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 PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryPartisan politics at independent agency draws bipartisan rebuke Overnight Energy: House panel approves park funding, offshore drilling bills | Green group putting M into races | Perry applauds Russia boosting oil production Perry welcomes efforts by Russia, OPEC to boost oil production 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 ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedNew York Times: Trump mulling whether to replace Mattis after midterms Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war 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 John TrumpSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate Ex-Trump staffer out at CNN amid “false and defamatory accusations” Democrats opposed to Pelosi lack challenger to topple her 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-LehtinenCook moves status of 6 House races as general election sprint begins The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Cuomo wins and Manafort plea deal Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash 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 ShermanLawmakers press Trump officials on implementing Russia sanctions Swastika painted on sidewalk in Colorado town: report Top Dem lawmaker pushing committee for closed-door debrief with Trump’s interpreter MORE (D-Calif.), Ted PoeLloyd (Ted) Theodore PoeCook shifts two House GOP seats closer to Dem column Five races to watch in the Texas runoffs Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas 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.”