As part of a possible deal that would involve normalization of relations with Israel, the Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman has requested that the U.S. aid his kingdom in acquiring the means to enrich uranium and produce nuclear energy. The second part of the request, explain Anthony Ruggiero and Andrea Stricker, is entirely reasonable, but the first would give Riyadh the capacity to produce nuclear fuel both for reactors and for bombs. They suggest a better alternative, which could be part of an improved U.S. approach to the Middle East:
[T]he U.S. should offer to sell the kingdom a fleet of reactors from Westinghouse, an American company. Alternatively, the U.S. and South Korea could undertake a joint reactor venture. Seoul is already bidding on the Saudi reactor project. It has built three reactors in the United Arab Emirates and is working on a fourth. America should also offer its nuclear safety, security, and technical expertise, while assisting Riyadh’s uranium mining and milling endeavors.
Instead of enriching this uranium at home, however, Saudi Arabia would ship out the material to Europe’s Urenco consortium or the United States for nuclear-fuel fabrication. Washington might also offer an assured reactor-fuel supply, should the kingdom require it. . . . In securing these commitments, America would retain its “gold standard” of nonproliferation in the Middle East and prevent the spread of enrichment technology.
To seal the deal, Washington must reimpose United Nations sanctions against Iran, including a prohibition against Tehran’s uranium enrichment. This would mitigate the Saudis’ drive to match Tehran and convince the kingdom of American seriousness about reversing Iran’s proliferation efforts.
If the administration pursues such a plan, America will meet U.S., Saudi, and Israeli security objectives as well as win bipartisan support in a skeptical U.S. Congress, where Riyadh has few consistent friends.