As Washington and Tehran inch toward an agreement on Iran's nuclear program, Saudi Arabia and South Korea have quietly signed a nuclear deal of their own.
Together with recent comments by senior Saudi officials and members of the royal family, there are mounting concerns on Capitol Hill that a U.S.-Iran agreement, "rather than stanching the spread of nuclear technologies, risks fueling it," according to The Wall Street Journal.
The memorandum of understanding between Riyadh and Seoul reportedly includes a plan to study the possibility of building a pair of nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia during the next 20 years.
In recent months, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a member of the royal family, has publicly warned that the Saudi government will attempt to match the nuclear capabilities Iran is allowed to have as part of a nuclear accord with the United States and other international powers.
This "could include the ability to enrich uranium and to harvest the weapons-grade plutonium discharged in a nuclear reactor’s spent fuel," the Journal reported. Some U.S. and Arab officials have expressed concern about a "nuclear arms race" engulfing the region, fueled by Saudi Arabia's rivalry with Tehran.
"The proliferation of nuclear technologies is a nightmare the White House would like to discount rather than contemplate," said Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "This is more than just an imaginary threat."
Senior Arab officials have told the White House in recent months that Saudi Arabia may seek Pakistan's help in developing nuclear technology —
or may even purchase an atomic bomb —
if it concludes that a U.S.-Iran nuclear deal will not prevent the Islamic Republic from getting nuclear weapons.
Saudi officials have bluntly told several U.S. administrations that they believe they will get Pakistan's support in the nuclear arena because of all the financial assistance that Riyadh has provided to Islamabad over the years.
Current and former U.S. officials emphasized that Saudi Arabia would face numerous technical and legal obstacles if it tried to purchase or develop technologies necessary to produce weapons-usable fuel.
But Pakistan has a history of selling of nuclear technologies on the black market, including the network developed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan which was shut down more than a decade ago after it was caught selling nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea, and Libya. And in the past, Pakistan has deployed soldiers inside Saudi Arabia to aid the kingdom's defenses.
Hot Air's Ed Morrissey offers a scathing assessment of why Saudi Arabia might risk incurring U.S. wrath by searching for a nuclear insurance policy of its own.
"It's become clear to the Saudis and other Sunni nations that Obama’s foreign policy is Iranophile to the point of Western suicide. The U.S. effort in thwarting Iran always had two big motivations: to keep Iran from breaking out as a nuclear power, and to convince the other regimes not to follow suit through confidence in our long-term commitment to the region," he said.
But the potential U.S.-Iran deal "signals the end of that era, not because the U.S. has dropped its own lip service to that mission, but because our putative allies simply don’t trust us to follow through," Morrissey added.
"And looking at our track record over the last six years, with Iraq and Libya both failed states and incubators for Islamist terror … who can blame them?"
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