Saudis Say They're Moving Ahead With Nuclear Program, With or Without US

Chinese president Xi Jinping accompanies Saudi Arabia's king Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud listen to their national anthems during a welcoming ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People on March 16, 2017 in Beijing, China. / Getty Images
June 9, 2023

Saudi Arabia will move forward with their nuclear development program whether the United States is on board or not as "there are others that are bidding" to help, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Thursday after meeting with U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken.

"It’s no secret that we are developing our domestic civilian nuclear program and we would very much prefer to be able to have the U.S. as one of the bidders," Foreign Minister prince Faisal bin Farhan said. "Obviously we would like to build our program with the best technology in the world."

The statement comes as the Biden administration struggles to broker a deal with the Arab nation to normalize its relationship with Israel. Reports circulated before Blinken's trip to the oil-rich country that Saudi leaders were conditioning the agreement on "boosted U.S. defense sales and assent for a Saudi civilian nuclear program."

While Faisal did not say Thursday if the nuclear issue was linked to normalization, he added that a deal with Israel would have "limited benefits" without "finding a pathway to peace for the Palestinian people," the Associated Press reported.

Faisal's comments are only the latest Saudi snub to President Joe Biden, who has struggled since the beginning of his term to hold any clout in the region. Blinken visited the country this week in hopes of soothing the strained relationship brought on by mounting disagreements on China, regional security, and oil prices. The day before Blinken's trip, Saudi-led OPEC announced it will cut oil production yet again, raising oil prices by more than 1 percent a barrel.

When OPEC cut production last October following a visit from Biden, the president vowed "consequences" for the Middle Eastern country. But he never followed through on his threats, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Even Israel's leadership is "in a fog" on any progress the Biden administration has made in its talks with Saudi Arabia, Israel's national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said last week. Blinken told a pro-Israel lobby group on Monday that while Washington had "a real national security interest" in normalizing Israeli-Saudi relations, it would not happen quickly.

Since Biden's failed visit to the country last summer, Saudi Arabia has drifted from aligning with U.S. priorities in the region. The kingdom has embraced more Chinese influence since China brokered a peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia in March, sidelining the United States. Saudi leaders also welcomed Syrian president Bashar al-Assad at an Arab League summit in May, a move the United States did not support or encourage.

After the Biden administration publicly condemned Saudi Arabia's imprisonment of 72-year-old American citizen Saad Almadi for anti-government tweets, the kingdom increased Almadi's prison time in what Almadi's son called a "middle finger" to President Biden.