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Saudis commit to full UN atomic agency inspection of nuclear activities

Saudi Arabia said Monday that it will agree to full-scope inspection of its nuclear activities by the UN atomic agency, replacing an existing watered-down monitoring system.

Riyadh has demanded uranium enrichment on Saudi Arabian soil as part of a potential US-sponsored normalization agreement with Israel.

Saudi Arabia has not yet activated its first nuclear reactor and therefore the IAEA only monitors it under its Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), an arrangement that requires softer reporting and review. Introducing nuclear material to the reactor would void the SQP and its immunity from regular proliferation safeguards.

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told a meeting of the IAEA annual General Conference in Vienna that his country is ready to adopt the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, which has stricter inspections and monitoring.

“The kingdom has recently taken the decision to rescind its Small Quantities Protocol and to move to the implementation of a full-scope Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement,” bin Salman said, according to Reuters.

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He did not specify if the Saudis would also agree to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which enables even more stringent and intrusive checks than the CSA, including snap inspections, according to the report.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has said that the SQP, which is applied in dozens of states, is a “weakness” in global non-proliferation. The IAEA has for years been negotiating with Saudi Arabia for it to enter a CSA pact.

US support for a Saudi civilian nuclear program is a key demand by Riyadh for a normalization agreement with Israel, though security officials in both Israel and the US have expressed concern over the prospect of enrichment on Saudi soil.

Though a civilian program could be run without uranium enrichment on Saudi soil, the kingdom is reported to be demanding the enrichment take place locally.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Saturday denied a report that he is exerting heavy pressure on members of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission not to oppose uranium enrichment in Saudi Arabia.

Under the terms of its landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran agreed to the Additional Protocol, but dropped many of its commitments after the US pulled out of the pact in 2018. The nuclear deal, formerly known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has steadily unraveled since then and effort to negotiate its revival have so far failed.

Iran insists its nuclear activities are peaceful, but, since the US pullout from the JCPOA, has enriched uranium to levels Western powers say has no civilian use.

Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has said for years his country will develop nuclear weapons if regional rival Iran does.