US and Saudi energy ministers discuss closer co-operation

Nuclear power and clean fuels top agenda at talks between Rick Perry and Khalid Al Failh

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih arrives for an OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, June 22, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo
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The United Sates and Saudi Arabia discussed nuclear energy co-operation and an increase in Saudi oil production, ahead of renewed US sanctions on Iran in November.

In Washington on Monday, Khalid Al Falih, Saudi minister of energy, industry and mineral resources, and US Energy Secretary Rick Perry discussed “US-Saudi civil nuclear engagement and new technologies such as Small Modular Reactors, the state of world oil markets and the status of joint efforts to share technologies to develop clean fossil fuels”, the US energy department said.

Mr Perry said his talks with Mr Al Falih on how their countries could work together were fruitful.

The Trump administration is seeking more oil production from Saudi Arabia before Washington reimposes oil-related sanctions on Iranian exports from November 4. With oil crossing $76 a barrel, the Trump team is worried the Republican Party may suffer a backlash from high fuel prices in the US Midterm elections on November 6.

During a visit to Riyadh by Mr Perry in December, the US and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement “to establish a framework for mutually beneficial co-operation in the area of clean fossil fuels and carbon management”.

Saudi Arabia is seeking nuclear power to diversify its economy away from crude oil, and is looking at different international partners to develop its programme.

“The aim is to construct two nuclear reactors by 2020 and at least a dozen more by 2030,”  said Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

“The competition among international firms for the Saudi nuclear project has been intensifying since this summer, when both South Korea’s Kepco and Russia’s Rosatom were shortlisted by the Saudi government,” said Ms Young, who studies the Gulf and Saudi market.

“The United States would like to be on that shortlist, including the promotion of firms like Westinghouse, but Saudi Arabia has not been willing to confine itself to the US as a supplier of nuclear technology.”

Ms Young said Riyadh appears to hold more leverage “in its ability to offer large investment opportunities to US firms in the energy sector, and its ability to impact global oil prices in the near term”.

Mr Perry travels on Thursday to Russia where, according to Reuters, he is scheduled to meet Energy Minister Alexander Novak.


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