As George Orwell once observed, some ideas are so absurd that only the intelligentsia could hold them; ordinary people would not be so foolish. A case in point is a reported proposal to allow the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to enrich uranium and reprocess spent reactor fuel — two activities that could bring it within weeks of acquiring nuclear weapons — under a developing civil nuclear cooperation agreement.
Cutting such a deal should seem too reckless to be real. Unfortunately, it’s not. Last November, at an International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Abu Dhabi, Acting Assistant Secretary of Energy Edward McGinnis announced that the United States was eager to “spur exports of nuclear energy plants and equipment” to Saudi Arabia. Four weeks later, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry flew to Riyadh, met with Saudi energy minister Khalid Al-Falih, and declared that the United States and Saudi Arabia would soon “move forward” to conclude a formal U.S. nuclear cooperative agreement. Trump administration officials then confirmed, in briefings on Capitol Hill in early December and January, that U.S. negotiators may not insist that Saudi Arabia renounce enrichment and reprocessing as part of a proposed nuclear cooperation agreement.