Saudi Arabia has taken an important step forward by announcing its incipient nuclear power program.


  • The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is committed to achieving the highest standards of transparency and reliability through its nuclear energy policy,” Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s annual meeting in Vienna, Austria.
  • A move to a more extensive inspection regime would allow the country to acquire fissile material and start operating its small nuclear reactors.
  • The development comes as non-proliferation experts and lawmakers grow increasingly concerned about Saudi Arabia’s technological intentions and the possibility of an arms race in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has announced its commitment to a nuclear program and promised increased oversight by nuclear inspectors as the country works to become a stronger player on the international stage.
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Saudi Arabias Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) takes part in a working session with the US president (not pictured) at the Al Salam Royal Palace in the Saudi coastal city of Jeddah, on July 15, 2022.
credit: Ngan | AFP | Getty Images

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said Saudi Arabia would accept stricter safeguards and inspections than before from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear regulatory agency. Under the agency’s Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), the IAEA exempts countries with little or no nuclear material from many verification and transparency requirements.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud told the International Atomic Energy Agency’s annual meeting in Vienna: “The Kingdom recently decided to withdraw its Small Quantities Protocol and start implementing it. A comprehensive comprehensive safeguards agreement.” Monday. “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is committed to the highest standards of transparency and reliability throughout its nuclear energy policy,” he said.

The watchdog has for years urged Saudi Arabia and other countries with smaller treaties to move to the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA), which IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi calls the global safeguards agreement’s “weaknesses” in proliferation efforts. “The signing of our #SaudiArabia agreement to provide junior professional officers to @IAEAorg marks an important step in nuclear science and cooperation,” Grossi wrote in a post on social media platform X, thanking the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its support.

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Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, arrives for a meeting of the Board of Governors at IAEA headquarters on September 11, 2023 in Vienna, Austria.\Thomas Kronsteiner | Getty Images

The announcement highlighted the country’s nascent nuclear energy efforts – Saudi Arabia has a small nuclear reactor, a research unit set up with the help of Argentina, but it is not yet operational. A move to CSA would allow Saudi Arabia to purchase fissile material and start operating reactors, making it the second Arab country in the world to have a nuclear power program after the United Arab Emirates.

“I look forward to receiving an official statement from Saudi Arabia regarding its decision,” Grossi said late Monday. “The International Atomic Energy Agency stands ready to provide support in this regard.”

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister did not comment on whether the kingdom would also join the International Atomic Energy Agency’s Additional Protocol, which requires closer monitoring, including rapid inspections.

Concerns about an arms race in the Middle East.

Prince Abdulaziz’s comments come amid growing concerns among non-proliferation experts and lawmakers about Saudi Arabia’s intentions regarding the technology. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a recent interview with Fox News that if Iran develops nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will also develop nuclear weapons. He initially put forward the same claim in an interview with CBS in 2018.

Mohammed bin Salman’s king has made great progress by improving his global member status. Starting with custody of the G20 and media, Russia and Ukraine to global sports transactions and large investments in billions of dollars. It has proven its strength as a so-called “middle power”, asserting itself as a diplomatic actor capable of using relations with the West, Russia and China to its advantage. The nuclear program will further cement this status. Riyadh is also trying to get as many concessions as possible from Washington, while the Biden administration is pushing for a normalization deal with Israel. US aid for its nuclear program is one of Saudi Arabia’s main demands, but not everyone is happy. “A normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia would be a welcome development.

But not at the expense of allowing Saudi Arabia to develop nuclear weapons. Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said last week that this would not come at the expense of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Many American and European lawmakers also expressed objections and concerns. The development also comes amid an ongoing stalemate in talks between Washington and Tehran, whose uranium enrichment has risen sharply in recent years since former President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. The Obama-era multilateral accord allowed economic sanctions against Iran to be lifted in exchange for curbs on the country’s nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in early September that “no progress has been made” in the IAEA’s efforts to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities and that “inspection and monitoring efforts have been severely impacted by Iran’s decision to suspend its nuclear-related obligations under the Iran Nuclear Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.” Short for the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud and U.S. President Joe Biden shake hands next to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the day of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, September 9, 2023. 
credit:Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters

Iran insists its program is for civilian purposes only, but it has boosted its uranium enrichment to 60 percent purity, just one step short of the 90 percent purity required for bomb-making capabilities. Iranian President Ibrahim Raisi said the changes came after European countries that signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “trampled on their treaty obligations.”

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A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility.
credit: KENARE | AFP via Getty Images

However, UN monitors said Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium fell this month compared to May, possibly as a tribute to the US, but remained 18 times the JCPOA limit.


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