US-Saudi Nuclear Deal Near, Congress Briefed on Details

(Bloomberg) -- National Security Council officials briefed members of Congress on a long-sought nuclear technology-sharing deal with Saudi Arabia that could let American companies build reactors in the kingdom, lawmakers said.

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Members of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee received a classified briefing on the contours of the deal on Tuesday, Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat who serves on the panel said in an interview.

A senior US official said last month the agreement was basically complete after years of negotiations. While it could boost Westinghouse Electric Co. and other American nuclear companies, it has alarmed non—proliferation experts and some members of Congress who worry it could allow the Saudis to enrich spent uranium into weapons-grade material.

“I fear that Saudi Arabia — a nation with a terrible human rights record — cannot be trusted to use its civil nuclear energy program solely for peaceful purposes and will instead enrich uranium and seek to develop nuclear weapons,” Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, wrote in a letter last month to President Joe Biden.

Past nuclear technology-sharing agreements with countries such as Japan have explicitly barred the enrichment and reprocessing of spent uranium. The senior US official said the Saudi deal includes non-proliferation elements and was drafted with input from the Defense Department, the Energy Department and the State Department. A spokesman for the National Security Council didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Once a deal is reached, Congress would have 90 legislative days to pass a veto-proof law rejecting the agreement or adding conditions to it before the measure comes into force automatically, said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.

--With assistance from Justin Sink and Roxana Tiron.

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