Sherman regularly briefs these allies after diplomatic talks with Iran, but in recent weeks those conversations have been different. While most of America’s Middle East allies—with the exception of Israel—have publicly supported the current Iran negotiations, behind the scenes, envoys from the region have expressed grave concerns that Iran could be left with a break out capacity to make the fuel for a nuclear weapon at a time of their choosing.
And now, one of the countries in the region without a full-blown nuclear programs—Saudi Arabia—may be changing its mind. Riyadh has a long-standing interest in nuclear power. But Western and Israeli intelligence services are starting to see signs that this interest is growing more serious, and extends into nuclear enrichment. Until recently, the pursuit of nuclear enrichment—or the fuel cycle—was considered by arms control experts as a tell-tale sign of a clandestine weapons program. Nuclear fuel is sold to all members of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but it’s far more costly to build the infrastructure and produce it indigenously. Saudi Arabia appears to be getting more serious about going down that path.
If Saudi Arabia pursue nuclear enrichment even if there is an Iran deal, then the victory to curb atomic weapons that Obama has tried to achieve will be at least partially undone by his own diplomacy.
“They view the developments in Iran very negatively. They have money, they can buy talent, they can buy training,” said David Albright, the president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former weapons inspector. “The Saudis are thinking through how do you create a deterrent through capability.”
Albright said in this particular case, an indigenous Saudi program is in the very early stages. In 2012, the Saudi government announced plans to build 16 commercial reactors by 2030 and signed a technology agreement with China. But Albright said he has heard concerns expressed by a European intelligence agency that Saudi Arabia in recent years has quietly been developing the engineering and scientific knowledge base to one day master the nuclear fuel cycle, or produce the fuel indigenously for the reactors it’s trying to build. He said Saudi Arabia was hiring the scientists and engineers needed to build the cascades of centrifuges needed to produce nuclear fuel. “We don’t worry about the Saudis learning to operate a reactor,” he said. “I worry that they will learn the skills needed to master the fuel cycle.”
Read more at The Daily Beast
- Whether It Gets The Bomb Or Not, Iran Is Causing A Regional Nuclear Arms Race (businessinsider.com)