News & Politics

Will Trump Help Saudi Arabia Become a Nuclear Power?

A new lobbying effort threatens to upend the Middle East.

Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud
Photo Credit: YouTube Screengrab

The House of Saud is angling for approval on a new nuclear power program, and Donald Trump just might grant it.

According to The Young Turks' Ken Klippenstein, King & Spalding, a law firm that has previously represented the president in his real estate dealings, registered last month to lobby the White House on behalf of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Justice Department filings reveal the firm will receive $450,000 over a 30-day period to start, and talks are set to begin in a matter of weeks.

King & Spalding's ties to the Trump administration are numerous. Beyond the link to the president, FBI director Christopher Wray served as a litigator at the firm from 2005-2017. As Klippenstein notes, the appointment drew the ire of the ACLU's political director Faiz Shakir, who said in a statement at the time that, “Christopher Wray’s firm’s legal work for the Trump family, his history of partisan activity, as well as his history of defending Trump’s transition director during a criminal scandal makes us question his ability to lead the FBI."

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If the law firm succeeds in its lobbying efforts, it could set off a bomb in the Middle East, perhaps literally. That's because Saudi Arabia has refused to sign an agreement prohibiting the enrichment of uranium—a direct violation of Section 123 of the 1954 Atomic Energy Act concerning the peaceful use of nuclear energy. While the Saudis maintain the program would be for strictly civilian purposes, critics fear an ulterior motive. 

“It’s tempting to waive the gold standard for Saudi Arabia to secure a deal that could invigorate a struggling U.S. nuclear industry, but we cannot look at this situation purely as a business transaction," nuclear security expert Lovely Umayam tells The Young Turks. "If the Trump administration decides to omit the gold standard for the Saudis, I suspect that Iran will adversely react to seeing an arch-rival keep open the possibility of ‘nuclear hedging.’ Pitting Iran and Saudi Arabia against each other in terms of their nuclear capabilities could be a backward step for nonproliferation efforts in the region. Also, this could set a precedent for future 123 agreement negotiations, signaling to other countries that the United States would be willing to dilute its stance on nonproliferation if money is involved.” 

Read Klippenstein's report at The Young Turks.

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Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.