Experts worry tech transfer will allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons, contributing to Middle East arms race.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the US of hypocracy for allegedly attempting to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia while Washington tries to wreck Iran’s nuclear programme.
Zarif’s comment on Twitter on Wednesday came after reports the administration of President Donald Trump is trying to bypass US Congress to advance the sale of nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia.
“Day by day it becomes clearer to the world what was always clear to us: neither human rights nor a nuclear program have been the real concern of the US,” Zarif wrote.
“First a dismembered journalist; now illicit sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia fully expose #USHypocrisy,” Zarif added, referring to the killing of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents, and the new report by a US congressional committee on the planned technology sale.
Day by day it becomes clearer to the world what was always clear to us: neither human rights nor a nuclear program have been the real concern of the U.S. First a dismembered journalist; now illicit sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia fully expose #USHypocrisy.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) February 20, 2019
The attempt to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia is in violation of a US law guarding against technology transfer, the congressional report stated.
The news of the planned sale was received with concerns by security analysts who said the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology could pave the way for the production of nuclear weapons in the Saudi kingdom.
A Democratic-led House committee is now investigating efforts by US nuclear power companies to win the Trump administration’s approval to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
A key target of the committee’s inquiry was an effort by IP3 International, a consortium of nuclear power producers that began lobbying during the Trump transition in late 2016 and early 2017 to win presidential approval to develop nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia.
Analysts said the US tranfser plans raised questions about Washington’s international credibility.
“The problem is not the transfer of technologies to Saudi Arabia but US double standards. If you are US allies then its fine, if you are not then all sorts of problems are raised,” Nasser Hadian, professor of political science at Tehran University, told Al Jazeera.
Senior Trump administration figures are accused of rushing to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, ignoring legal objections. pic.twitter.com/1CaolnTnFG
— Al Jazeera News (@AJENews) February 20, 2019
Mohammad Ali Shabani, Iran Pulse Editor at Al-Monitor, said he doubted the US would sell uranium-enrichment technology to Saudi Arabia and, therefore, Riyadh would not have the capability to develop a nuclear weapon.
“However, the sidestepping of America’s own laws to facilitate sales of nuclear power plants puts the Trump administration’s broader credibility under question,” Shabani told Al Jazeera.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran – bitter foes since Iran’s 1979 revolution – have intensified since Trump withdrew the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, under which it scaled back its uranium enrichment programme and promised not to pursue nuclear weapons.
In exchange for the deal signed in 2015 in Vienna with six world powers – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union – international sanctions were lifted allowing Iran to sell its oil and gas worldwide.
Trump reimposed sanctions with the aim of slashing Iranian oil sales and choking its economy in order to curb its ballistic missile programme and activities in the Middle East, especially in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday Iran-US relations are at a new low and sanctions imposed by the Trump administration targeting Tehran’s oil and banking sectors amounted to “a terrorist attack”.
“The struggle between Iran and America is currently at a maximum. America has employed all its power against us,” Rouhani was quoted as saying in a cabinet meeting by the state broadcaster IRIB.
“The US pressures on firms and banks to halt business with Iran is 100 percent a terrorist act,” he said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly confirmed Tehran has been meeting its nuclear commitments fully.
The Trump administration has faced additional congressional opposition due to concerns about the role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
Khashoggi, a US resident and columnist at the Washington Post, was a well-known critic of the Saudi regime.
Riyadh has admitted the journalist was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by a Saudi hit squad and his body dismembered.
The CIA has said MBS likely ordered the killing, which Riyadh has denied.
The US has been accused of helping in the cover-up of Khashoggi’s murder after Trump’s administration failed to report back to Congress on the issue.
US senators have asked the Trump administration to probe the role of Prince Mohammed in Khashoggi’s death.
Trump has stood by the prince, saying weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are an important source of US jobs.
Saudi Arabia was the world’s number one arms importer in 2017 and the main buyer of US arms between 2013 and 2017.
Nearly one-quarter of Saudi Arabia’s weapon imports come from the EU, with four EU countries among the top 10 exporters.
Virginia Pietromarchi contributed to this report