More ominous activity from our friends and allies. From AP, with thanks to Twostellas:
VIENNA, Austria — Saudi Arabia has quietly begun talks on a U.N.-sanctioned agreement that could curtail any outside probe of its atomic intentions — a move that heightens concerns in a region already edgy about rival Iran’s nuclear program.
The Saudis deny any plans to develop nuclear weapons, and diplomats close to the International Atomic Energy Agency told The Associated Press that the U.N. nuclear monitor has no firm evidence that would cast doubt on the Saudi assertions. Phone calls to the Saudi representative to the IAEA or the government in Riyadh for comment were not returned.
But the diplomats say that past Saudi nuclear interest is heightening worries, as is the timing of the efforts to sign on to the IAEA’s small quantities protocol that would exempt the country from most of the agency’s control authority.
Born of more trusting days, the agreement has been joined by dozens of countries, most of which have never experimented with nuclear weapons. But the protocol is now viewed with suspicion within the agency, after revelations of other loopholes that have allowed prewar Iraq, Iran, Libya and other countries to work secretly on known or suspected nuclear weapons programs.
The protocol frees countries from reporting the possession of up to 10 tons of natural uranium — or up to 20 tons of depleted uranium, depending on the degree of enrichment — and 2.2 pounds of plutonium. It also allows them to keep silent about work on nuclear facilities secret until six months before they are ready for operation. And once a protocol is signed, the country’s word is normally not questioned….