Senators Markey and Rubio, and Reps. Sherman and Yoho Reintroduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Block Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Weapons Ambitions
Washington (February 28, 2019) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Brad Sherman (CA-30), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and Nonproliferation, and Congressman Ted Yoho (FL-03) today introduced legislation that increases Congressional oversight over any civil nuclear cooperation agreement – or 123 agreement – between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Since 2017, there have been reports of negotiations between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia on a potential 123 agreement.
Specifically, the Saudi Nuclear Nonproliferation Act would require Congress to affirmatively approve any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. Typically, 123 agreements—which authorize U.S. companies to sell nuclear technology abroad—go into effect unless veto-proof majorities of Congress pass joint resolutions of disapproval. The legislation also makes clear that Congress believes that no 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia should be approved unless and until the Kingdom is truthful and transparent about the death of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi, unless it commits to forego any uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing activities – the so-called “gold standard – within its territory, and until it agrees to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol. The legislation also urges Saudi Arabia to make substantial progress on protecting human rights, including through the release of political prisoners.
“Saudi Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman is more focused on nuclear energy in the Kingdom for geopolitical power than for electrical power,” said Senator Markey. “Saudi Arabia’s turn towards brutal authoritarianism, along with its stated desire to pursue nuclear weapons, makes it critical for the United States to demand the highest nonproliferation standards in any 123 agreement it negotiates with the country, and for Congress to have final say before approval. I thank Senator Rubio, and Reps. Sherman and Yoho for their leadership on this important legislation that will help thwart a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
“Until the Saudi government agrees to adhere to the ‘Gold Standard’ for responsible nuclear behavior, allows IAEA’s Additional Protocol nuclear inspections, and also proves they are willing to be a responsible partner that respects the basic human rights of their citizens, the United States should suspend all talks related to a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia,” said Senator Rubio. “This important bill will ensure Congress has oversight over and the right to affirmatively approve any civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia, and also continues to press the Saudis for full accountability in the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”
“As I’ve said before, a government that cannot be trusted with a bone saw, should not be trusted with a nuclear weapon,” said Rep. Sherman. “This bill empowers Congress to block any nuclear cooperation agreement that allows Saudi Arabia to acquire the technologies necessary to build a nuclear bomb.”
“Saudi Arabia’s expressed interest in entering into a 123 Agreement with the United States will be held to the same stringent criteria as previous agreements,” said Rep. Yoho. “Any accord with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia needs to be approved by Congress. Proper oversight is key to making sure all enumerated criteria – laid out in this bill – are met before any 123 agreement can be reached.”
A copy of the Saudi Nuclear Nonproliferation Act can be found HERE.
The bipartisan group of lawmakers have long-expressed serious concerns with Saudi Arabia’s unwillingness to commit to the gold standard for civil nuclear cooperation agreements, raising concerns that the Kingdom’s commitment to use nuclear energy isn’t solely for peaceful purposes. A commitment to the gold standard is one way the United States ensures that nations with which we engage in civil nuclear cooperation are living up to the highest nuclear nonproliferation standards. In March 2018 Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman stated in an interview that his country would develop nuclear weapons “without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb.”