Saudi Nuclear Ambitions Could Upend the Middle East

Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud. (Photo by Askin Kiyagan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

For more than a decade, Saudi Arabia has built up nuclear infrastructure for the stated purpose of diversifying its domestic energy mix and serving as a future global nuclear supplier. And officials have long spoken of the need to acquire a nuclear deterrent if Iran builds its own such weapons. At a mining conference in January, Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman al-Saud declared that Riyadh intends to master the full nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment of uranium. He said the kingdom would pursue “the production of yellowcake, low enriched uranium and the manufacturing of nuclear fuel both for our national use and of course for export.” 

The Saudis have no current need for the nuclear material, and they could meet any future requirements at a lower price with imported fuel rather than domestic enrichment. 

This policy would further destabilize the Middle East. As such, the United States should counter Riyadh’s efforts to acquire enrichment capabilities both through incentives that deepen the U.S.-Saudi security relationship and counterproliferation initiatives that limit the kingdom’s nuclear options.

Saudi nuclear hedging.

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