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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

US energy chief cancels India trip to plan nuclear talks with Saudis

Saudi Arabia plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion.

world Updated: Feb 27, 2018 15:58 IST
Ari Natter, Jennifer Jacobs and Jennifer A Dlouhy
Ari Natter, Jennifer Jacobs and Jennifer A Dlouhy
Bloomberg, Washington
File photo of US energy secretary Rick Perry.
File photo of US energy secretary Rick Perry.(AP)

US energy secretary Rick Perry will travel to London to discuss nuclear energy with officials from Saudi Arabia on Friday as the Trump administration pursues a deal to build reactors in the kingdom, according to two people familiar with the plans.

Perry scrapped a trip to New Delhi to accommodate meetings at the White House this week, creating an opening for him to lead an inter-agency delegation to London, said the people, who asked not to be named to discuss administration strategy.

The administration is considering permitting Saudi Arabia to enrich and reprocess uranium as part of a deal that would allow Westinghouse Electric Co and other American companies to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East kingdom.

The meetings in London between Perry and Saudi Arabia’s minister of energy and industry Khalid Bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih are seen as a critical step in months of ongoing discussions over a potential nuclear cooperation agreement, bringing together key deal makers from each country.

Some American agreements with other countries have prohibited the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium in exchange for the use of nuclear technology, and that had scuttled negotiations for Saudi projects during the Obama administration.

The Trump administration is mulling whether to ease that requirement now as a way to help Westinghouse and other companies win Saudi contracts. Saudi Arabia plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The energy department confirmed the cancellation of Perry’s India trip but a spokesman did not reply to a question about the London talks.

Any agreement they reach must be approved by Congress, which will have 90 days to weigh in. The potential deal has drawn opposition from anti-nuclear proliferation advocates and some lawmakers, such as Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat.

On Monday, Markey asked the Trump administration to detail its efforts to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Saudis and share information about US negotiations with the country.

“Congress remains in the dark about what exactly is being considered, why we may be re-evaluating our non-proliferation objectives and standards, and how and when this information is being conveyed to Saudi Arabia and other countries around the world,” Markey said in a letter to Perry and secretary of state Rex Tillerson.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is expected to visit the US in March.

First Published: Feb 27, 2018 15:58 IST