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The Trump administration tried to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia

February 20, 2019
The Trump administration tried to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia

A new report detailed the potentially illegal plan

Photo: AFP

The Trump administration tried to sell sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, according to a report from US House Democrats. They aren’t sure whether these efforts are still ongoing.

The House Oversight and Reform Committee released a report on Tuesday detailing a plan spearheaded by now-disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn to sell technology for around 40 nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. The plan had already been reported by the Wall Street Journal but the new report adds more insight into what was happening behind the scenes to push the proposal through.

The effort was part of a broader Middle East economic development plan Flynn began putting together before Trump’s inauguration while he was serving as an adviser to Trump’s campaign and transition team. During that same time period, though, Flynn was also working as an adviser for a private company called IP3 International — a firm run by retired US military generals that calls itself a “global enterprise to develop sustainable energy and security infrastructure.”

Once Trump was took office, Flynn and longtime Trump associate Thomas Barrack worked with other senior officials in the new Trump administration to make the plan a reality.

Related: It’s suicide for two nuclear states to engage in war, says PM Khan 

On January 27, 2017 — just seven days after the inauguration — several retired generals from IP3 went to the White House to meet with Derek Harvey, a senior staffer on Trump’s National Security Council at the time, to discuss the nuclear plan for Saudi Arabia. “Immediately after the meeting,” the House report states, “Mr Harvey directed the NSC staff to add information about IP3’s ‘plan for 40 nuclear power plants’ to the briefing package for President Trump’s call with [Saudi Arabia’s] King Salman.”

As of now it seems the proposal is still under consideration, but there’s no indication one way or the other that the president will agree to it. At a minimum, the White House is still in discussions to sell nuclear equipment to Saudi Arabia despite widespread Democratic opposition. On the surface, the proposed nuclear deal makes sense: An American business would make a lot of money — possibly billions of dollars — selling nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia and Riyadh would get a new energy source to power its economy, explained Vox.

But the problem, as some White House officials warned those involved, is that Flynn and Barrack’s scheme was potentially illegal. For the US to sell nuclear technology to a foreign country, it must sign a 123 agreement. That comes from Section 123 of the 1954 US Atomic Energy Act, which establishes the criteria for the US to sell nuclear materials to other countries.

If a country wants to buy nuclear equipment from the US it must meet nine conditions, including a guarantee that it will not use the technology to make nuclear weapons. But according to the report, Harvey ignored all of that “and insisted that the decision to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia had already been made.”

The report said multiple whistleblowers came forward to warn about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act and without review by Congress as required by law.

Related: We won’t avert our eyes from regimes chanting ‘death to America’, warns Trump

“The whistleblowers who came forward have expressed significant concerns about the potential procedural and legal violations connected with rushing through a plan to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.  They have warned of conflicts of interest among top White House advisers that could implicate federal criminal statutes,” stated the report. “They have also warned about a working environment inside the White House marked by chaos, dysfunction, and backbiting.  And they have warned about political appointees ignoring directives from top ethics advisors at the White House who repeatedly and unsuccessfully ordered senior Trump Administration officials to halt their efforts.”

The report also warned that White House efforts to transfer the technology to Saudi Arabia may be accelerating after meetings last week at the White House and ahead of a planned visit to Saudi Arabia by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

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