Perry cites competition from Russia, China to defend nuclear talks with Saudis

Perry cites competition from Russia, China to defend nuclear talks with Saudis
© Greg Nash

Energy Secretary Rick PerryRick PerryTrump's relocation of the Bureau of Land Management was part of a familiar Republican playbook What we've learned from the Meadows documents Trump war with GOP seeps into midterms MORE on Thursday defended the Trump administration’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia concerning a nuclear energy program, saying that while a deal needs to have nonproliferation standards, the United States also needs to be able to compete with Russia and China.

“I like to remind people that our choices at this particular point in time, it appears to me, either Russia or China is going to be a partner in building civil nuclear capability in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, or the United States,” Perry told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

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“I am very confident that the prior two have no requirements of nonproliferation, so I think it’s really incumbent upon us to sit down, to work as closely with the kingdom to not only bring them into our fold from the standpoint of being able to build that for them, our technology, our jobs being created, et cetera but also from having those additional protocols and the International Atomic Energy Agency with their ability to go in and make sure that they are in fact not involved in any activities that would be untoward,” he continued.

“I think it’s important for us to negotiate in a really good and a powerful way, but recognizing that the alternative of who they’re going to be doing business with is of great concern to me.”

Perry was responding to a question from committee ranking member Jack ReedJack ReedDefense bill sets up next fight over military justice  Ukraine president, US lawmakers huddle amid tensions with Russia Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE (D-R.I.), who warned that he and others would oppose a deal without bans on enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel to produce plutonium.

“If such a deal was proposed where the Saudis would not be liable to and required to adhere to the standard, I would oppose it and I think many others would too,” Reed said.

The Trump administration has been negotiating a so-called Section 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia that would allow the kingdom to buy nuclear reactors from U.S. companies. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was in D.C. this week and discussed the potential deal with President TrumpDonald TrumpSanders calls out Manchin, Sinema ahead of filibuster showdown Laura Ingraham 'not saying' if she'd support Trump in 2024 The Hill's 12:30 Report: Djokovic may not compete in French Open over vaccine requirement MORE.

Saudi Arabia has indicated it wants a deal without the “gold standard,” or prohibitions on enrichment and reprocessing that are essential steps in producing nuclear weapons.

U.S. lawmakers' opposition to the deal has grown after Salman told “60 Minutes” that, “without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” The comments confirmed for lawmakers that Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions are about more than diversifying its fuel sources.

On Wednesday, Rep. Ileana Ros-LehtinenIleana Carmen Ros-LehtinenOne bipartisan remedy to the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislative attacks? passing the Equality Act High-speed rail getting last minute push in Congress Bottom line MORE (R-Fla.), chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, announced at a hearing that she and Reps. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanFraming our future beyond the climate crisis Overnight Defense & National Security — Congress begins Afghanistan grilling US says about 1,500 citizens remain in Afghanistan MORE (D-Calif.), Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeSheila Jackson Lee tops colleagues in House floor speaking days over past decade Senate Dem to reintroduce bill with new name after 'My Little Pony' confusion Texas New Members 2019 MORE (R-Texas) and William Keating (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that would force a vote of approval on a deal that falls short of the gold standard.

At Thursday’s Armed Services hearing, Reed noted that the 123 agreement with the United Arab Emirates adheres to the gold standard.

Perry countered that each agreement has be looked at “not in a vacuum, but certainly with the specificity of what we’re looking at here,” with the specifics in this case being the possibility of the Saudis doing business with Russia or China.

Reed said he appreciates Perry’s argument, but that the United States needs to insist on the gold standard.

“I think the proliferation dangers are so great that we should be able to wield all the influence we have, which goes way beyond this one transaction, to insist upon the same standards we applied to the Emirates,” Reed said. “There should be no difference.”