Senators press Perry on nuclear work with Saudi Arabia

A bipartisan pair of senators is pressing for more information on the Trump administration’s approval for companies to share certain nuclear energy technology with Saudi Arabia. 

Sens. Bob MenendezRobert (Bob) MenendezSenate to vote on blocking Trump's Saudi arms deal as soon as this week There is a severe physician shortage and it will only worsen Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-N.J.), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioGOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats Mellman: Are primary debates different? Overnight Health Care — Sponsored by Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids — Trump issues order to bring transparency to health care prices | Fight over billions in ObamaCare payments heads to Supreme Court MORE (R-Fla.), also a committee member, wrote to Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryDon't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Biden has a lot at stake in first debate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump targets Iran with new sanctions MORE on Tuesday asking for answers by April 10 on his approval of what’s known as Part 810 authorizations.

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“The kingdom has engaged in many deeply troubling actions and statements that have provoked alarm in Congress and led lawmakers to begin the process of reevaluating the U.S.-Saudi relationship and our long-term stability and interests in the region,” the senators wrote. “We therefore believe the United States should not be providing nuclear technology or information to them at this time.”

The Daily Beast first reported last week that Perry had approved six Part 810 authorizations allowing U.S. firms to share sensitive nuclear information with Saudi Arabia.

A day later, Perry confirmed the approvals to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Casting the approvals as “something that goes on every day,” Perry said the Saudi-related ones were among 37 authorizations granted since 2017, including two for Jordan.

He also said information on the approvals was not shared publicly because the companies involved determined doing so would divulge proprietary information.

The approval comes amid the Trump administration’s negotiations for a broader nuclear energy deal with Saudi Arabia known as a 123 agreement.

The 123 agreement negotiations have come under scrutiny from lawmakers in both parties because of Riyadh’s demands that any agreement not include prohibitions on enriching uranium and reprocessing spent fuel to produce plutonium, essential steps in producing nuclear weapons.

Lawmakers have also targeted the negotiations amid a broader reevaluation of the U.S.-Saudi relationship after the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul six months ago.

Menendez and Rubio had previously asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate the Trump administration’s nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia.

In their letter Tuesday, the senators asked what companies received the authorizations and what specifically those companies have been authorized to do, among other questions.

“While we are aware a Part 810 authorization can be utilized for certain types of limited nuclear cooperation, we are particularly concerned about this mechanism being used right now with Saudi Arabia,” they wrote. “We are also extremely concerned about the nuclear proliferation risk associated with the Kingdom’s nuclear program.”

The administration’s negotiations with the Saudis, they added, have not followed the law requiring Congress be kept “fully and currently informed” on such talks. 

“The opacity of this process,” they wrote, “has only served to fuel concerns among members about the nonproliferation risks associated with the Saudi nuclear program.”