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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 3/4/19

Giving the Bomb to Saudi Arabia's Dr. Strangelove

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The most dangerous foreign policy decision of the Trump administration -- and I know this is saying a lot -- is its decision to share sensitive nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia and authorize U.S. companies to build nuclear reactors in that country. I spent seven years in the Middle East. I covered the despotic, repressive kingdom as the Middle East bureau chief for The New York Times. And I, along with most other Arabists in the United States, have little doubt that giving a nuclear capability to Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the ruthless and amoral Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would see it embark on a nuclear weapons program and eventually share weaponized technology with Saudi allies and proxies that include an array of radical jihadists and mortal enemies of America. A nuclearized Saudi Arabia is a grave existential threat to the Middle East and ultimately the United States.

The drive to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia is led by the half-wit son-in-law of the president, Jared Kushner, who met Tuesday with Salman in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to discuss "ways to improve the condition of the entire region through economic investment," according to the White House. Prominently involved in that economic program are corporations such as IP3 International, a consortium of U.S. companies led by several retired generals and admirals and others who stand to make millions from the deal.

The Saudi government, which is soliciting bids for the nuclear reactors, reportedly spent more than $450,000 over a one-month period to lobby the Trump administration to approve its purchase of the equipment and services from U.S. sources. Westinghouse Electric Co. and other American companies are preparing to construct the facilities, which would allow Saudi Arabia to enrich and reprocess uranium. The secretive effort to give Saudi Arabia a nuclear capability is not only colossally stupid, but has been done without being reviewed by Congress, as required by law, and violates the Atomic Energy Act.

Salman, whose psychopathic traits remind me of Saddam Hussein, is widely believed to have ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. He has imprisoned dissidents, brutally ousted rivals, seized over $100 billion in extortion money from kidnapped and tortured members of the royal family and instilled a level of fear and terror inside the kingdom, always a repressive society, unrivaled in its modern history.

Donald Trump and Kushner, by shamelessly defending Salman, even in the face of CIA declarations that the agency has "high confidence" the prince ordered the killing and dismemberment of the Washington Post journalist, are accessories to murder. Not surprisingly, the White House ignored a deadline this month that the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations set for making a report on Khashoggi's assassination. Kushner, whom the Saudi leader reportedly claimed to have "in his pocket," did not appear to have raised the Khashoggi murder in last week's meeting, the first face-to-face encounter he has had with Salman since the assassination.

Salman has not ruled out weaponizing any nuclear facilities. He stated in 2018: "Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible." He has also refused to accept any restrictions on enriching uranium and processing plutonium.

Nuclear weapons can be made from uranium or plutonium. The uranium-235 isotope is used in nuclear reactors and nuclear bombs. However, it is less than 1 percent of the naturally occurring element and must be increased -- the process is called enrichment -- to about 5 percent to work in nuclear reactors. To make nuclear bombs it must be enriched to about 90 percent. Enrichment is carried out by using high-speed centrifuges. This means that the machines that produce nuclear reactor fuel for civilian use can also be used to produce nuclear bombs. It is for this reason that nuclear material in civilian enrichment facilities in nations that do not have nuclear weapons, or have promised not to produce nuclear weapons, such as Iran, is closely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

An enrichment plant used to fuel one nuclear reactor has the potential to produce 20 nuclear bombs a year by using some 300 centrifuges to enrich uranium-235 to the 90 percent level. A nuclear bomb requires about 55 pounds of highly enriched uranium. The more high-speed centrifuges a country has, the faster weapons-grade uranium can be produced.

Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insist there is a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program, despite all intelligence reports, including Israeli intelligence reports, to the contrary. So, given their unique version of reality, the time to start a weapons program in Saudi Arabia is now. Israel has a nuclear arsenal with hundreds of weapons.

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has issued an interim staff report giving testimonies of multiple whistleblowers who warn about the impending transfer of nuclear technology. It lays out in chronological detail the secretive and blatantly illegal efforts by the Trump White House to facilitate Saudi Arabia's purchase and construction of the nuclear reactors.

The efforts by Saudis and Americans began before Trump took office. Saudi officials, including Khalid Al-Falih, the minister of energy, met with Kushner in New York before the inauguration. The Saudi delegation held out the promise of spending $50 billion on American defense contracts over four years.

IP3 executives Gen. Keith Alexander, Gen. Jack Keane, Bud McFarlane and Rear Adm. Michael Hewitt, as well as the chief executives of six other companies -- Exelon, Toshiba America Energy Systems, Bechtel, Centrus Energy, GE Energy Infrastructure and Siemens USA -- sent a letter to Salman three weeks before the Trump inauguration that presented a plan to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. They called it "the Iron Bridge Program," the report states, and characterized it as "a 21st Century Marshall Plan for the Middle East."

Michael Flynn, then the incoming national security adviser and one of the former business partners in the venture, sent a text to Alex Copson of ACU Strategic Partners on Inauguration Day assuring him that the nuclear project was "good to go" and suggested that Copson contact his colleagues to "let them know to put things in place," the report reads.

On Jan. 27, 2017, a week after the inauguration, Derek Harvey, who from January to July 2017 was the senior director for Middle East and North African affairs at the National Security Council, met at the White House with a group of IP3 leaders whom he had i0nvited.

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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