GOP senators press Trump to halt nuclear energy talks with Saudi Arabia

GOP senators press Trump to halt nuclear energy talks with Saudi Arabia
© Greg Nash

Five Republican senators are urging President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE to suspend negotiations with Saudi Arabia on a nuclear energy agreement following the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

“We write to request that your administration suspend talks related to a potential civil nuclear cooperation agreement between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” the senators wrote Wednesday in a letter to Trump. “The ongoing revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decisionmakers in Saudi Arabia.”

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The Trump administration has been negotiating what’s known as a “123 agreement” with the Saudis that would allow the kingdom to buy nuclear reactors from U.S. companies. The administration has framed a potential deal as important to securing U.S. jobs and ensuring the Saudis don’t seek similar business with another country.

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Rubio, Young, Gardner and Paul are members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. With the exception of Paul, all members of the panel previously requested the administration make a sanctions determination over the Khashoggi killing. Paul has vowed to block arms sales to the Saudis.

Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist who was critical of the Saudi government, was killed after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage to his Turkish fiancée.

A Turkish prosecutor publicly said for the first time Wednesday that Khashoggi was strangled as soon as he entered the consulate and that his body was then dismembered and disposed of.

Lawmakers expressed concerns about the potential nuclear energy agreement with Saudi Arabia even before the Khashoggi crisis because the Saudis have indicated they want a deal without the so-called “gold standard,” which would include prohibitions on enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel to produce plutonium, steps that are essential in producing nuclear weapons.

The Saudi position has fueled concerns about a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that were further stoked when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told "60 Minutes" that his country would develop a nuclear bomb "as soon as possible" if Iran does.

In their letter Wednesday, the GOP senators raised their previous “serious reservations” about a civil nuclear agreement, citing Saudi objections to the gold standard.

“Given your administration’s ongoing efforts to press the Iranian regime — in the words of Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoTrump fires back at Graham over Iran criticism Overnight Defense: GOP wary of action on Iran | Pence says US 'locked and loaded' to defend allies | Iran's leader rules out talks with US Republicans wary of US action on Iran MORE — to ‘stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing,’ we have long believed that it is therefore critical and necessary for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to accept and uphold this ‘Gold Standard’ for responsible nuclear behavior,” they wrote.

Following the Khashoggi incident, they added, they are more willing to block a potential deal.

“These serious questions have solidified our reservations about pursuing a potential U.S. civil nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia, and increased our willingness to advance, consistent with procedures in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, a joint resolution of disapproval to block any such agreement at this time,” the lawmakers wrote. “We therefore request that you suspend any related negotiations for a U.S.-Saudi civil nuclear agreement for the foreseeable future.”