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Riyadh to press ahead with nuclear power programme: minister

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih says Riyadh has options if US rejects nuclear deal [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 March, 2018

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Energy minister Khalid al-Falih said Saudi Arabia will proceed with its nuclear power programme even if the US walks away from a deal.
Saudi Arabia's energy minister said on Thursday that the kingdom can find other international partners if the US walks away from a nuclear power deal, Reuters reported.

"If the US is not with us, they will lose the opportunity to influence the program in a positive way," said Khalid al-Falih, following a meeting with President Donald Trump that also included Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

US Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been working with Saudi Arabia to develop a civilian nuclear agreement that would enrich uranium. Critics say these technologies can be used to develop nuclear weapons. 

Saudi Arabia is also in talks with private firms from Russia, China, and South Korea to build two reactors. Nearby UAE is already building four nuclear reactors in partnership with the Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO).

Saudi Arabia says it will use nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions and to help diverse its economy, which is dependent on hydrocarbons exports.

Perry hopes Riyadh will buy the nuclear power technology from US firms, including Westinghouse, which filed for bankruptcy this year. 

Some US lawmakers worry that a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia could usher in a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. In an interview with CBC on Sunday, Salman said Saudi Arabia would develop nuclear weapons if Iran does.

Non-proliferation advocates are also worried that if Saudi Arabia signs a deal that allows for uranium enrichment, the UAE would break its own deal with Washington and enrich uranium. 

The UAE deal is widely considered to contain the "gold standard" nuclear safeguards. 

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers in the US introduced a bill on Wednesday to ensure that nuclear partners abandon enriching uranium. 

Falih said he is hoping for a nuclear deal with Washington. "It will be natural for the United States to be with us and to provide us not only with technology, but to help us with the fuel cycle and the monitoring, and make sure we do it to the highest standard."

Falih added the kingdom has large uranium resources and it would not be "natural" to import enrich uranium to fuel any future Saudi reactors. 

"The irony is that if the US chooses not to (seal a deal) then somebody else will and we are fortunate to have many other alternative sources that have agreed to work with us and they will be competing for our programme," Falih said. 

Perry made a similar case when urging US lawmakers to press ahead with the Saudi nuclear power deal. 

However, some experts say a Saudi-Russian deal is unlikely given Moscow's nuclear partnerships with Iran. 

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