By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration granted two authorisations to U.S. companies to share sensitive nuclear power information with Saudi Arabia shortly after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, a U.S. senator who saw the approvals said on Tuesday.
The timing of the approvals is likely to heap pressure on the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump from lawmakers who have become increasingly critical of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia where Khashoggi lived, called the timing of the approvals “shocking.” The Department of Energy granted the first part 810 authorization on Oct. 18, 16 days after Khashoggi, a Saudi who was a U.S. resident, died. The second occurred on Feb. 18.
U.S. authorities have concluded that responsibility for Khashoggi’s death went to the highest levels of the Saudi government. Riyadh denies the crown prince was involved.
The authorisations were among seven granted to U.S. companies by Trump’s administration since 2017, as Washington and Riyadh negotiate a potential wider agreement to help Saudi Arabia develop its first two nuclear power reactors.
The Energy Department has kept the companies involved in the sharing of nuclear technology information with the kingdom confidential, citing the need to protect business interests. In the past, 810 approvals have been made available for the public to view at department headquarters.
Lawmakers have been anxious to be kept updated about talks on nuclear power between the administration and Riyadh to make sure a deal contains strict nuclear nonproliferation standards. Last year Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the kingdom does not want to acquire a nuclear bomb, but if its arch-rival Iran did, “we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Kaine, who had urged the administration to release the authorisations, said that the approvals were “one of the many steps the administration is taking that is fuelling a dangerous escalation of tension in the region.”
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Marguerita Choy)