U.S. shared nuclear power info with Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi killed: senator


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration granted two authorizations 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.

A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal – RC18135CA760

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.

Khashoggi, a native of Saudi Arabia, left in 2017 to became a U.S. resident where he published columns in the Washington Post critical of the kingdom’s leadership.

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 was killed. 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 that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved.

The authorizations 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 non-proliferation standards. Last year the crown prince 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 authorizations, said that the approvals were “one of the many steps the administration is taking that is fueling a dangerous escalation of tension in the region.”

Riyadh plans to issue a multibillion-dollar tender in 2020 to build its first two nuclear power reactors, sources said in April. Originally expected last year, the tender has been delayed several times.

The United States, South Korea, Russia, China and France are competing for the business. U.S. reactor builder Westinghouse, owned by Brookfield Asset Management Inc, would likely sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in any deal that involved U.S. technology.

Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Marguerita Choy and James Dalgleish



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