On March 21, 2018, IWP Professor Henry Sokolski spoke as a witness for the U.S.-Saudi Arabia Nuclear Cooperation Agreement for the Middle East congressional hearing. The panel of witnesses consisted of Professor Sokolski; William Tobey, former Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Proliferation and current Senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs; and Sharon Squassoni, Research Professor of the Practice of International Affairs, Institute for International Science and Technology at George Washington University. The United States and Saudi Arabia have recently begun talks on an agreement to allow for nuclear enrichment programming out of the Kingdom.
Following initial statements made by the subcommittee members, Professor Sokolski spoke in opposition to a hasty nuclear proliferation agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia, urging Congress to play a more vital role in the nuclear discussion and moving forward on a Nuclear Cooperation Reform Act.
In his opening statements to the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, International Affairs, headed by chairwomen Ros-Lehtinen, Professor Sokolski brought fourth four items for the record. First, he argued that the United States has greater leverage in a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia than the accepted narrative may suggest. Secondly, he highlighted that the key concern about the deal should be about greenlighting Riyadh’s desire to get a nuclear bomb. Thirdly, he contends that a Nuclear Cooperation Reform Act is long overdue, hinting that Saudi Arabia is being given too much leeway due to unfounded American concerns regarding economic gains and national security. Finally, Professor Sokolski reminded the audience that opposing countries with nuclear weapons do not cancel each other out, rather they encourage further proliferation and weapons amassment.
Following the opening statements shared by all witnesses, the floor opened up to questions proposed by the congressional subcommittee members. Many of the questions and concerns proposed centered on the treatment of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPAO) agreement with Iran and the possibility of its scaling back or dissolving. Chairwoman Ros-Lehtinen began by posing two questions. The first about the nature of the agreement as an economic or trade deal, and whether it should be treated with the same congressional involvement as other trade deals. The second concerned U.S. leverage in meeting nonproliferation goals with the Saudis. Mr. Deutch shared similar concerns about the ripple effect of such an agreement with Saudi Arabia may have on the region.
Professor Sokolski staunchly defended adherence to the “Gold Standard” set by the 123 Agreement for Peaceful Civilian Nuclear Energy Cooperation with the United Arab Emirates in 2009. Professor Sokolski urged for a slower approach to creating a deal with the Saudis while continuing to improve the JCPAO agreement with Iran.
A major point that Professor Sokolski discussed was the improbability of the Saudis turning to the Chinese or Russians if an agreement with the United States does not cater enough to Saudi requests. He defended this belief by noting the links between Russian technicians and Iran, believing that the Saudis would have difficulty entrusting their own nuclear programs with such technicians. As for China, Professor Sokolski alleged that China does not yet have operating versions of many of the reactors which they are pitching.
In his final statements, Professor Sokolski pushed for greater congressional involvement in the nuclear talks with Saudi Arabia and urged Congress to strengthen legislative commitments of the Saudis to limit nuclear proliferation.
Professor Henry D. Sokolski is the Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center and Former Deputy for Nonproliferation Policy in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. He is the author of Best of Intentions: America’s Campaign Against Strategic Weapons Proliferation, 1945-2000 and editor of Should We Let the Bomb Spread. He currently teaches a course on U.S. Nonproliferation and Nuclear Policy at the Institute of World Politics.