Israeli energy minister opposed Saudi civilian nuclear program

Israel’s energy minister voiced opposition on Monday to the idea of Saudi Arabia developing a civilian nuclear programme as part of any US-mediated forging of relations between the countries. An international news paper reported in March that such a programme was among Riyadh’s conditions for a normalisation deal with Israel. Saudi and US officials have not confirmed that. Pointing to precedents like Iraq and Libya, Israel has long worried that potentially hostile neighbours could use civilian nuclear energy and other projects developed under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) as cover for clandestine bomb-making. “Naturally, Israel does not encourage such things. I don’t think Israel should agree to such things,” Energy Minister Israel Katz told media when asked about a prospective Saudi civilian nuclear programme as part of possible bilateral ties. Israel said last week it expected to be consulted by Washington on any US-Saudi deal affecting its national security. Israel, which is outside the voluntary NPT and has no nuclear energy, is widely believed to have atomic weaponry. SAUDI BID Saudi Arabia has been planning to build its first nuclear power plant. In 2009, the late Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz told the Obama administration that the country would obtain nuclear weapons of its own if Iran were to do so. In 2018, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the same thing to the US news outlet. More recently, Saudi Arabia has been considering developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. In 2018, the Saudi government announced its intention to add nuclear power to its energy mix. South Korea has also shown interest in building Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear power plant. Last December, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) held a nuclear law workshop with Saudi officials in Riyadh. The IAEA’s purpose was to “support the implementation of its nuclear energy programme in a safe, secure and transparent manner,” according to a press release. In early February, Saudi Arabia signed a memorandum of understanding with France on energy cooperation. The memo noted nuclear energy as well as hydrogen and electricity interconnection, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. France gets around 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy.