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 TrumpTrump claims media 'smeared' students involved in encounter with Native American man Al Sharpton criticizes Trump’s ‘secret’ visit to MLK monument Gillibrand cites spirituality in 2020 fight against Trump’s ‘dark’ values 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.

Wednesday's letter was signed by Sens. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioRussian oligarch, allies retain key ownership in company after sanctions lifted: report Senate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week Washington fears new threat from 'deepfake' videos MORE (Fla.), Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungSenate GOP eyes 'nuclear option' for Trump nominees next week GOP senators propose bill to pay 'excepted' workers during shutdown Trump's military moves accelerate GOP search for next McCain MORE (Ind.), Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerThe Memo: Concern over shutdown grows in Trump World Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees Overnight Defense: Trump unveils new missile defense plan | Dems express alarm | Shutdown hits Day 27 | Trump cancels Pelosi foreign trip | Senators offer bill to prevent NATO withdrawal MORE (Colo.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCivil rights group marks MLK Day with call for 'Trump card' national ID Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal House Republicans call for moving State of the Union to Senate chamber MORE (Ky.) and Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (Nev.).

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 PompeoPompeo: US 'absolutely not' getting out of the Middle East Pompeo taking meeting about running for Kansas Senate seat: report Ex-US envoy in ISIS fight: 'There's no plan for what's coming' after US troop withdrawal in Syria 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.”