- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

VIENNA, Austria — Saudi Arabia is defying the United States, the European Union and Australia by resisting efforts by the United Nations to verify that it has no nuclear assets worth inspecting, a confidential EU document shows.

There is little concern that the Saudis are trying to make nuclear arms, but Riyadh’s resistance to inspections adds another worry for a top-level meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency this week that is focusing on North Korea and Iran.

Those two countries are the world’s major concerns about the spread of atomic weapons.

Yesterday, the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, urged North Korea to back away from its nuclear program and asked Iran to improve cooperation with the U.N. investigation of its nuclear activities.

The Saudis insist they have no plans to develop nuclear arms and no facilities or nuclear stocks that warrant inspection. But they have been under pressure to allow a U.N. inspection before a deal comes into force that effectively would curtail the IAEA’s monitoring there.

Called the Small Quantities Protocol, the deal has been implemented in more than 70 nations, most of them small and in politically stable parts of the world.

It allows countries whose nuclear equipment or activities are below a minimum threshold to submit a declaration instead of undergoing inspection.

But the Saudi push to formalize minimal monitoring comes amid growing tensions in the Middle East, fed by the suspicions of the United States and others that Iran might be trying to develop atomic weapons. The Iranian government denies it.

The deal 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 the Associated Press.

Although the Saudi government insists it has no interest in having nuclear arms, in the past two decades it has been linked to prewar Iraq’s nuclear program and to the Pakistani black marketeer Abdul Qadeer 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 Middle East.

The United States, the European Union and Australia have urged the Saudis in separate diplomatic notes to either back away from the Small Quantities Protocol or agree to inspections.

But the EU briefing memo reported Saudi unwillingness to bow to the Western pressure.

It quoted the Saudi deputy foreign affairs minister, Prince Turki bin Mohammed bin Saud al-Kabira, as telling EU officials in Riyadh that his country would be “willing to provide additional information” to the IAEA “only if all other parties” to the protocol did the same.