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Congress probes plan by Trump officials to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia

House report says plan may violate US law and raises fears that Saudi Arabia may use technology to build a bomb
Donald Trump and his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, during a campaign event on 6 September 2016 (AFP)

Whistleblowers expressed fear to US lawmakers that former and current members of US President Donald Trump's administration may have skirted the law by trying to provide "highly sensitive" nuclear technology worth billions of dollars to Saudi Arabia, a House of Representatives report said.

The US House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Reform report on Tuesday, citing whistleblowers, claims attempts by administration officials were made to violate Congressional oversight to get the transfer of nuclear technology finalised. 

This potentially breaches the Atomic Energy Act, the report stated, adding that the efforts, which started in the early days of Trump’s presidency, "may be ongoing to this day".

An investigation is now being launched, the committee said. The White House has not yet commented on the report.

The Atomic Energy Act imposes stringent controls on exports of US technology that could be used to create nuclear weapons.

Under Section 123 of the Act, the "US may not transfer nuclear technology to a foreign country without the approval of Congress, in order to ensure that the agreement reached with a foreign government meets specific nonproliferation requirements", the committee report said.

Fears of weaponising nuclear technology

In addition, the report cited experts expressing fears that Saudi Arabia may use this nuclear technology to build nuclear weapons.

"Experts worry that transferring sensitive US nuclear technology could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons that contribute to the proliferation of nuclear arms throughout an already unstable Middle East," the House report stated.

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last March that if "Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

'Experts worry that transferring sensitive US nuclear technology could allow Saudi Arabia to produce nuclear weapons'

- House report

The kingdom is a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which prohibits under international law the use of nuclear technology for bomb construction.

Potential conflicts of interest

The House report, written by the staffers of Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings, claims the transfer of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia began before Trump assumed office and continues presently.

A consulting firm with links to former US national security adviser Michael Flynn heavily advocated for building nuclear plants in the kingdom, the committee said, raising questions regarding conflicts of interest.

Flynn "described himself" as an advisor of the IP3 International's subsidiary at a time when he was the national security advisor for Trump during the campaign, transition period and even after when he began working for the White House in an official capacity, the report went on to say.

"According to the whistleblowers, Derek Harvey, the Senior Director for Middle East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) from January to July 2017, stated during the first week of the Trump Administration that the decision to adopt IP3’s nuclear plan," the report said.

The decision was allegedly made by "General Flynn during the transition-while he was serving as an advisor to IP3", it added.

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Former top US officials also founded some of the US companies that fall under the IP3 umbrella, the House report said. That includes retired Navy Rear Admiral Michael Hewitt, retired Army General John Keane, and Robert McFarlane, a former national security adviser to US President Ronald Reagan.

Tom Barrack, the chairman of Trump's inaugural committee, was also involved in promoting the Saudi nuclear plan, the House committee said.

IP3's only project to date "is the Saudi nuclear plan", the report said, citing media outlets.

"Within the United States, strong private commercial interests have been pressing aggressively for the transfer of highly sensitive nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia - a potential risk to US national security absent adequate safeguards," the House committee said in its report.