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House panel grills Pompeo on US-Saudi nuclear transfer

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A House of Representatives panel criticized U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Wednesday over plans by the White House to deliver nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

"If you cannot trust a regime with a bonesaw, you should not trust them with nuclear weapons," congressman Brad Sherman said to Pompeo at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Sherman said that while President Donald Trump's administration has praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a reformer, he is not a democratically elected leader and may be overthrown.

"We are working to ensure the nuclear power they get is something we understand," Pompeo said in response.

Last month, the House Oversight Committee launched an inquiry into the Trump's administration's plans to build nuclear reactors across the Saudi kingdom.

The committee said multiple whistleblowers informed it of the administration's plans to rush the transfer of highly sensitive U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia without any review by Congress.

The plans, according to Sherman, do not require U.S. oversight over the reprocessing and enrichment facilities.

The House Oversight Committee's report outlined that the U.S. group IP3, which is behind the sale of nuclear technology to the Saudis, planned to build dozens of nuclear plants.

Derek Harvey, senior director for Middle East and North African Affairs at the National Security Council, reportedly ignored the fact that the transfer of equipment needed to comply with the Atomic Energy Act.

"The Middle East doesn't need a new nuclear weapon," Sherman said at the hearing.

Sherman mentioned six licenses granted by the Department of Energy which he said were being kept secret from the public because they are related to the transfer of nuclear technology to Riyadh.

Pompeo responded to the congressman's concerns by saying that the department could look into the matter.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee also heavily scrutinized the secretary of state over the administration's response to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"At what point as Americans do we insist that the inalienable rights enumerated in our Declaration of Independence, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- all three of which were denied to my constituent Mr. Khashoggi -- when do they trump diplomatic nicety?" said congressman Gerry Connolly.

Khashoggi was killed after he entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul last October. After a rising number of contradictions in their narrative about what happened, Riyadh sought to blame the journalist's death on a botched rendition operation being carried out by rogue agents.

Pompeo said he believed he knew most of the details of the murder when he met with the crown prince and said he did discuss the murder with him.

"We are continuing all across the government certainly in overt means with all the tools we have in our capacity to learn more facts about this," Pompeo said, referring to Khashoggi's murder.

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