Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

When Trump came into office in 2016, he and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, began flirting with Saudi Arabia and the Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman (MBS). But in the past few months the budding rela­tionship has fallen on hard times. First, there were hard feelings when MBS had jour­nalist Jamal Khashoggi mur­dered in the back room of an embassy. And now, the Trump admin­is­tration faces outrage from both sides of the political aisle for attempting to build nuclear-power reactors in Saudi Arabia.

The House Com­mittee on Over­sight and Reform released a report on the recent dis­cov­eries and are now threat­ening an inves­ti­gation into the “Trump Administration’s Efforts to Transfer Sen­sitive Nuclear Tech­nology to Saudi Arabia,” per the memo.

There has cer­tainly been shady dealings and attempts to bypass Con­gress and proceed with the sale of nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia. But in Trump’s defense, there was zero chance that any con­gres­sional com­mittee was going to give a thumbs-up to handing a Middle Eastern power nuclear reactors. So Trump and Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn got cre­ative.

The Over­sight and Reform com­mittee out­lined how Flynn and Derek Harvey, who was in charge of Middle Eastern affairs on the National Security Council, worked on a plan to sell nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia with retired U.S. gen­erals and admirals who had formed a private company in support of the plan. But then the whistle­blowers came out.

The com­mittee reported that these ambiguous whistle­blowers “pro­vided spe­cific dates and infor­mation from the rel­evant cor­re­spon­dence, as well as the names and iden­tities of White House offi­cials engaged in these activ­ities.”

The report con­tinued, saying, “For example, the whistle­blowers pro­vided new infor­mation about IP3 Inter­na­tional, a private company that has assembled a con­sortium of U.S. com­panies to build nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia. According to media reports, IP3’s only project to date is the Saudi nuclear plan.”

The report goes on to outline behind-the-scenes work the Trump admin­is­tration has under­taken to set up nuclear power in Saudi Arabia: fundraising, con­stant com­mu­ni­cation with the Saudis and Emi­ratis, etc. And one of Trump’s friends and fundraisers even, “pon­dered the notion, for example, of buying a piece of West­ing­house, the bankrupt U.S. man­u­fac­turer of nuclear reactors.” Once the deal went public, the admin­is­tration knew it would have Trump’s fin­ger­prints all over it, but it appears that the plan was to actually have every­thing sold and built by a group of private com­panies.

These con­tro­versial steps have both the right and left crying “Scandal!” Giving Saudi Arabia access to nuclear power, and pos­sibly nuclear weapons, is right­fully con­cerning. MBS did say in 2018, “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as pos­sible.” And sure, it’s a little scary to have someone like MBS, a rec­og­nized mur­derer, in pos­session of nuclear power, but look at who else has nuclear power.

Iran has nuclear power and weapons (probably). Pak­istan has about 150 war­heads. India has about 140. Saudi Arabia is a lot more stable than any of those coun­tries and has a decent rela­tionship with the U.S. Con­gress should take these factors into con­sid­er­ation and take MBS’s offer seri­ously.

Fur­thermore, Iran, Pak­istan, and India are not even under the Non-Pro­lif­er­ation Treaty (NPT). So they tech­ni­cally have no oblig­a­tions to use their nuclear power for peaceful pur­poses. At the very least, selling Saudi Arabia nuclear reac­tants would guar­antee their entrance into the NPT.

But it appears that the plan to sell Saudi Arabia nuclear reactors is not just a business deal. From what the House com­mittee has uncovered thus far, it seems like the plan was to sell Saudi Arabia the reactors so that the U.S. could control the nuclear facil­ities. In that case, selling nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia could be a good security investment for the U.S. in the Middle East. U.S. control and involvement in Saudi nuclear power would assert American dom­i­nance in the Middle East. The U.S. could, at the very least, make Iran think twice before doing any­thing stu­pidly aggressive.

All the dealings for the sale up to this point have been done in back rooms and under tables. But selling Saudi Arabia nuclear reactors won’t cause WW3. Thanks to the House’s “whistle­blowers,” however, Amer­icans are running scared from a deal that could poten­tially enhance American security and dom­i­nance in a tur­bulent region. The U.S. shouldn’t fear nuclear power going to the big, bad Middle East — it’s already there.

Abby Liebing is a junior studying History and Jour­nalism.