Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has laid the foundation stone for the kingdom’s first nuclear research reactor as calls grow in the US for a halt to nuclear talks with the Riyadh regime, which has been rattled by a scandal over the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
The official Saudi Press Agency reported that the project had been launched during bin Salman’s visit to King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh on Monday.
The reactor was among seven projects launched by the prince during the visit, said the report.
It did not provide details on when the reactor – which is said to serve research and development purposes – would be constructed
Bin Salman, also known as MbS, has been pushing for an atomic deal with the United States that could pave the way for the Saudi regime to enrich uranium, prompting speculation that the regime might be planning to develop nuclear weapons in the long run.
Before the outbreak of the Khashoggi scandal, US President Donald Trump had already drew criticism at home over plans to secure a nuclear deal with Riyadh at the cost of a domestic law that bans recipients of nuclear technology from enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium, which could be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.
Bin Salman, during his visit earlier this year to the US, even spoke of producing nuclear weapons. He told US media that Riyadh would be quick to build nuclear bombs if Iran does so.
The civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program has on multiple occasions been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
In recent weeks, a fresh controversy has been raised surrounding the US-Saudi nuclear talks as Riyadh’s rulers stand accused of murdering Khashoggi upon his entry into the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in early October.
Turkish investigations have so far found that people from bin Salman’s inner circle were part of a team of 15 Saudi operatives that perpetrated the crime.
Riyadh has admitted that Khashoggi was murdered inside its diplomatic mission, but sought to shield its powerful crown prince from the widening crisis, claiming bin Salman had not been aware of the scheme.
There have been calls inside the US and elsewhere in the world for sanctions against the Saudi regime over the case.
Late last month, a group of American senators asked Trump to suspend the nuclear negotiations amid the scandal.
“The ongoing revelations about the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, as well as certain Saudi actions related to Yemen and Lebanon, have raised further serious concerns about the transparency, accountability, and judgment of current decision makers in Saudi Arabia,” the senators wrote in a letter to the US president.
“We therefore request that you suspend any related negotiations for a US-Saudi civil nuclear agreement for the foreseeable future,” they added.