Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (May 1, 2024) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a co-chair of the Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, today wrote to the Biden administration seeking answers about any agreement that would normalize relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Israel in exchange for civil nuclear energy cooperation and a U.S. defense commitment to the Kingdom. In his letter, Senator Markey urged the Biden administration to ensure that any civil nuclear cooperation (or so-called “123”) agreement with Saudi Arabia as a part of a Saudi-Israeli normalization “mega-deal” includes a commitment to forego enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear material, also known as the gold standard. Senator Markey also urged that before the United States enters into any 123 agreement with Saudi Arabia, it must implement the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Additional Protocol, which would apply nuclear safeguards that include monitoring, inspection, and other activities to verify that nuclear activities remain peaceful and detect and deter their diversion, including to weapons related purposes. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman previously has stated publicly that Saudi Arabia would seek to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran were to “develop” a nuclear bomb. The path towards Middle East peace should not include the prospect of a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia, which would undermine the interests of the U.S., allies, and partners across the region.

In the letter, Senator Markey wrote, “Although I strongly support and would eagerly welcome a rapprochement between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including a two-state solution, I have deep concerns about the reported military and nuclear contours of a U.S.-Saudi deal. I fear that Saudi Arabia — a nation with a terrible human rights record — cannot be trusted to use its civil nuclear energy program solely for peaceful purposes and will instead enrich uranium and seek to develop nuclear weapons.

Senator Markey continued, “It would be irresponsible, in the face of Saudi Arabia’s open nuclear intentions, for the United States to reach a civil nuclear cooperation (or so-called “123”) agreement with Saudi Arabia that lacks a formal Saudi government commitment to forego enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear material...A standard 123 agreement that provides the Kingdom with the ability to enrich uranium domestically could fray the existing global arms control regime, exacerbate tensions across the Middle East, and reduce U.S. leverage over the Kingdom to improve its human rights record.”

In their letter, the lawmakers requested that the Biden administration respond to questions that include:

  • What is the status of negotiations towards diplomatic normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel?

  • Given Saudi officials’ public statements of their government’s desire to obtain a nuclear weapon, is your Administration seeking a 123 Agreement with “gold-standard” protections?

  • What U.S. defense guarantees or commitments are being offered in exchange for normalization of diplomatic relations with Israel?

  • Is improvement of Saudi Arabia’s human rights record an element of the negotiations? Will any agreement include provisions that address and seek to improve upon Saudi Arabia’s human rights and civil liberties practices?

  • Will any agreement include guardrails to ensure that the U.S. defense guarantees and any provision of technology do not in any way contribute to Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations?

In April 2021, Senator Markey reintroduced his Stopping Activities Underpinning Development in Weapons of Mass Destruction (SAUDI WMD) Act, which would impose sanctions on entities that have engaged in trade with Saudi Arabia related to ballistic missiles and terminate U.S. arms exports to the Kingdom if it were to construct a uranium enrichment or reprocessing facility or if it fails to adopt the IAEA Additional Protocol. In November 2019, Senator Markey led Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and Chris Van Hollen in calling for Congressional oversight of any 123 negotiations between the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia. In September 2019, Senator Markey and Merkley urged the Trump administration to halt civil nuclear cooperation negotiations with Saudi Arabia. In June 2019, Senator Markey blasted the Trump administration’s secret nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia. In February 2019, Senator Markey began requesting information on any 810 authorizations to Saudi Arabia in a letter to the Trump administration.