Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) on Tuesday criticized the Trump administration for allegedly approving two transfers of nuclear power information to Saudi Arabia after the October murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
Kaine, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee and Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, criticized the Energy Department for its slow response to his requests for information about the timing of the transfers.
“It has taken the Trump Administration more than two months to answer a simple question: When did you approve transfers of nuclear expertise from American companies to Saudi Arabia? And the answer is shocking,” Kaine said.
The two transfers he objected most strongly to occurred in October 2018 and February 2019. The first date fell 16 days after the Khashoggi killing.
“I have serious questions about whether any decisions on nuclear transfers were made based on the Trump family’s financial ties rather than the interests of the American people,” Kaine said.
Kaine was broadly critical of the Trump administration’s entire approach to Saudi Arabia, which he blamed for escalating tensions in the Middle East:
The alarming realization that the Trump Administration signed off on sharing our nuclear know-how with the Saudi regime after it brutally murdered an American resident adds to a disturbing pattern of behavior that includes citing a bogus emergency to bypass a Congressional block on arms sales to the Saudis, continuing support for the disastrous war in Yemen over Congressional objections, turning a blind eye to the regime’s detention of women’s rights activists, and refusing to comply with the Global Magnitsky Act to reach a determination about the Saudi government’s responsibility for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
President Trump’s eagerness to give the Saudis anything they want, over bipartisan Congressional objection, harms American national security interests and is one of many steps the Administration is taking that is fueling a dangerous escalation of tension in the region.
NBC News reported on Tuesday that staffers for both congressional parties and an official from the Energy Department confirmed that two of the nuclear technology transfers occurred after Khashoggi’s death.
NBC noted that some congressional Republicans have been displeased with the Administration’s handling of Saudi Arabia after the Khashoggi murder:
Republican Sens. Todd Young of Indiana and Marco Rubio of Florida and Democrats Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Kaine have introduced a bill demanding the government allow Congress to review all transfers of nuclear technology and expertise in advance.
Separately, the Government Accountability Office is reviewing the Trump administration’s negotiations with Saudi Arabia, as well as any negotiation by the executive branch since December 2009, regarding a civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Rubio and Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., requested the review in March.
Kaine had demanded details about the timing of the transfers for months. But after the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. James E. Risch, R-Idaho, vowed to personally intervene on the issue at an open hearing last month, the Energy Department provided the information.
Another Democrat senator, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, accused the Trump administration of “nuclear nonproliferation malpractice” on Wednesday.
“Because he’s pulled out of the Iran agreement, and by selling to the Saudis nuclear technology, it makes it much more likely that the Iranians are going to restart their nuclear program because they see that the Saudis have a head start. So this is absolutely disastrous,” Murphy argued.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, effectively the chief executive of the country, has made the exact opposite case, saying Saudi Arabia does not wish to research nuclear bombs but will “follow suit as soon as possible” if Iran develops one.
“This adds to my existing worries about the Administration’s willingness to give Saudi Arabia a free pass, especially after its brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) told CNBC on Tuesday.
“The fact that we now know two of these transactions took place after the murder makes clear that the Administration is willing to support the Saudis with impunity,” Menendez said, closely echoing Kaine’s statement.
CNBC noted that Saudi Arabia is looking at bids from several countries to build civilian nuclear reactors, including U.S. adversaries China and Russia. The authorizations for transfer criticized by Kaine and other Democrats were meant to “give U.S. firms the ability to share information as they make their pitches to the Saudis.”