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U.S. tells Saudi Arabia: nuclear push depends on snap inspections deal

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VIENNA (Reuters) – The United States will only provide Saudi Arabia with nuclear technology if the kingdom signs an agreement with the U.N. atomic watchdog that allows for intrusive snap inspections, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry repeated on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, says it aims to develop nuclear power to increase its energy mix, but growing tensions with its regional rival Iran have raised fears that it could use that technology to develop nuclear weapons.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last year the kingdom would develop nuclear arms if Iran did, and its new energy minister said last week that it wanted to enrich uranium for its nuclear power programme – which can also potentially produce fissile material for a bomb.

The country plans to issue a multi-billion-dollar tender in 2020 to construct its first two nuclear power reactors, with U.S., Russian, South Korean, Chinese and French firms involved in preliminary talks.

“We have sent them a letter … laying out the requirements that the United States would have, certainly in line with what the IAEA would expect from the standpoint of Additional Protocols and being able to make the appropriate, thoughtful inspections into the country,” Perry told reporters, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Additional Protocol https://www.iaea.org/topics/additional-protocol, an add-on to the safeguards agreements between the IAEA and its member states, grants the agency’s inspectors more far-reaching powers in verifying that those countries’ nuclear programmes are peaceful.

More than 130 countries have Additional Protocols in force. Iran’s nuclear deal with major powers also states that it must provisionally apply the Additional Protocol, and it is on that basis that the IAEA has carried out snap inspections there.

Saudi Arabia, however, has resisted joining that club.

“We’re big guys and we know the requirements to play at this level and an Additional Protocol is what’s going to be required,” Perry said three days after attacks on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure sent oil prices soaring.

Washington has blamed the attacks on Iran, which Tehran has denied.

“I consider this to be a form of negotiation,” he said.

“This isn’t just the Trump administration unilaterally deciding ‘you’re going to get the reactor’, this is a process. And the United States Congress has sent a clear message that they will not allow Saudi Arabia to get U.S. technology unless there’s an Additional Protocol signed,” Perry said.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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