Nuclear proliferation is bigger than global warming, the US president said in an interview this week amid reports the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are taking solid steps to go nuclear. 

“If we can do something with Russia in terms of nuclear proliferation, which is a very big problem. A much bigger problem than global warming in terms of the real world, that would be a great thing,” Donald Trump stressed in an interview with Axios.

According to a statement on the website of China Atomic Energy Authority (CNNC), “Beijing Research Institute of Chemical Engineering and Metallurgy signed a collaborative agreement regarding research on uranium extraction from seawater with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology on July 15.”

“Chinese and Saudi experts will conduct a two-year-long investigation into uranium extraction from seawater, according to the agreement. It’s another milestone for CNNC and Saudi Arabia, following after a human resources training program and a uranium exploration project,” it said.

Despite a categorical denial from the Arab kingdom that it pursues nuclear weapons, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged in 2018 that “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

Democratic US Senator Chris Murphy lost no time slamming Saudi Arabia’s major deal with China.

“We do nuclear technology deals with countries so that they will commit to the Gold Standard and a working relationship with the U.S.. The Saudis are trying to have it both ways, and we can’t allow them to get away with that,” said Murphy, as cited by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on Tuesday.

According to the report by the WSJ, the Saudi-China deal is part of a program to extract uranium yellowcake from uranium ore, which is a crucial first step for later enrichment to obtain a nuclear weapon. Uranium mining is usually of no concern to world governments and watchdogs, but its enrichment raises immediate concerns.

Will and should the US State Department, Pentagon and the Trump administration be on the same page in opposing nuclear armament of two belligerent Gulf states amid escalating tensions in the Middle East? Saudi Arabia, in particular, goes further in rubbing salt in the wound of its American allies by cooperating with China at a time when the Trump administration has designated the Asian country as its biggest rival and enemy in the 21st century.

Taking into consideration the rash decisions of the UAE and Saudi crown prince in the region and beyond, can they be trusted with nuclear capabilities?

Experts say no

Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Matthew Bryza told Anadolu Agency it has for decades been the policy of the US government, regardless of who was president, to oppose any country acquiring nuclear weapons since the UK and France acquired nuclear arsenals.

“This policy remains valid with regard to both Saudi Arabia and UAE,” according to the former US diplomat and White House official.

“Congress can try to legislate mandatory sanctions against Saudi Arabia, as it did in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA),” he said, yet noting that “any such legislation is unlikely to be approved in the Republican-controlled Senate” because of Trump’s “aversion to pressuring Saudi Arabia.”

“I don’t think there will be any such sanctions from the Trump administration,” he said.

Kuwait University professor Dr. Bader Al-Saif told Anadolu Agency that a “nuclear-free Middle East would go a long way in reducing tensions and establishing peace and stability.”

“The US is one of many parties and should not be running the show. Instead, UN efforts should be focused on ridding the region from this deadly weapon starting with Israel,” he asserted.

The UAE has been “more transparent than the Israelis, Iranians, or Saudis in their intents thus far,” he said.

“We also know that Saudi Arabia has noted that it will go nuclear if Iran does, which reminds us of the India-Pakistan case. To avoid all of this, the international community should redirect its efforts toward the already established non-peaceful program like Israel or the aspiring program like Iran,” he added.

Luke Coffey, Director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation in Washington told Anadolu Agency that he is a strong believer in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and these countries should not get a nuclear weapons capability.

“This is why it is important that the United States and the international community leads an effort that prevents Iran from ever becoming a nuclear weapons power,” Coffey said.

“The only reason why some countries in the region are hinting that they would like to have nuclear weapons is because they believe that the international community is not serious about stopping Tehran,” he added.

Dr. Ali Bakeer, an Ankara-based political analyst, told Anadolu Agency it will “intensify the nuclear race in one of the most volatile and unstable regions in the world and this will increase the instability and makes the possibility of nuclear catastrophe even bigger in the region.”

“It will also convince these regimes that they will not be held accountable for their repression and malicious regional activities which will make things even worse for their people and for the people of the region,” he added.

An Arab-American businessman who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said “these two crown princes want nukes because they lose all their unjustified wars in the region and worry about the future of their oppressive regimes.”

“Our Saudi and Emirati brothers and sisters deserve better people,” he added.

US Congress concerned

Lawmakers from both parties in the US Congress have been concerned about Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaigns in Yemen, which is on the brink of famine, and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an eminent Washington Post journalist killed and dismembered by Saudi operatives in the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

Last week, the House Intelligence Committee requested a report from the administration about Saudi efforts to develop a nuclear program with any other country other than the US — an indication of growing suspicion.

“Where is the transparency? If you claim your program is peaceful, why not show what you have?” Olli Heinonen, former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the WSJ.

So far, the US president, in return for large sums of petro-dollars from Saudi Arabia and UAE, did not mind using his executive authority to allow those two crown princes to get away with grave human rights violations and alleged war crimes in Yemen, Libya and beyond.

However, time will tell whether intending to go nuclear at stone’s throw away from Israel in cooperation with China is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

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