Saudis spending up to $450K in push for US nuclear sale


Saudi Arabia has enlisted a trio of U.S. firms as it tries to persuade the Trump administration to sign off on a sale of nuclear reactors to the country.

Disclosures filed with the Justice Department, which oversees U.S. advocacy of foreign governments, show that Saudi Arabia could be spending upwards of $450,000 over a one-month period on advisers. 

The country inked one 30-day contract with King & Spalding, beginning on Feb. 21, that states the firm could be paid up to $450,000.

Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, which appears to be subcontracted through The Law Office of David B. Kultgen, is billing a “blended” $890-per-hourly rate. It is unclear how much Kulten, a former executive at Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company Aramco, is earning.

The firms will be working for the Ministry of Energy, Industry, and Mineral Resources of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia “in connection with a potential bilateral agreement on cooperation with the United States concerning peaceful uses of nuclear energy under Section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954.”

Saudi Arabia is seeking approval from the Trump administration to have American companies, such as Westinghouse, build nuclear reactors in their country. The country aims to buy 16 reactors at a price tag of $80 billion by 2023, according to The Wall Street Journal.  

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have to approve any deal involving a transfer of nuclear technologies from the United States, which are called 123 agreements. If the two countries reached an agreement, Congress would have 90 days to review it. 

There are skeptics of Saudi Arabia’s request, however, because the country has so far refused to agree to any limitations to what they can do with the reactors, such as forbidding the enrichment of uranium.

In the contract documents, the trio of U.S. firms working for the Saudi government said they would be offering counsel on “related legal matters concerning the development of a commercial nuclear program,” paperwork says.

Although Saudi Arabia has upwards of 20 law, lobbying and public relations firms working on its behalf, these new additions to its roster are a first, in terms of mentioning negotiations about purchasing U.S. nuclear reactors. 

The Saudis have long been willing to spend big to promote their interests in the United States, paying some firms upwards of $100,000 per month. 

The contracts with the law firms were signed shortly before Energy Secretary Rick Perry cancelled a trip to India, instead heading to London to meet with Saudi Arabia’s minister of Energy and Industry. The trip was considered to be a major step in the negotiations. 

King & Spalding has offices in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and an affiliated law firm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Pillsbury also has an office in the UAE, Saudi Arabia’s close ally.  

There are other countries vying for Saudi Arabia’s business, however. Companies in South Korea, France, China and Russia, some of them state-funded, are also expressing interest in making the reactor sale.  

The Wall Street Journal reported that formal talks between the U.S. and the Saudis should be starting in the coming months. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman will be visiting Washington from March 19-22, according to a Reuters report that cites sources in the Saudi government. 

The United States has the so-called 123 agreements with more than two-dozen countries and nations, and the terms for them can vary.  

The George W. Bush administration drafted a 123 agreement proposal for Saudi Arabia that sought the toughest requirements and restrictions on enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel, the materials needed to make nuclear weapons.

Tags foreign lobbying nuclear reactor Rick Perry Saudi Arabia

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