It’s safe to assume that the government of Saudi Arabia is feeling anxiety over the evident progress in nuclear talks between the United States and Iran. Indeed, as Riyadh’s regional rival moves closer to receiving international recognition for its nuclear program, the kingdom’s own nuclear aspirations seem to have stalled completely: a proposed U.S.-Saudi nuclear agreement has been at a standstill for six years. And the stalled talks are only one of several issues that have hurt the relationship between Riyadh and Washington in recent years.
Clearly, the nuclear issue in particular poses a problem for Saudi Arabia, which would like to keep pace with Iran on technological advancements and regional prestige. But it is also a problem for the United States, which cannot afford to be estranged from Saudi Arabia at a time when it requires its assistance in resolving conflicts in Iraq, Israel, and Syria. Fortunately, there are steps that the United States can take to push the nuclear talks with Saudi Arabia out of their rut. As a basic template, Washington should look to the nuclear deal it struck last decade with India.
The U.S.-Saudi nuclear talks were initiated in 2008, when then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud al-Faisal, signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Nuclear Energy Cooperation. At the time, many observers expected that the two countries were forging a new pillar for their 80-year-long strategic partnership. Indeed, Saudi Arabia soon announced its intention to build 16 nuclear power plants (at an estimated cost of $112 billion), which would have made it the world’s largest civilian nuclear program and generated tens of thousands of high-paying jobs for the kingdom’s growing population. Riyadh has justified its nuclear ambitions by pointing to the country’s dependence on oil and gas exports, which constitute 80 percent of national revenue; if Saudi Arabia could meet its own growing energy demands through nuclear energy, it wouldn’t have to
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