Bill responds to press reports that Saudi Arabia has acquired illicit ballistic missile and nuclear infrastructure and technology from China
Washington (April 15, 2021) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations East Asia Subcommittee, and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), and Representatives Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and Ted Lieu (CA-33), Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, today reintroduced the Stopping Activities Underpinning Development in Weapons of Mass Destruction (SAUDI WMD) Act. Press reports in September 2019 revealed that Saudi Arabia may have cooperated with China to build a ballistic missile production facility inside Saudi Arabia. This alleged missile cooperation was followed by press reports that China is also aiding Saudi Arabia in mastering the early stages of the nuclear-fuel cycle, outside international safeguards.
The Saudi WMD Act aims to restore oversight and take steps to impede access to sensitive technologies that could pave the way to Saudi Arabia acquiring a nuclear weapon. Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 19, 2021, nominee to be Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, responded to questions about these reported Saudi activities stating, “We want to make sure that to the best of our ability all of our partners and allies are living up to their obligations under various nonproliferation and arms control agreements and, certainly, in the case of Saudi Arabia that is something we will want to look at.”
“We must take seriously Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s pledge that the Kingdom will seek a nuclear weapon if Iran develops a bomb of its own,” said Senator Markey. “The uncertain fate of the Iran Nuclear Deal combined with ample, concerning press reporting that Saudi Arabia may have illegally acquired items related to a program to build nuclear-capable missiles, calls for a diplomatic offensive led by the United States to extinguish any future Middle East arms race. The Saudi WMD Act requires greater transparency into Saudi Arabia’s efforts to build out a ballistic missile and civilian nuclear program, and ends the sale of U.S. offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia if it does not take steps to show the world that its nuclear program will remain exclusively peaceful.”
“Nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists and rogue regimes is one of the gravest threats to the security of the American people and to our partners around the world. Agreements limiting the spread of those technologies are critically important to our safety,” said Senator Merkley. “We must be prepared to enforce these agreements and act in response to any actions that spread this dangerous technology, including by imposing sanctions and terminating arms sales. If Saudi Arabia is working to undermine the global nonproliferation and arms control regime, with the help of China or anybody else, the U.S. must respond.” 
“I’m deeply concerned that Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program has all the hallmarks of a nation aiming to build a nuclear weapon,” said Representative Castro, a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence Committees. “Our legislation reaffirms the United States’ longstanding commitment to nuclear non-proliferation by requiring the administration, if necessary, to use our leverage to prevent Saudi Arabia from developing a nuclear weapon. The United States cannot allow a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East.”
“One of our primary foreign policy goals should remain reducing the number of nuclear weapons and preventing additional countries from building weapons of mass destruction,” said Representative Lieu. “It’s as simple as this: more nukes means more chances for global devastation. We have to recognize that a nuclear-capable Saudi Arabia would directly undermine US interests and the international goal of promoting nuclear non-proliferation. Ensuring greater transparency from Saudi Arabia regarding their ballistic missile and nuclear program and the role played by China can help us prevent a catastrophe. I’m grateful to once again work with Sen. Markey and Merkley and Rep. Castro on this vital issue.”
A copy of the legislation can be found HERE. A one-page overview of the legislation can be found HERE.
“The Council for a Livable World is proud to once again endorse the SAUDI WMD Act which will tie future offensive U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia meeting international nuclear transparency standards and U.S. nonproliferation goals. As the Biden administration seeks to revive the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), it is important to hold the entire region up to that nonproliferation gold standard. One of the greatest diplomatic breakthroughs of the nuclear deal was the indefinite insight into all facets of Iran's nuclear program, while presently, Saudi Arabia has the lowest standard of nuclear safeguards conceivable.  Through this legislation, Senators Markey and Merkley are making sure the United States is not turning a blind eye to potential proliferation threats and is instead helping to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” said John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World.
“The last thing the world needs is a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Reports suggesting that Saudi Arabia is pursuing a nuclear program and ballistic missile technology capable of delivering nuclear weapons only further illustrates the need to recalibrate U.S.-Saudi relations. The United States has an obligation to ensure that the strongest possible safeguard measures are in place to prevent Saudi Arabia from obtaining a nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it, and we should not be afraid to use the leverage at our disposal to do so. Foreign Policy for America thanks Senator Markey for introducing this measure to prevent Saudi Arabia from pursuing a nuclear program with zero accountability or transparency,” said Louie Reckford, Policy Advisor, Foreign Policy for America. 
Specifically, the Saudi WMD Act would:
  • Require a Presidential determination as to whether any “foreign person” has knowingly exported, transferred, or engaged in trade with Saudi Arabia in a Category 1 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) item. If such trade has occurred, the bill then requires the President to list the non-discretionary sanctions imposed or that he intends to impose on those “foreign person(s).

  • Terminate most U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia if it has received assistance in the construction of a nuclear fuel cycle facility not safeguarded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) or if the Kingdom has received help in the most sensitive proliferation activities on its territory through the construction of an enrichment or reprocessing facility.
  • Require the State Department to produce a strategy to prevent the proliferation of missile and nuclear technology to the Middle East and North Africa.
In February 2021, Senator Markey led ten of his Senate colleagues in the introduction of the Iran Diplomacy Act of 2021. The bill supports President Biden’s diplomatic efforts underway to attempt to return all sides to full-compliance with their commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Nuclear Deal.