in becoming arguably the most prolific financial supporter of global Islamist terrorism. Saudi Arabia has exported violent Wahhabist ideology at an international level, funding thousands of radical madrassas across multiple continents, with the intention of fomenting a radical form of Islam at the expense of more moderate voices. Saudi Arabia has funded terrorist organizations including al-Qaeda, the Taliban and al-Nusra.
Of course, the cognitive dissonance caused by America’s contradictory policies over Iran and Saudi Arabia’s pursuit of nuclear technology is not without reason. The United States remains closely tied financially to the Saudi government, especially over weapon sales and crude oil transactions. More broadly, the Trump administration’s support for exporting nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia is also part of a larger effort to establish a coalition of Arab states to assist the United States and Israel in countering Iranian influence in the Middle East.
White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner has developed an unusually close relationship with the Saudi royal family, frequently engaging in private, informal conversations with the Crown Prince. This has drawn the ire of some who see the politically-inexperienced Kushner as susceptible to Saudi manipulation. Kushner’s top level security clearance was initially denied by intelligence officials last month, likely due in part to his close ties to the Saudi government, and was only approved after the president overruled the decision. Given his proximity to both Trump and the Crown Prince, it’s hard to imagine that Kushner did not have a role in pushing these dangerous nuclear sales forward.
Even as Trump rightfully attempts to denuclearize countries like North Korea, his administration contradicts itself by supporting the nuclearization of one of the most despotic regimes on the planet. Driven by its own greed and manipulated by its close alliance with the Saudi royal family, the U.S. government seems intent on assisting Saudi Arabia in developing nuclear weapons. The sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia does not benefit the U.S. domestically or on an international level. Instead, it threatens to violently backfire by signifying American hypocrisy on a global scale and rapidly accelerating tensions in one of the most volatile regions in the world.
Written by: Brandon Jetter — firstname.lastname@example.org
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