A Quick Post On Selling Nuclear Technology To The Saudis

Big news this morning about the continuing pressure to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Ken Dilanian was the first with the story, and Washington Post is catching up. Like a lot of stories about the Trump administration’s dicey connections with foreign governments, it adds some new information to a story that I’ve been following for a long time.

The current emphasis is that Saudi Arabia (which I’ll refer to as KSA) wants a nuclear program that might eventually be used to produce weapons. That misses a lot. Michael Flynn was trying to sell nuclear technology to the Saudis for quite some time. That attempt has continued. I have a copy of the report from the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, but what I want to do here is discuss the context of the actions described there. This post will be a quick outline, without most of the links it should have.

Early on, Flynn was working with IP3 to sell nuclear reactors to KSA. At the time, KSA said they wanted 16 nuclear reactors. Flynn’s plan included working with Russia and perhaps China to provide the reactors; it also included a heavy security plan that looked likely to include a contractor like Erik Prince to provide the muscle.

As the price of oil went down, KSA could no longer afford 16 reactors, and the plan cratered. But Flynn continued to try to sell reactors to them. He also included American reactor manufacturers. When Flynn was taken down by his Russian connections, interactions to sell reactors to KSA continued.

As recently as last week, Donald Trump was meeting with reactor manufacturers on the subject. Current concerns revolve around safeguards against KSA’s using its nuclear technology to develop nuclear weapons. To do this, the United States requires what is called a 123 Agreement, named for its legal basis. The trend has been toward disallowing uranium enrichment and reprocessing of spent fuel, the two pathways to nuclear weapons, although they can also be justified for peaceful use. KSA does not want those restrictions. It appears that the news today is that some in the administration are trying to meet KSA’s preferences.

The bigger story is that the administration, via Flynn and now others, has been eager to supply KSA with the technology it wants. Other recent news, like the administration’s unwillingness to admit KSA’s brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, suggests a relationship similar to Trump’s favoritism toward Russia.

In January 2017, Erik Prince met with Russian and Middle Eastern representatives in the Seychelles.

There is a nonproliferation issue here, but I think the larger issue is the quid pro quo. KSA wants the nuclear technology. What is the quo?


48 replies
  1. 1
    Bitter Scribe says:

    What is the quo?

    More Trump hotels in KSA?

    More KSA officials renting suites in Trump hotels elsewhere?

    Jared has secure employment?

    Jared gets financing for his Manhattan white elephant office building?

    The possibilities are endless.

  2. 2
    trollhattan says:

    Nothing would make me happier to see the nation that gave us 9-11 have their own nuclear arsenal. That would be just great.

    Does this mean Jared isn’t invited to BiBi’s birthday party?

  3. 3

    There is a nonproliferation issue here, but I think the larger issue is the quid pro quo.

    I defer to your expertise, but I’ll admit I’m much more troubled by “Saudi arabia having nukes” than by “Saudi Arabia owing us/Trump a favor.”

  4. 4
    Mike in NC says:

    Flynn and Kushner both need to be locked up for a very long time.

  5. 5
    Aleta says:

    thanks Cheryl

  6. 6
    Aleta says:

    What is the quo

    hacking that could alter the election ?

  7. 7

    @Major Major Major Major: Trump appears to be as entangled with Saudi Arabia as he is with Russia. We need to know why his loyalties lie with those two countries more than with the United States. Selling nuclear technology to KSA seems to derive from that loyalty.

  8. 8
    Marcopolo says:

    Thank you Cheryl, I learn a lot from your posts.

    For any BJer who would like to participate in the bi-weekly DKos presidential straw poll, today is the day.

    They are asking for email addresses from voters for the first time as far as I recall–trying to limit vote spamming I guess. Right now BS is in the lead with Kamala Harris not too far back, then Elizabeth Warren in 3rd.

    Hope everyone had a good 3 day weekend. I took my mom to see The Wife with Glenn Close, and I can now highly recommend it. I suspect she will win the Oscar for Best Actress.

  9. 9
    Marcopolo says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: SATSQ: $$$$

  10. 10
    bbleh says:

    @Bitter Scribe: These, plus investments in other properties, plus the fact that the Saudis already have a grip on some of Donnie Dollhand’s short-n-curlies, the same way the Russians do except without the Polonium tea thing.

    @Major Major Major Major: Concur. Trump is gone in a few years. Saudi reactors would not be.

  11. 11
    trollhattan says:

    O/T more or less, Paul Erickson and Maria Butina by somebody who knew them before they became (in)famous.

    I managed to miss his being indicted last week for fraud. Lost in the Trump Clutter.

  12. 12
    ruemara says:

    Yep. Nuclear armed Saudis. Perfect. Good plan.

    I cannot believe anyone voted for these fucking grifters.

    @Marcopolo: Nobody cares. Bernie won’t win the actual poll – the primary votes.

  13. 13
    Kraux Pas says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    We need to know why his loyalties lie with those two countries more than with the United States.

    Because his first loyalty is to himself and those two countries will allow, even encourage, him to continue getting rich by conning people. He’s reaching the end of the considerable rope he was given to do this in America.

    Just a guess.

  14. 14
    Brachiator says:

    Big news this morning about the continuing pressure to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

    Jesus, what a bad fucking idea.

  15. 15
    MattF says:

    It’s probably safe to assume that Iran would be the target of the proposed Saudi nukes. But maybe the Saudis would start by obliterating Yemen. All sorts of possibilities here.

  16. 16
    Shalimar says:

    Why send a hit squad after the Khashoggis on your enemies list when it is so much easier to nuke their entire neighborhoods?

  17. 17
    trollhattan says:

    They’re as reliable and predictable as our good buddies the Pakistanis, who would never, ever think of nuking any country not named India. And of course there’s zero possibility the Taliban could form a legitimate political party and gain control of the Pakistani government. Nobody could imagine such a thing.


  18. 18

    @Major Major Major Major:

    I’m much more troubled by “Saudi arabia having nukes” than by “Saudi Arabia owing us/Trump a favor.”

    I’m deeply worried by the “US foreign policy is up for sale for Trump’s personal benefit” aspect. Even if we can solve the nonproliferation problems, I want our foreign policy made with the best interests of the whole country in mind, not the financial interests of the President*.

  19. 19

    A clarification: It’s a bad idea for the Saudis to have nuclear weapons. But the reactors being discussed are a poor way to get to nuclear weapons. Additionally, it will take at least a few years to build them, and that process could be stopped during that time.

    Trump is an imminent danger to the country and the world. We need to remove him from office as rapidly as possible.

  20. 20
  21. 21


    Trump is gone in a few years.

    Maybe so, but if he gets away with corruption, the next guy will be tempted to try it, too.

  22. 22
    J R in WV says:

    Yeah, I’m surprised the KSA fascists haven’t already reached an agreement with the Pakistanis regarding a ready supply of nuclear devices as needed.

    Money talks, as they say!!!

    There are already far right religious parties in Pakistan, even without the Taliban being involved. We see them killing off Presidential candidates, also, too.

    Like the Alabama editor called for killing the Socia1ist Democrats before they raise taxes again!! We have our own Taliban, sometimes called the Southern Baptist Church, the reformed calvinists, etc, etc.

  23. 23
    Yarrow says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Because they have something on Trump that he’s terrified of the consequences if it becomes public. Or Russia does at least and we’ve observed that Putin and KSA and great friends so perhaps Putin has shared that kompromat, or the existence of it, with KSA.

    So, question: would it benefit Russia if SA had nukes?

  24. 24


    It’s probably safe to assume that Iran would be the target of the proposed Saudi nukes.

    Because there are no proliferation worries associated with that…

  25. 25

    Thank you for bringing the focus back to something real and important.

  26. 26

    The orb, man. It hypnotizes.

  27. 27
    Aleta says:

    I’m not saying this would succeed for Trump, but as far as what he would want from SA, he’s already shown with Russia that he will trade favors for help winning an election.

    So as well as money, perhaps his loyalties lie with Russia and the Saudis because he believes they could help him and his family retain power in the US; in other words, could help him defeat the democratic system. There’s the voting system, and there’s also causing something that looks like a terrorist attempt in hopes of convincing angry voters that he’s the toughest defender.

    Causing fear and lying seem to be Trump’s base strategy. Cheney and Bush used fear of terrorists (and the war) in their reelection campaigning. Even an unsuccessful cyber attack could still cause fear, such as on controller-operated safety equipment in a petrochemical plant, or on the banking or airline industry. The first has happened at a plant in SA. (It failed because of a computer code error by the attackers. From what I read (a year ago) the name of the company that owned the plant, its home country, and the country behind the attackers were being kept secret.)

  28. 28
    Cermet says:

    Remember that any country can have a nuclear reactor as long as they comply with the non-proliferation treaty. This then allows said countries to enrich fuel for said reactor as per the treaty. Having the ability to enrich fuel, if anyone recalls, is what Iran was put to task for having developed that ability. A reactor is the gate way to nuclear weapons via that clause in the non-proliferation treaty.

  29. 29
    Keith P. says:

    @Raven Onthill: I wish Orb was more like Sphere from “Velvet Buzzsaw”

  30. 30
    Yarrow says:

    Speaking of nuclear issues, have you been following this story out of South Carolina?

    Federal contractors at the Savannah River Site accepted football tickets, rifles and more in exchange for handing out work at the federal nuclear storage facility.

    The cost of the kickbacks were then charged back to taxpayers, a new lawsuit alleges.https://t.co/aLbdfe68mQ
    — The Post and Courier (@postandcourier) February 18, 2019

    Lindsey Graham was one of the projects big supporters.
    There’s a lot more under one of the keywords for the article:

  31. 31
  32. 32

    @Cermet: The requirements that the United States puts on its sales of nuclear technology, via the 123 agreement, go further than that.

  33. 33
    rikyrah says:

    NPR Politics (@nprpolitics) Tweeted:
    The report says career officials warned White House officials about the risks of their efforts and that some White House staffers involved, including President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, had conflicts of interest and shouldn’t be involved in the decision-making process.


  34. 34
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Yarrow: that place is a hot (ha!) mess. I once didn’t some lawyering on a race discrimination class action suit against it. But isn’t everything on South Carolina a mess?

  35. 35
    Uncle Cosmo says:

    @Steve in the ATL:

    But isn’t everything on South Carolina a mess?

    How does that old saw go? Something like

    South Carolina: Too small for a nation, too big for an insane asylum

  36. 36
    Yarrow says:

    @Steve in the ATL: Well, it did give us Stephen Colbert so it can’t be all bad. But yes, it’s a corrupt mess. From what I’ve been reading over the last two years, the Savannah River site has been a hotbed of corruption and the resulting lawsuits have the potential to get some elected officials in trouble.

  37. 37
    Turner Hedenkoff says:

    We shouldn’t even begin to consider entrusting nuclear technology to a corrupt, reactionary ruling family beholden to religious extremists.

    Or the Saudis.

  38. 38
    Turner Hedenkoff says:

    @Bitter Scribe: Maybe Idi Amin’s old pad in Jeddah, for when the indictments come down?

  39. 39
    Marvel says:

    The House report is worth the (long) read — unbelievable corruption. A tidbit:

    “….In January 2018, Brookfield Business Partners, a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management, announced its plans to acquire Westinghouse Electric for $4.6 billion. Westinghouse Electric is the bankrupt nuclear services company that is part of IP3’s proposed consortium to build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, and which stands to benefit from the Middle East Marshall Plan.[23] In August 2018, Brookfield Asset Management purchased a partnership stake in 666 Fifth Avenue, a building owned by Jared Kushner’s family company.[24….]”

  40. 40
    smintheus says:

    The quo is that we get to use Saudi Arabia as a base for attacking Iran…to satisfy both SA and Israel. It’s actually more of a quid for a quid kind of deal, but Trump is terrible at making deals.

  41. 41
    catclub says:


    Nobody cares. Bernie won’t win the actual poll – the primary votes.

    I have not looked it up, but I would not be surprised to find out he won that poll in 2016 over Hillary, but did not win the primary.

  42. 42
    catclub says:

    @Turner Hedenkoff:

    We shouldn’t even begin to consider entrusting nuclear technology to a corrupt, reactionary ruling family beholden to religious extremists.

    Or the Saudis.

    Let’s see, that looks more like a requirement for nuclear powers, than a bar, nowadays. US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, ….
    UK, France

    all but UK and France are suspect, it looks. Did I miss any? oh, N. Korea!

  43. 43
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Cermet: Signing up to the NPT means inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) can walk into any nuclear operation in that country at any time to check that materials and technology is not being diverted to military purposes. Saudi Arabia has already signed up to the NPT (there are other parts of the NPT, further protocols that it might not have signed up to).

    Regular light-water reactors based on the classic Westinghouse design are pretty much proliferation-proof, not really suitable for producing weapons-grade materials for various technical reasons. Everyone who’s used a reactor to make weapons-grade plutonium has used a military breeder reactor, not reprocessed spent fuel for very good technical reasons.

    The UAE next door to Saudi Arabia is close to completing the fourth of its fleet of KPR1400 reactors (a Westinghouse design from KEPCO in South Korea) with the first reactor expected to start up later this year. The UAE reactors are under IAEA inspection rules. Any Saudi power reactors would be built under the same sort of inspection regime.

    If the Saudi government really wanted nukes then they could just buy them from the Pakistanis or even simpler just pay them to nuke whoever they told them to since the Pakistanis also have the launchers and technical capabilities to deliver warheads in the local area, including Iran.

  44. 44
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @Robert Sneddon: why don’t these countries use solar for everything?

  45. 45
    Robert Sneddon says:

    @Steve in the ATL: Solar doesn’t work at night. Solar is difficult to keep running in really hot countries — it can be worked around but it adds to the cost (including stuff like active cooling of the panels). Solar doesn’t produce a lot of power, a single reactor does. There isn’t a lot of solar panels being manufactured at the moment so sources to build out gigawatts of capacity in a few years are constrained.

    Basically the Saudis are aware their Vibranium (to use a Black Panther metaphor) is running out and they’d rather sell it for money than burn it to power a highly electricity-dependent first-world lifestyle, including desalination. I think it’s the same for the UAE whose demand for electricity is increasing at something like 10% a year. The four KPR1400 reactors at Barakh will only provide about 25% of the UAE’s electricity needs but they will work when the sun is down.

  46. 46
    Aleta says:

    If Trump was not in power, who would the Saudis go to? If there’s another country also willing to sell to them, what’s the reason they’re going with Trump? Because our technology is significantly better? The Japanese have turned them down? Or is Trump offering it at bargain price because he wants (whatever is) the quid pro quo?

  47. 47
    Amir Khalid says:

    @Steve in the ATL:

    I once didn’t some lawyering on a race discrimination class action suit against it.

    Now you’ve piqued my curiosity.

  48. 48
    Another Scott says:

    The Twitter Machine:

    Judd Legum Verified account @JuddLegum

    2. Brookfield bailed out the Kushners

    Brookfield also recently bought Westinghouse, the bankrupt nuclear company in the plan to build 40 nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia

    Jared could help make it happen

    I’ll have more in my newsletter


    “Follow the money…” – A. Silverman


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