Yukiya Amano
Yukiya AmanoReuters

The head UN nuclear inspector said on Friday that his agency is asking Saudi Arabia to agree to safeguards on nuclear material for its first atomic reactor that could arrive by the end of the year, AFP reports.

The comments by Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), came after satellite imagery emerged of the Saudi nuclear project on the outskirts of Riyadh.

Amano said there was nothing secret about the reactor and that Saudi Arabia informed the Vienna-based UN body about its plans in 2014.

He said the IAEA has encouraged Saudi Arabia to sign a comprehensive safeguards agreement, under which the agency ensures that nuclear material is not being diverted to weapons use.

Saudi Arabia has a weaker accord designed for countries with minimal quantities of nuclear material -- which Amano said was fine until the kingdom imports significant amounts.

"We have proposed to Saudi Arabia to rescind and replace it by the full-fledged comprehensive safeguards agreement," Amano told reporters in Washington, according to AFP.

"They didn't say no, they didn't say yes, and they are now giving thoughts. We are waiting," he added.

"For now, they don't have the material, so there is no violation," he said, adding that Saudi Arabia may bring in nuclear material "by the end of the year," although he cautioned that nuclear projects frequently get delayed.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee the Trump administration had approved six applications for US companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia.

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.

Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, made headlines a year ago when he said in a television interview that his country was prepared to pursue nuclear weapons if Iran is successful in obtaining an atomic arsenal.

Following that interview, a Saudi journalist with ties to the royal family, Louai a-Sharif, released a video statement aimed at Israelis and delivered in Hebrew.

In the video statement, a-Sharif said that any potential nuclear weapons program in his country would be pursued only as a matter of self-defense, suggesting – while refusing to specify it by name – that Iran, not Israel, would be the target of a potential Saudi atomic weapons program.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)