Netanyahu backs Saudi nuclear program – report

PM instructs Israeli nuclear experts to help Riyadh find a way to enrich uranium that will be accepted by the US, Wall Street Journal reports.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed his country’s leading nuclear and security specialists to work with U.S. negotiators to find a compromise that lets Saudi Arabia enrich uranium, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Israeli officials are “quietly working” with the White House to develop a “U.S.-run, uranium-enrichment operation” in Saudi Arabia for a civilian nuclear program, a key condition of the kingdom for accepting a normalization agreement with Israel, officials from both countries told the Journal.

Mark Dubowitz, chief executive of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based think tank that opposes the proposal, told the newspaper that Israeli support for it represents “a radical policy shift for a country that has opposed nuclear proliferation in the Middle East since inception.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has not yet signed off on the idea of permitting uranium enrichment in Saudi Arabia, officials told the Journal.

The U.S. is worried that the Saudis may go to China instead. China National Nuclear Corp., a state-owned company, has bid to build a nuclear plant in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, near the border with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

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“Saudi officials acknowledged that exploring the issue with China was a way of goading the Biden administration to compromise on its nonproliferation requirements,” the Journal reported in August.

Israel and the U.S. appear ready to accept the risks of a nuclear Saudi Arabia in return for normalization, which Israel’s prime minister has said would be a “quantum leap … it will change Israel’s relationship with the rest of the Arab world.”

Netanyahu and Biden spoke openly about the possibility of an agreement with Riyadh in a tête-à-tête meeting in New York on Wednesday.

“Mr. President, we can forge a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And I think such a peace would go a long way first to advance the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict, achieve reconciliation between the Islamic world and the Jewish state, and advance a genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinians,” said Netanyahu, who has previously signaled that a peace deal with the Saudis was in the offing.

Biden said, “If you and I, 10 years ago, were talking about normalization with Saudi Arabia, I think we’d look at each other like, ‘Who’s been drinking what?’”

Netanyahu responded: “Good Irish whiskey.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Fox News on Wednesday that peace with Israel “get[s] closer” every day.

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“We are concerned of any country getting a nuclear weapon,” he also said. The prince added that if Iran gets one, Saudi Arabia would do the same: “We will have to get one.”