Saudi Arabia Doesn’t Need a Nuclear Program

March 8 2018

In 2012, Saudi Arabia announced its plan to build several nuclear reactors, claiming that these would be necessary to supply the country’s energy needs as part of a strategy to wean itself from its oil dependency. Although Riyadh has backed away from this proposal, there are still those who argue that the kingdom should, in cooperation with the U.S., build its own nuclear reactors and even begin enriching uranium. Washington, the reasoning goes, can’t say no to enrichment, since the 2015 nuclear deal grants Iran permission to do so. But Henry Sokolski is skeptical of these arguments:

[The] unspoken motive for the kingdom to pursue a nuclear program is to develop an option to make nuclear weapons, if needed, to deter Iran. . . . [The] Saudis don’t need nuclear power. In fact, recent studies found that the Saudis could more cheaply meet their energy and environmental requirements by developing their natural-gas resources and investing in renewables—photovoltaic, concentrated solar power, and wind. They also found economic value in upgrading the kingdom’s electrical grid and reducing subsidies that artificially drive up electrical demand. . . .

Supporters of the Saudi nuclear program argue that the kingdom should enrich, given the uranium reserves the Saudis have discovered. Uranium, however, is plentiful globally and priced at historic lows (less than $22 a pound), as are uranium-enrichment services. More importantly, the kingdom would have to spend billions on a variety of plants to enrich uranium and produce its own nuclear fuel. . . .

[However], proponents of a permissive U.S.-Saudi nuclear deal argue that Washington lacks the leverage to secure a Saudi pledge not to make enrich or reprocess. The best Washington can do, it is argued, is to ask Riyadh to defer such dangerous nuclear activities for several years. Some even suggest that acceding to Riyadh’s wishes is in Washington’s interest, since allowing the Saudis the capacity to make nuclear weapons-usable fuels might help “deter” Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. None of this seems sound. . . .

Besides the odd optics of looking like a version of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran (which President Trump says is “the worst deal ever”), allowing Riyadh to enrich and reprocess would immediately excite the humors of the UAE and Egypt. Both have U.S. nuclear-cooperation agreements that allow them to request that their agreements be modified if the United States offers any of their neighbors a more generous nuclear deal. Then there are Morocco and Turkey: their nuclear agreements with Washington are up for renewal in 2021 and 2023. They, too, are likely to ask for equal treatment as soon as possible. How this serves anyone’s long-term interest is, at best, unclear.

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Read more at National Interest

More about: Iran, Nuclear proliferation, Politics & Current Affairs, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy