Washington: The United States plans talks
with Saudi Arabia on civilian nuclear cooperation, people
familiar with the plans said, in a step that has already set
off fierce criticism on Capitol Hill.
With the United States hoping to head off an arms race
in response to Iran`s nuclear programme, officials from
President Barack Obama`s administration plan to head to Riyadh
in the coming week for nuclear talks, the sources said.
A congressional aide, who requested anonymity as the
trip has not been publicly announced, said the visit would be
a "preliminary" step to "discuss the possibility of moving
forward on a nuclear cooperation agreement."
A senior lawmaker from the rival Republican Party
strongly criticised the visit, pointing to concerns about
Saudi financing for Islamic extremists.
"I am astonished that the administration is even
considering a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi
Arabia," said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman
of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"Saudi Arabia is an unstable country in an unstable
region, with senior officials openly proclaiming that the
country may pursue a nuclear weapons capability," she said in
a statement yesterday.
"Its ties to terrorists and terror financing alone
should rule it out as a candidate for US nuclear cooperation,"
Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with the United
States in 2008 during a visit by then president George W Bush
that would give the kingdom access to enriched uranium --
meaning, unlike Iran, it would not need to master the nuclear
But the agreement was only tentative, with little
known effort since then to put it into practice.
Saudi Arabia is the world`s largest oil exporter, with
one-fifth of the world`s proven reserves. The kingdom says it
wants nuclear power so it does not have to burn lucrative
fossil fuels at its power plants.