As Khashoggi Fallout Continues, Merkley, Paul, and Markey Introduce Bipartisan Resolution to Hold Saudi Nuclear Deal to a Higher Standard

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley, along with U.S. Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA), today introduced a bipartisan resolution requiring any civilian nuclear deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to be held to the highest possible nonproliferation standard. Without such a standard, a civilian nuclear deal could be used by the Saudi regime as a pathway to developing nuclear weapons.

Merkley, Paul and Markey, all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are introducing the resolution amid growing bipartisan concern about Saudi actions on the world stage. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has repeatedly violated international norms—from the brazen killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi; to the civilian deaths and humanitarian crisis caused by Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen; to recent reports of the Saudi government helping Saudi nationals escape justice after committing serious crimes in the U.S.

“Saudi Arabia has repeatedly shown that it cannot be trusted as a responsible partner in the global community,” said Merkley. “We can’t make a nuclear deal with a ‘trust and hope’ strategy. If Saudi Arabia is going to get its hands on nuclear technology, it’s absolutely critical that we hold it to the gold standard for non-proliferation. The last thing America should do is inadvertently help develop nuclear weapons for a bad actor on the world stage.”

“Saudi Arabia has been dishonest, deceitful, and a menace to global peace. The United States must impose the highest standards possible on all those wishing to develop civilian nuclear capabilities. It is critical that Saudi Arabia is held to such standards in order to avoid further destabilizing the Middle East and the world,” said Paul.

“Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman is clear that he is more interested in megatons than megawatts,” said Markey. “He wants to harnessing nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia for geopolitical power not electrical power. We must never compromise on nonproliferation standards in any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia, especially given the Kingdom’s disregard for international laws and fundamental human rights. Saudi Arabia must never have access to U.S. technology or materials to make a nuclear bomb, and Congress must be the final say before approval of any agreement.”

Increasingly, Saudi Arabia’s actions at home and abroad have faced scrutiny from Congress and the international community. In addition to the range of irresponsible behavior by Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS)—including the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the spiriting of Americans out of our country to help them avoid trial—MBS has expressed an explicit interest in pursuing the development of weapons of mass destruction to compete with Iran. The last thing the United States should do is provide an unaccountable leader with the tools to build a nuclear weapon by entering into a watered-down civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with the Kingdom.

The Merkley-Paul-Markey resolution sends a clear message that any U.S. Civilian Nuclear Cooperation or 123 Agreement with Saudi Arabia should meet the most-strict nonproliferation “gold-standard.” This standard shuts off the two primary pathways to developing a nuclear bomb: the enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of plutonium.  

The resolution also expresses the Senate of the Senate that any 123 Agreement with Saudi Arabia should also require it to bring into force the Additional Protocol, which is a tool that gives international inspectors greater access to information and facilities to ensure nuclear programs stay peaceful. The United States achieved the “gold-standard” with the United Arab Emirates in 2009 and Taiwan in 2014, and the resolution asks no less in any similar 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia.

Senators Merkley, Paul, and Markey introduced a similar resolution in the 115th Congress, S.Res.541, which the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed unanimously in July 2018.

Read the full resolution here.