The US Departments of State and Energy should commit to regular, substantive briefings to Congress on nuclear cooperation negotiations with Saudi Arabia, said a congressional watchdog in a report. The Government Accountability Office (GA) said on May 4 that Congress should consider amending the Atomic Energy Act to specify the timeliness and substance of briefings.
“It is unclear whether the Departments of State and Energy kept Congress ‘fully and currently informed’ of nuclear cooperation negotiations with Saudi Arabia, as required by the Atomic Energy Act,” said the GAO in its report.
The current and prior US administrations have engaged in discussions and negotiations about nuclear cooperation with the Saudi government after the countries signed a memorandum of understanding related to it. However, the negotiations have been stalled since the two countries have not been able to resolve disagreements on several nonproliferation conditions.
According to the watchdog, one of the conditions was Saudi Arabia agreeing to enrichment and reprocessing restrictions and signing an additional protocol with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which would have allowed IAEA to obtain additional information about and access to Saudi nuclear activities.
There have been concerns over Saudi Arabia’s commitment to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, especially after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s statement in 2018. The Crown Prince told a news channel that Saudi Arabia is not interested in acquiring nuclear weapon but would do so if Iran tries to acquire one.
The GAO said in its report that there is a lack of clarity on which US agencies were present at or aware of various interactions, except formal negotiations, where nuclear cooperation may have been discussed. The congressional watchdog added that it was unable to determine whether the agencies kept the committees fully and currently informed.
“By committing to regular briefings to Congress on nuclear cooperation negotiations and initiatives, State could better support congressional oversight on nuclear nonproliferation matters,” said the GAO.
(Image credit: US State Department)