June 26, 2018 / 10:07 PM / 3 months ago

Israel confident U.S. to keep protections in any Saudi nuclear power deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Israel’s energy minister said on Tuesday after meeting Trump administration officials he is confident that the United States will not relax non-proliferation standards in any nuclear power deal it agrees with Saudi Arabia.

FILE PHOTO: Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz poses for a photograph during an interview with Reuters, in Jerusalem November 16, 2016. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

Israel vehemently opposes any effort by the Saudi Arabia to relax “gold standard” non-proliferation limits on enriching uranium or reprocessing nuclear fuel in any deal between the two countries, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s energy minister, told Reuters in an interview.

“Once you allow one country to enrich uranium or reprocess fuel, it will be extremely difficult to tell other countries in this vicinity or elsewhere in the world not to do so,” he said.

Steinitz, in Washington for the World Gas Conference, met this week with people in the Trump administration about Saudi Arabia’s quest to build at least two nuclear power stations with the help of U.S. technology. He did not identify who he met with.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been working with Saudi Arabia on a civilian nuclear agreement that could allow the kingdom to enrich uranium and reprocess plutonium, practices that non-proliferation advocates worry could one day be covertly altered to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.

The Energy Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the status of the nuclear power talks with Saudi Arabia.

Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have diplomatic relations, but they share concern about Iranian influence in the Middle East.

If the United States allows Saudi to relax the standards, “then you deteriorate the non-proliferation effort, so I am confident the Americans would listen to our concern,” Steinitz said.

Steinitz said it would support Saudi Arabia’s development of nuclear power only if it included the gold standard protections and if the kingdom purchases uranium from the United States.

Saudi Arabia has said if it does not get U.S. assistance to build reactors it could turn to other international partners. The kingdom is also in talks with companies from Russia, China, South Korea and other countries on nuclear power.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by James Dalgleish

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