Saudi Arabia and Russia reached an agreement on Friday under which Riydah is reportedly to build up to 16 nuclear reactors under Moscow’s supervision, further bolstering ties between the two countries days ahead of the deadline for nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers.
According to Saudi owned al-Arabiaya TV, the agreement, which provides for the “peaceful use of nuclear technology,” was signed at a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at an economic forum in St. Petersburg. The Saudi report, which cited unnamed sources, was not immediately confirmed.
While the details of the nuclear energy cooperation pact were not immediately made public, Reuters reported joint projects in the future may include the construction of nuclear power reactors, Moscow-backed services in nuclear fuel cycling for nuclear power stations, and research reactor facilities.
Saudi Arabia, which has no industrial nuclear power plants, has recently increased efforts to forge new regional alliances and pursue nuclear capabilities in part to ward off a perceived threat from Iran.
The Saudi TV report quoted the Saudi ambassador to Russia Abdulrahman Al-Rassi as saying that Moscow plays an “important” role in implementing a United Nations Security Council call to “maintain stability and security in the world” — apparently a reference to a UN resolution urging the withdrawal of the Iranian-backed Houthi militias from Yemen.
Beginning in March, Saudi Arabia has spearheaded a military coalition of nine Arab states in an effort to restore power to Yemen’s president Mansour Hadi, who was ousted by the Shiite rebels last year.
“I think that Russia is feeling this responsibility and we always hope and talk with Russian officials on the Iranian issue,” the ambassador said.
The newly inked deal comes days before the June 30 deadline for an agreement at the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers aimed at curbing the weapons potential of Tehran’s nuclear program.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud has publicly denounced the prospect of a nuclear Iran as a “danger to the security of the whole region,” and Saudi concerns have led to meetings between Saudi and Israeli officials over fears that a weak nuclear accord with Tehran would leave the Islamic republic as a nuclear threshold state.
Saudi and other Gulf officials have been pressing for the United States to supply advanced weapons like F-35 stealth fighters as well as a written security guarantee in the face of the threat from Iran.
Last month, US President Barack Obama failed to reassure Gulf leaders that the nuclear deal would not embolden Iran to act more aggressively in the region.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.