By Javad Heirannia

U.S. won’t allow Saudi Arabia to have full cycle of uranium enrichment and reprocessing: Professor

March 12, 2018 - 11:28

TEHRAN - Farhang Jahanpour, an adjunct professor in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford and a Middle East expert, says that when Iran had her nuclear dispute with the West, many people in the West, as well as many officials in the Persian Gulf littoral states, including Saudi Arabia, kept asking why despite her vast oil reserves Iran needed nuclear reactors.

“it is interesting to note that now that Saudi Arabia and the UAE want to have a nuclear programme there is a deafening silence in the West and in the region,” Jahanpour tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

Jahanpour, also a former senior research fellow at Harvard University, says that The United States reached an agreement with the UAE, which forces the UAE to forgo enrichment and reprocessing in return for getting nuclear material, equipment, and know-how.

“I believe that this is a more likely path that the United States would pursue, rather than allow Saudi Arabia to have the full cycle of uranium enrichment and reprocessing.”

Following is the full text of the interview with Professor Farhang Jahanpour:

Q: After a few years, the U.S. Administration has announced that it will conclude a nuclear agreement with Riyadh. Why has the United States decided to restart negotiation on a nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia?

A: The first thing that needs to be said is that when Iran had her nuclear dispute with the West, many people in the West, as well as many officials in the Persian Gulf littoral states, including Saudi Arabia, kept asking why despite her vast oil reserves Iran needed nuclear reactors.

However, it is interesting to note that now that Saudi Arabia and the UAE want to have a nuclear programme there is a deafening silence in the West and in the region. This is despite the fact that Iran’s population of over 80 million is about four times larger than Saudi Arabia’s native population of just over 22 million, and fifty times larger than UAE’s native population of just 1.4 million. At the same time, Saudi Arabia’s oil production at 10.4 million barrels per day is nearly three times Iran’s oil production, and the UAE with a population of less than two per cent of Iran’s population produces 3.1 million barrels a day, which is not much less than Iran’s 3.8 million barrels per day production.

Saudi Arabia has claimed that nuclear energy would be necessary to supply the country’s energy needs. However, from the above facts it becomes clear that Saudi Arabia does not need nuclear power. Recent studies have shown that the Saudis can meet their energy needs more cheaply and in a more sustainable and more environmentally friendly manner by investing in renewable energy, especially solar energy. Saudi Arabia’s vast territory with almost constant sunshine is ideal for the production of solar energy. If they pursue this path, they would not need to rely on foreign supply of nuclear reactors and fuel or to have a very expensive and controversial enrichment programme.

It should be noted that Iran started her nuclear programme in the 1950s and has a long history of domestic nuclear capabilities. Nevertheless, she faced enormous opposition when she decided to go the enrichment route, despite the fact that the countries that had promised and had even signed many agreements to build nuclear reactors in Iran and provide fuel, failed to do so, and so Iran was forced to pursue a domestic route.

Q: Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE desire to have their own nuclear enrichment programmes. Will the United States accommodate Riyadh in these demands?

A: Saudi Arabia has announced that she wants to establish a large-scale nuclear power programme, and also wants to be free to engage in the enrichment of uranium and the reprocessing of spent reactor fuel, despite the fact that she has had no indigenous nuclear expertise. The United States reached an agreement with the UAE, which forces the UAE to forgo enrichment and reprocessing in return for getting nuclear material, equipment, and know-how. I believe that this is a more likely path that the United States would pursue, rather than allow Saudi Arabia to have the full cycle of uranium enrichment and reprocessing.

However, if those two countries adhere to the regulations of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Additional Protocol, they are legally entitled to engage in enrichment, although it would certainly be much more expensive and more controversial than either going for solar energy, or purchasing nuclear fuel from abroad. At the moment, there are a growing number of countries that have nuclear-enrichment facilities. Nuclear fuel is cheap and plentiful, and those two countries can have diverse suppliers so that they will not be tied to a single source. In the light of all these facts, if they still insist on going for nuclear energy, and especially if they pursue the nuclear enrichment route, such actions are liable to give rise to many suspicions and questions about their real motives.

However, here the beauty and the significance of the Iran nuclear deal (the JCPOA) becomes clear to all. Far from being the worst agreement ever reached, it is the most significant non-proliferation treaty every signed, and it provides an excellent and full proof template for any other country that wishes to go for nuclear energy. According to the JCPOA, all Iran’s nuclear installations are under strict and continuous inspection and supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Therefore, if those countries agree to be subjected to those stringent conditions, there is no legal argument that would prevent them from doing so. However, an agreement based on the JCPOA would mean no indigenous reprocessing, with all spent reactors being shipped out of the country. That model can also be applied to Turkey, Egypt, Morocco or any other country that wishes to follow the nuclear energy path in the future.

Q: Some argue that if the United States does not cooperate with Saudi Arabia in its nuclear program, Russia and China may do so and this will lead to reducing American nuclear influence in the region. What is your opinion?

A: This is a rather spurious argument that is used also for the sale of arms, that if we do not supply those arms, others will. I believe that there is no reason why the United States or any other country should not cooperate with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the nuclear field, provided that they abide by the above-mentioned rules, and pledge never to produce nuclear weapons.

The latest decision by North Korea to end her nuclear weapons programme shows that more and more countries are realizing that in the modern inter-dependent world there is no place for nuclear weapons, and that countries should resolve their differences through dialog and political agreement and rely on regional security pacts, rather than trying to commit suicide by making use of nuclear weapons. The NPT calls on all countries, including the nuclear powers to get rid of their weapons in good faith. This is the path that needs to be followed, staring with a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.

Q: Which model for the Saudi nuclear plan is more likely, the JCPOA or the former U.S. agreement with United Arab Emirates?

A: I believe that in view of the success of the JCPOA, future nuclear agreements will be based on that model, although it would be much wiser for the countries with plenty of sunshine and small populations, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to turn towards solar energy. However, there should be no nuclear apartheid. The countries that join the NPT and abide by its rules should be allowed to have nuclear energy, if that is the path that they wish to pursue despite its risks and enormous costs.

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