The Trump administration re-entered discussions with the Saudi government on sharing the sensitive technology, Christopher Ford, the national security council’s senior director for weapons of mass destruction and counterproliferation disclosed during a Senate hearing on November 28.
Previous discussions led by former US administrations had broken down after the Saudi government refused to offer guarantees over the potential use of the technology for nuclear weapons.
The Saudi government wants Washington to approve the sharing of US nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, Ford said, adding that negotiations over safeguards were underway but said they were not a “legal requirement”.
“It remains US policy, as it has been for some time, to seek the strongest possible nonproliferation protections in every instance,” he told senators.
“It is not a legal requirement. It is a desired outcome.”
Senator Ed Markey, who questioned Ford during the session, was cynical over his country’s role in aiding Saudi Arabia to obtain nuclear technology.
“If we continue down this pathway,” Markey said, “Then there’s a recipe for disaster which we are absolutely creating ourselves.”
He also accused the Trump administration of breaching its legal obligations to brief the committee on the negotiations.
Other US officials saw the idea of sharing nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia not to be in the national interest of America.
“It smelled so bad I said I never wanted to be anywhere close to that,” a former White House official said, according to ProPublica.
A Saudi spokesperson issued a statement over the matter, highlighting his country’s alleged growing electricity needs “due to our population and industrial growth”.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, hence is diversifying its energy mix to serve its domestic needs in accordance with international laws and standards,” the statement said.
“The Kingdom has been actively exploring diverse energy sources for nearly the last decade to meet growing domestic demand.”
The Trump administration’s proposed sharing of nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia can be seen as a direct response against the kingdom’s regional rival Iran.
A 2015 nuclear deal struck between Iran and six world powers – including Barack Obama’s administration – saw sanctions lifted against Iran in return for continued inspections designed to guarantee Iran will not develop nuclear weapons.
However, the Trump administration may agree to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia without safeguard guarantees in place.
The move implies that the new US government will have no major qualms with Saudi Arabia developing a nuclear programme of its own.