U.S. Questions Saudi Nuclear Program
In a rare demonstration of displeasure, the Bush administration has raised doubts regarding Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program. Officials said the State Department would seek clarification from Riyad.
“I’d like to know more about it and I think it’s something that we should have discussions [about],” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.
In an interview with the Reuters news agency on Dec. 15, Rice pointed out that Saudi Arabia was the leading oil producer in the world. She said that neither Saudi Arabia nor some of its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council was in danger of depleting its energy reserves.
“I think one would have to wonder about the need of some states for nuclear power given their own energy resources,” Rice said. “It’s one thing for a state to be running out of natural gas in 34 years, which is the case of Egypt, it is quite another for the state to be the most oil-rich state in the world.”
In December, GCC leaders said they would launch a feasibility study of a joint nuclear energy program. Saudi Arabia supported the decision months after senior officials pledged that Riyad would be limited to a research program.
Officials said the U.S. intelligence community has been monitoring Saudi nuclear efforts for more than a decade. They said Riyad has sought to formulate deterrence to Iran’s nuclear program, expected to produce atomic bombs over the next two years.
In 2003, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with Pakistan for nuclear cooperation. Officials said the intelligence community believes that Riyad financed much or all of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons efforts.
“One early danger is that the [Saudi] kingdom is close to acquiring nuclear weapons rather than continuing to rely on the longstanding security guarantees and understanding of successive administrations in Washington,” Simon Henderson, a leading U.S. analyst on GCC states, said.
For her part, Ms. Rice said the administration has supported the spread of nuclear power. But she said safeguards must be instituted to reduce the risk of weapons proliferation, something that would be discussed with Riyad.
“I think there is no reason not to discuss it,” Rice said.
Attacks On U.S. Troops In Iraq Increase Sharply
The U.S. Defense Department said attacks on U.S. and Iraqi troops and Iraqi civilians have risen to the highest level since Iraq regained its sovereignty in June 2004. From mid-August to mid-November 2006, the Pentagon said, the weekly average number of attacks increased 22 percent from the previous three months.
“The violence has escalated at an unbelievably rapid pace,” Lt. Gen. John Sattler, director of strategic plans and policy for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Monday.
Entitled “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq,” the report said the worst violence was in Baghdad and in the western province of Anbar. Overall, the weekly average of attacks approached 1,000 in the latest three month period as opposed to about 800 per week from May to August 2006.
The 49-page report, mandated by Congress, said deaths and injuries in the U.S.-led coalition has reached 25 a day, or slightly below the record in 2004 when the U.S. military attack Faluja. Deaths and injuries sustained by Iraqi security forces reached a new record of 33 per day.
The spike in violence came despite a significant increase in the Iraqi security forces and an expansion of their responsibility. The report said the army and police have grown to a record 322,600 members, an increase of 45,000 since August 2006.
“The national perception of worsening conditions for peace and stability within Iraq has been accompanied by erosion of confidence in the ability of the government of Iraq to protect its citizens,” the report said.
The report said the Iranian-backed Mahdi Army led by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada Sadr represented the greatest threat to Iraqi stability. Sadr replaced an earlier Pentagon assessment that al-Qaida was the most dangerous force in Iraq.
Officials said the U.S. military presence in Iraq has dropped to 129,000 over the last week. In early December, the military deployed 140,000 troops in Iraq.
“We have to get ahead of that violent cycle, break that continuous chain of sectarian violence,” Sattler said in a briefing that accompanied the report. “That is the premier challenge facing us now.”
U.S. Uses Jordan As Iraq Logistics Base
Officials said the U.S. military has maintained a huge amount of prepositioned equipment in the Hashemite kingdom for operations in Iraq. They said Jordan, a leading military ally of the United States, has served as a source of supplies for American troops in the Anbar province in western Iraq.
“The commodities that we’re moving across here are of extremely high importance,” Maj. Todd Aarhus, who helps operate the supply flow, said.
Officials said the commodities sent from Jordan comprise daily requirements for the military. They cited fuel, vehicles, parts for armored vehicles, construction material and food.
The U.S. military uses three ports of entry for its supply line to Iraq. In addition to Trebil, the military obtains supplies from Kuwait and Turkey.
Officials said they prefer the use of Jordan over that of Kuwait and Turkey. Aarhus said supplies from Kuwait and Turkey take a minimum of 45 days to arrive to bases in Iraq. From Jordan, the supplies arrive in less than a week.
In March 2003, Jordan served as a launching pad for U.S. Special Operations troops and aircraft in the invasion of western Iraq. Since then, the U.S. military has maintained about 1,000 troops in the Hashemite kingdom, most of them at bases west of Amman.
The trip from U.S. military supplies in Jordan to the Iraqi border is about 480 kilometers, officials. Since April 2006, more than 14,000 trucks, which included 110 convoys, arrived from Jordan with supplies for the military.
– David Bedein
and Middle East News Line
©The Bulletin 2006