From AP, with thanks to Big Sleep.
VIENNA, Austria – Board members of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency approved a deal Thursday that exempts Saudi Arabia from nuclear inspections, despite serious misgivings about the arrangement in an era of heightened proliferation fears.
Although the Saudis resisted Western pressure to compromise and allow some form of monitoring, the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency had no choice but to allow it to sign on to the agreement.
Called the small quantities protocol, the deal allows countries whose nuclear equipment or activities are thought to be below a minimum threshold to submit a declaration instead of undergoing inspection.
There is little concern the Saudis are trying to make nuclear arms, but diplomats accredited to the meeting said Riyadh’s resistance to inspections – and any new deals limiting the IAEA’s powers to investigate – were disconcerting at a time of increased fears countries or terrorists might be interested in acquiring such weapons.
With the deal approved, delegates focused on a report on Iran, to be presented later Thursday to the closed board meeting and given ahead of delivery to The Associated Press.
It says Iran has acknowledged working with small amounts of plutonium, a possible nuclear arms component, for years longer than it had originally admitted and receiving sensitive technology that can be used as part of a weapons program earlier than it initially said it did.…
The Saudis insist they have no plans to develop nuclear arms – and no facilities or nuclear stocks that warrant inspection.
As such, they qualify for the protocol, which has been implemented by 75 nations, most of them small and in politically stable parts of the world and which puts the onus on the nations to truthfully report that they have nothing to inspect.
But the timing of the deal for the Saudis comes amid persistent tensions in the Middle East and concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It also coincides with an agency push to tighten or rescind the protocol, as suggested in a confidential IAEA document prepared for the board and also made available to AP on Tuesday.
While the Saudi government insists it has no interest in nuclear arms, in the past two decades it has been linked to prewar Iraq’s nuclear program and to the Pakistani nuclear black marketeer A.Q. Khan. It also has expressed interest in Pakistani missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, and Saudi officials reportedly discussed pursuing the nuclear option as a deterrent in the volatile Middle East.…