Perry Pursues Reactor Deal Amid Congressional Ire at Saudis

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry is pressing ahead with efforts to strike a deal that would allow U.S. companies such as Westinghouse Electric Co. build nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia even as sentiment grows in Congress to punish the kingdom over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Perry has wrapped up a round of talks with Saudi Minister of Energy Khalid Al-Falih and the CEO of state-run Saudi Aramco as well other energy industry figures, the Energy Department said in a statement on Monday. Perry had previously said he was “hopeful” the two sides would reach a deal on a so-called 123 Agreement, named after a section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act.

Any nuclear deal may be met with congressional opposition. A bipartisan group of senators is seeking to punish Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Khashoggi’s murder without undercutting their parallel effort to restrict U.S. support for a Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen.

Five senators, including Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker of Tennessee, met Thursday to discuss whether to add arms-sale restrictions, other Saudi sanctions, and a statement about Prince Mohammed’s alleged complicity in the Khashoggi killing, to the Yemen resolution set to be considered by the Senate this week.

“Secretary Perry underscored the message that he carries all over the world: any nation seeking to develop a truly safe, clean, and secure nuclear energy program should turn to American companies who have the ability to provide the technology, knowledge, and experience that are essential to achieving that goal,” the Energy Department said in the statement.

Previous U.S. agreements have prohibited the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium, and that had scuttled negotiations to use U.S. technology in Saudi nuclear projects during the Obama administration. President Donald Trump’s administration is mulling easing that requirement now as a way to help Westinghouse and other companies win Saudi Arabian contracts.

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