By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said on Friday he will meet the new Saudi energy minister on Monday and likely discuss plans the kingdom has to build nuclear reactors.
Perry did not say where he would meet Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who took over from Khalid al-Falih on Sunday. But a U.S. official said the meeting would likely take place on the sidelines of an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna next week.
The kingdom has so far resisted agreeing to standards that would block its ability to enrich uranium and reprocessing of plutonium, possible pathways to making an atomic weapon. On Monday, Prince Abdulaziz said the kingdom wanted to enrich uranium for its nuclear power program, potentially complicating talks with the Trump administration on the atomic pact and the role of U.S. companies.
Perry told reporters at department headquarters on Friday the kingdom must agree to so-called 123 nonproliferation standards before coming to any agreement.
Last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the kingdom does not want to develop nuclear weapons but will pursue them if its regional rival Iran does.
On Iran, Perry echoed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin who said this week that administration will continue to be tough on Iran’s oil exports, even though Trump parted ways this week with his hard-line national security adviser John Bolton.
“Iran knows what the rules of being a good citizen in the world are, if they continue to live outside of the bounds of that, I suspect the U.S. will continue to have a very strong and harsh line toward them,” Perry said.
Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran last year after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear accord between Tehran and six world powers. In a bid to crack down on Iran’s economy and bring its oil sales to zero, the administration in May ended sanctions waivers for importers of Iranian oil.
Perry said if China, which had been Iran’s largest oil customer, and other countries need oil they should talk to the United States, where oil and gas production has been rapidly growing. “Why not come and talk to the number one oil and gas producing country in the world?” Perry said.
Dan Brouillette, deputy U.S. energy secretary, told Reuters in Abu Dhabi this week that Washington will monitor Iranian oil shipments and consider “designating” or blacklisting any identified party who violates sanctions.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Tom Brown)