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World News

Saudi Arabia plans stricter IAEA controls on its nuclear activities

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Saudi Arabia said it had decided to end light-touch monitoring of its nuclear activities by the U.N. atomic watchdog and move to comprehensive safeguards, a change the agency has been calling for for years. years.

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Saudi Arabia has a nascent nuclear program that it wants to expand to eventually include activities such as proliferation-sensitive uranium enrichment.

It is unclear where his ambitions will end, since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said for years that he would develop nuclear weapons if his regional rival Iran did so.

Riyadh has yet to turn on its first nuclear reactor, allowing its program to still be monitored under the Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which exempts least developed States from many reporting and inspection obligations.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi called on the dozens of states that still have SQPs to modify or repeal them, calling them a “weakness” in the global nonproliferation regime.

The IAEA has been in talks with Riyadh for years about transitioning to a so-called Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA).

“The kingdom recently took the decision to cancel its small quantities protocol and move towards the implementation of a large-scale SCA,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said. during the IAEA Annual General Conference, through an interpreter.

If Saudi Arabia were to introduce nuclear materials into its first nuclear reactor, a low-power research reactor located in Riyadh that is nearing completion, it would void the SQP and its exemptions from regular safeguards.

Despite this, its SQP remains a sensitive issue given fears of an arms race in the Middle East. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, but it enriches uranium to such a degree of purity that Western powers say there is no credible civilian explanation.

Prince Abdulaziz did not say whether, in addition to a regular CSA, Saudi Arabia plans to sign the IAEA Additional Protocol, which allows for more extensive and intrusive controls such as snap inspections.

Iran implemented the Additional Protocol as part of its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, but stopped after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018.

(With press agencies)


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