Washington (October 22, 2020) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), members of the Foreign Relations Committee, today announced the Stopping Activities Underpinning Development in Weapons of Mass Destruction (SAUDI WMD) Act. In a September Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing on the Middle East, Senator Markey pressed the State Department’s Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale for answers on news reports that Saudi Arabia has conspired with China to build a ballistic missile production facility. This alleged missile cooperation was followed by press reports that China is also aiding Saudi Arabia master the early stages of the nuclear-fuel cycle, free from international safeguards. The Saudi WMD Act aims to restore oversight and take steps to impede access to sensitive technologies that could pave the way to Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear weapon.
“We must take Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman at his word that the Kingdom will seek a nuclear weapon if Iran develops a bomb of its own” said Senator Markey. “There is ample, concerning press reporting that Saudi Arabia may have illegally acquired items related to a program to build nuclear-capable missiles. The Saudi WMD Act shines a spotlight on these reported activities, requires greater transparency into Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build a civilian nuclear program, and ends the sale of U.S. offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia if it has conducted clandestine nuclear activities. We need to take every possible step to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”   
“Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists and rogue regimes is one of the gravest threats to the security of the American people, and so the agreements limiting the spread of those technologies are critically important,” said Senator Merkley. “We must be prepared to enforce these agreements and act in response to any actions that dangerously spread this technology, including by imposing sanctions and terminating arms sales. If Saudi Arabia is working to undermine the global nonproliferation and arms control regime, with the help of China or anybody else, the U.S. response must be swift and strong.”
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE. A one-page overview of the legislation can be found HERE.
“The Council for a Livable World is proud to endorse the SAUDI WMD Act which will tie future offensive U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia meeting international nuclear transparency standards and U.S. nonproliferation goals. The Trump Administration has sought to keep Congress in the dark about the development of Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program, its procurement of ballistic missile technology capable of delivering WMDs and China’s reported assistance. Through this legislation, Senators Markey and Merkley are making sure the United States is not turning a blind eye to potential proliferation threats for a short-term payday and helping to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” said John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World.
“The Trump administration’s blank check approach to the U.S.-Saudi Arabia relationship has only served to increase instability in the Middle East. From the civil war in Yemen to the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s actions warrant greater scrutiny. And now that recent reporting suggests Saudi Arabia is pursuing a nuclear program and ballistic missile technology capable of delivering nuclear weapons, the United States has an obligation to ensure that the strongest possible safeguard measures are in place to prevent Saudi Arabia from obtaining a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it. Foreign Policy for America thanks Senator Markey for introducing this measure to prevent Saudi Arabia from pursuing a nuclear program with zero accountability or transparency. The time to rethink the U.S.-Saudi partnership is long overdue and this bill is a step in the right direction to do just that,” said Louie Reckford, Policy Advisor, Foreign Policy for America.
Specifically, the Saudi WMD Act would:
  • Require a Presidential determination as to whether any “foreign person” has knowingly exported, transferred, or engaged in trade with Saudi Arabia in a Category 1 MTCR item. If such trade has occurred, the bill then asks the President to list the non-discretionary sanctions imposed or intends to impose on those “foreign person(s).
  • Terminate most U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia if it has received assistance in the construction of a nuclear fuel cycle facility not safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or if the Kingdom has received help in the most sensitive proliferation activities on its territory through the construction of an enrichment or reprocessing facility.
  • Require the State Department to produce a strategy to prevent the proliferation of missile and nuclear technology to the Middle East and North Africa.
In February 2019, prior to news reports of alleged Saudi cooperation with China, Senators Markey and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced Senate legislation that increases Congressional oversight over any civil nuclear cooperation agreement – or 123 agreement – between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Specifically, the Saudi Nuclear Nonproliferation Act would require Congress to affirmatively approve any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia as opposed to submitting a resolution of disapproval, as is set forth in current law.