The Trump administration has approved six applications for US companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, Energy Secretary Rick Perry testified on Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
Perry told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Energy Department has approved 37 nuclear applications since January 2017, including nine in the Middle East.
Besides the six to Saudi Arabia, two were approved for Jordan. Perry did not mention the ninth country in his testimony.
The Saudi kingdom last year declared its intentions to pursue a non-military nuclear program, with plans to build 16 nuclear power plants over the next quarter century, in a bid to modernize the country’s infrastructure and reduce its own consumption of gasoline, freeing up more for export.
Last summer, it was reported that Israel presented the Trump administration with its red lines regarding a deal being finalized for the sale of nuclear reactors from the US to Saudi Arabia, after officials in Jerusalem understood that they would not be able to thwart the deal due to the fact that it will bring billions of dollars in profit to the US.
According to that report, Israel sought full coordination and transparency regarding the negotiations with the Saudis, and also requested that the US provide all the fuel to the nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. Israel also requested that the Americans remove all the nuclear fuel used from Saudi Arabia so that it would not be reprocessed.
According to AP, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked Perry on Thursday whether the applications were approved after October 2, when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
Perry said he did not know the specific date.
"We sign a lot of papers," he said. "I've got a pretty good memory, but to remember every date that I sign a piece of paper might be above my ability to recall."
Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns that Saudi Arabia could develop nuclear weapons if the US technology is transferred without proper safeguards.
The nuclear approvals, known as Part 810 authorizations, allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of any deal to build a nuclear plant. They do not allow equipment to be shipped, noted AP.
The Khashoggi murder has resulted in increased tensions between the US and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has admitted that Khashoggi was killed after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, after previously denying Turkish claims that he was murdered. At the same time, the Saudi leadership claimed Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue” operation and denies any connection to the murder.
Lawmakers from both parties have called for a strong US response to Khashoggi's murder. President Donald Trump, however, has reaffirmed his support for Saudi Arabia, despite the murder of Khashoggi, insisting the US-Saudi Arabian alliance is beneficial not only for American interests, but also for those of Israel.