Chinese companies recently helped Saudi Arabia construct a secret uranium extraction facility, according to a report.
The absolute monarchy, and a US ally, stealthily constructed the “yellowcake” processing plant in northwestern Saudi Arabia, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing Western officials.
Saudi Arabia has the world’s second-largest oil reserves but openly plans to pursue nuclear energy. The shadowy pursuit of uranium, however, raised concern about possible nuclear weapons ambitions.
“Where is the transparency? If you claim your program is peaceful, why not show what you have?” Olli Heinonen, the former deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the paper.
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.”
The use of Chinese assistance comes as the Trump administration seeks to isolate and punish China for eliminating Hong Kong autonomy and concealing data on COVID-19 before it emerged as a global pandemic.
President Trump has defended bin Salman and has said the alliance serves US interests.
Last year, Trump defied members of both political parties to veto legislation that would withdraw the US from the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen’s civil war.
The China National Nuclear Corp. and the China Nuclear Engineering Group Corp. are believed to have worked on the Saudi nuclear project.
“My guess is that one of the reasons to go to the Chinese is that it doesn’t come with the same controls that coordination with the United States does,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
The Saudi Energy Ministry told the Journal it “categorically denies” claims it build the extraction facility.
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