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  • Saudi flag flutters atop Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 20, 2018.

    Saudi flag flutters atop Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 20, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 5 June 2019

The authorizations were among seven granted to U.S. companies by Trump’s administration since 2017, as Washington and Riyadh negotiate a potential wider agreement to help Saudi Arabia develop its first two nuclear power reactors.

The U.S. administration granted two authorizations to U.S. companies to share sensitive nuclear power information with Saudi Arabia shortly after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, a U.S. senator who saw the approvals said on Tuesday.

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The timing of the approvals is likely to heap pressure on the administration of President Donald Trump from lawmakers who have become increasingly critical of U.S. support for Saudi Arabia since Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.

Khashoggi, a journalist from Saudi Arabia, left in 2017 to became a resident of the United States where he published columns in the Washington Post critical of the kingdom’s leadership. The Saudi journalist was last seen entering the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul before he disappeared.

The U.S. authorities concluded that the highest levels of the Saudi government played a role in the murder of Khashoggi. Riyadh has denied that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was involved.

The authorizations were among seven granted to U.S. companies by Trump’s administration since 2017, as Washington and Riyadh negotiate a potential wider agreement to help Saudi Arabia develop its first two nuclear power reactors.

The Energy Department has kept information in the approvals to Saudi Arabia confidential, citing protection of business interests.

The department confirmed the two authorizations were issued after the killing of Khashoggi, but did not respond to a question about why the names of the companies have not been released. In the past, 810 approvals have been made available for the public to view at department headquarters.

An 810 authorization “simply provides U.S. companies the ability to compete in the international civil nuclear market,” the official said.

Lawmakers have been anxious to be kept abreast of talks on nuclear power development between the administration and Riyadh to make sure any deal contains strict nuclear nonproliferation standards.

Saudi Arabia and Washington had begun talks about nuclear power development before Trump’s presidency. But progress has been slow as the kingdom opposes measures that would prevent it from enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium, two potential pathways to making fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Last year the crown prince said the kingdom did not want to acquire a nuclear bomb, but if its arch-rival Iran did, “we will follow suit as soon as possible.”

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