WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says that nuclear proliferation by Saudi Arabia is a real “risk” — listing it among rogue regimes that the United States is keeping its eye on.
The remarks follow reports the Middle Eastern kingdom is building a secret uranium processing plant with help from China — a charge that the secretary did not deny when repeatedly pressed on whether the intelligence was true.
“We’ve made it a real priority in this administration, working on these proliferation issues,” Pompeo, 56, told The Post during an exclusive interview in his office on Wednesday where he confirmed he would be seeking a “snapback” of sanctions on Iran at the United Nations.
“We’re trying to take down risk of proliferation all across the world, whether that’s in Iran, Saudi Arabia, or North Korea, or Russia,” he said, naming the oil-rich country along with basket-case regimes.
The secretary did not deny reports that the strategic US ally is constructing a secret mill to process yellowcake, a basic material for uranium enrichment, in the Saudi desert with the help of Chinese technicians.
Pompeo went as far to suggest that Chinese officials offered the wealthy Arab country a deal that was “too good to be true.”
“We’re certainly working with parties throughout the Middle East, sharing with them our concerns about the Chinese Community Party and the risk that’s created when the Chinese Communist Party shows up with a deal that looks too good to be true,” he said.
“Perhaps I’ll just leave it at that,” he continued, declining to go further.
The kingdom reportedly wants to pursue nuclear energy but the move has spooked Saudi Arabia’s neighbors, including Israel who fear the secret uranium site is part of a future military program, according to an Axios report published Wednesday.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, said in 2018 that “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
Unnamed Israeli officials told the publication they believe the Saudis made the deal with China because the Chinese government does not need assurances that the facility will be only used for peaceful purposes.
According to the Axios report, the US conditions any nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia on the assurance that the uranium will not be used for warfare or any other nefarious purposes.
The Saudi Energy Ministry told the Wall Street Journal that it “categorically denies” claims it is building the extraction facility.
The alleged deal comes as the relationship between Beijing and Washington grows increasingly strained, with President Trump blaming China for concealing the origins of the coronavirus and for cracking down on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
However, Saudi Arabia is considered a strategic ally against Iran in the region and Trump last year defied the wishes of both parties by vetoing a bill that would withdraw US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
Pompeo on Wednesday said he hoped China would come to the table and work with them on nuclear proliferation.
“We’ve asked the Chinese to participate in our strategic dialogue on these very same types of weapon systems,” he said.
“It’s like, ‘Hey if you want to be a global player, you should engage in strategic dialogue with us on this,’ and to date they’ve not been permitted to be part of these trilateral conversations,” he said.
“I hope they change their mind.”
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