Senators Markey and Rubio, and Reps. Sherman and Messer Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Legislation to Thwart Saudi Arabia's Nuclear Weapons Ambitions

Press Release

Date: Dec. 19, 2018
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Foreign Affairs

Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Brad Sherman (CA-30), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Luke Messer (IN-06) today introduced legislation that increases Congressional oversight over any civil nuclear cooperation agreement -- or 123 agreement -- between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Since 2017, there have been reports of negotiations between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia on a potential 123 agreement, with Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently returning from the region after meeting with leaders about a potential deal.

Specifically, the No Nuclear Weapons for Saudi Arabia Act would require Congress to affirmatively approve any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia. Typically, 123 agreements--which authorize U.S. companies to sell nuclear technology abroad--go into effect unless veto-proof majorities of Congress pass joint resolutions of disapproval. The legislation also makes clear that Congress believes that no 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia should be approved unless and until the Kingdom is truthful and transparent about the death of U.S. journalist Jamal Khashoggi, unless it commits to forego any uranium enrichment or spent fuel reprocessing activities -- the so-called "gold standard -- within its territory, and until it agrees to implement the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Additional Protocol. The legislation also urges Saudi Arabia to make substantial progress on protecting human rights, including through the release of political prisoners.

"Saudi Arabia's recent turn toward authoritarianism is evident in its flagrant and growing disregard for international laws and fundamental human rights, and it must be held to account," said Senator Markey. "Crown Prince Mohamad bin Salman has made it perfectly clear that he is more interested in harnessing nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia for geopolitical power than for electrical power and has even publicly declared his willingness to pursue nuclear weapons at his discretion. These disturbing facts make it crucial that the United States does not compromise on nonproliferation standards in any 123 agreement it negotiates with Saudi Arabia. This legislation would ensure that we put key checks in place to ensure that Saudi Arabia never ends up with the U.S. technology or materials to make a nuclear bomb and that Congress is the final say before approval of any agreement. I thank Senator Rubio and Congressman Sherman for their partnership on this important legislation that will help stop a nuclear arms race in the Middle East."

"The United States should suspend all talks related to a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia until the Saudi government agrees to the "Gold Standard' requirements and proves they are willing to be responsible partners that respect the basic rights of their citizens," said Senator Rubio. "This important bill will ensure Congress has oversight over and the right to affirmatively approve any nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia and also continues to press the Saudis for accountability in Jamal Khashoggi's murder."

"A government that cannot be trusted with a bone saw, should not be trusted with a nuclear weapon," said Rep. Sherman. "Saudi Arabia's plan to build a nuclear plant makes no economic sense as a means of generating electricity but makes perfect sense if the goal is to provide a pretext for a nuclear weapons program. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, has indicated that he believes Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon and that Saudi Arabia should keep pace. This outcome that would severely threaten the security of the United States and close allies like Israel. This bill empowers Congress to carry out its constitutional oversight role to prevent an agreement that only contains the "plastic' or "fool's gold' standard."

"The constitution is quite clear: any international agreement that requires major undertakings on the part of the United States -- such as any proposed Saudi nuclear deal -- must be sent to Congress for advice and consent," said Rep. Messer. "Frankly, it was wrong when the Obama Administration circumvented these requirements with the Iran nuclear deal, and it would be wrong to allow any deal with the Saudis without ensuring that Congress -- acting as the voice of American people -- has a say."

A copy of the No Nuclear Weapons for Saudi Arabia Act can be found HERE.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers have long-expressed serious concerns with Saudi Arabia's unwillingness to commit to the gold standard for civil nuclear cooperation agreements, raising concerns that the Kingdom's commitment to use nuclear energy isn't solely for peaceful purposes. A commitment to the gold standard is one way the United States ensures that nations with which we engage in civil nuclear cooperation are living up to the highest nuclear nonproliferation standards. In March 2018 Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman stated in an interview that his country would develop nuclear weapons "without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb." Just a few months later, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir echoed these disturbing comments.