There are too many unanswered questions about the White House’s role in advancing Saudi ambitions.
Jared Kushner slipped quietly into Saudi Arabia this week for a meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, so the question I’m trying to get the White House to answer is this: Did they discuss American help for a Saudi nuclear program?
Of all the harebrained and unscrupulous dealings of the Trump administration in the last two years, one of the most shocking is a Trump plan to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia that could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Even as President Trump is trying to denuclearize North Korea and Iran, he may be helping to nuclearize Saudi Arabia. This is abominable policy tainted by a gargantuan conflict of interest involving Kushner.
Kushner’s family real estate business had been teetering because of a disastrously overpriced acquisition he made of a particular Manhattan property called 666 Fifth Avenue, but last August a company called Brookfield Asset Management rescued the Kushners by taking a 99-year lease of the troubled property — and paying the whole sum of about $1.1 billion up front.
Alarm bells should go off: Brookfield also owns Westinghouse Electric, the nuclear services business trying to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi swamp, meet American swamp.
It may be conflicts like these, along with even murkier ones, that led American intelligence officials to refuse a top-secret security clearance for Kushner. The Times reported Thursday that Trump overruled them to grant Kushner the clearance.
This nuclear reactor mess began around the time of Trump’s election, when a group of retired U.S. national security officials put together a plan to enrich themselves by selling nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. The officials included Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, and they initially developed a “plan for 40 nuclear power plants” in Saudi Arabia, according to a report from the House Oversight and Reform Committee. The plan is now to start with just a couple of plants.
As recently as Feb. 12, Trump met in the White House with backers of the project and was supportive, Reuters reported.
These are civilian nuclear power plants, and Saudi Arabia claims it wants them for electricity. But the Saudis insist on producing their own nuclear fuel, rather than buying it more cheaply abroad. Producing fuel is a standard way for rogue countries to divert fuel for secret nuclear weapons programs, and the Saudi resistance to safeguards against proliferation bolsters suspicions that the real goal is warheads.
Trump may be vigilant (destructively so) about Iran’s nuclear plants, but in the Saudi case his response seems to be: There’s money to be made! When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu raised objections to the transfer last year, Axios reported, “Trump and his advisers told Netanyahu that, if the U.S. does not sell the Saudis nuclear reactors, other countries like Russia or France will.”
Trump seems to believe that the Saudis have us over a barrel: If we don’t help them with nuclear technology, someone else will. That misunderstands the U.S.-Saudi relationship. The Saudis depend on us for their security, and the blunt truth is that we hold all the cards in this relationship, not them.
Why on earth would America put Prince Mohammed on a path to acquiring nuclear weapons? He is already arguably the most destabilizing leader in an unstable region, for he has invaded Yemen, kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister, started a feud with Qatar, and, according to American intelligence officials, ordered the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The prince has also imprisoned and brutally tortured women’s rights activists, including one who I’m hoping will win the Nobel Peace Prize, Loujain al-Hathloul. As Representative Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, has noted, “A country that can’t be trusted with a bone saw shouldn’t be trusted with nuclear weapons.” Read more