Saudi Arabia Agrees to UN Oversight of Nuclear Activities Amid Broader Diplomatic Shifts


In a significant development, Saudi Arabia has announced its commitment to greater oversight of its nuclear activities through the United Nations (UN) atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This move comes as the kingdom seeks to normalize ties with Israel and explore the development of a civilian nuclear program with assistance from the United States. The decision also marks a shift in Saudi Arabia’s nuclear policy, moving from a Small Quantities Protocol (SQP) to a full-scope Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA), a change welcomed by the international community.

The Decision to Enhance Oversight

Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has emphasized that its nuclear ambitions are solely for peaceful purposes and not aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons. However, the kingdom has also stated its intention to develop atomic capabilities if Iran, its regional rival, does so. Iran has consistently denied pursuing nuclear weapons.

Until now, Saudi Arabia’s nuclear program has been subject to the Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), which allows nations with limited nuclear development to avoid rigorous inspections and reporting requirements. However, with the kingdom’s aspirations to expand its nuclear activities, including uranium enrichment, it has decided to rescind the SQP and transition to full-scope Comprehensive Safeguards Agreements.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi applauded Riyadh’s decision, highlighting that SQPs have been seen as a “weakness” in the global non-proliferation regime. This move indicates Saudi Arabia’s commitment to transparency and adherence to international nuclear regulations.

The Significance of the Additional Protocol

While Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman did not explicitly mention whether Saudi Arabia plans to adopt the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, its inclusion would allow for more extensive and intrusive inspections. This could involve snap inspections and inspections of non-nuclear facilities to ensure nuclear materials are not diverted for weapons development.

The Broader Diplomatic Context

Saudi Arabia’s decision to enhance its nuclear oversight also comes at a time of evolving regional dynamics. The kingdom has expressed interest in normalizing relations with Israel, a move that aligns with broader diplomatic goals. A breakthrough in relations between Israel, a key ally of the United States, and Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, has been identified as a priority by the Biden administration.

Reports suggest that Israeli officials are collaborating with the Biden administration on a complex agreement that includes setting up a US-run uranium enrichment operation in Saudi Arabia. This proposed deal, part of a larger normalization agreement between the two nations, underscores the potential for closer ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which could have far-reaching implications for regional stability and cooperation.

Human Rights Concerns in Saudi Arabia

Before granting Saudi Arabia the right to expand its nuclear capabilities further, it is crucial to address certain human rights concerns within the country. These concerns include:

1. Freedom of Expression and Assembly: Saudi Arabia has faced international scrutiny for its restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly. To ensure a responsible approach to nuclear capabilities, the Saudi government should take concrete steps to allow for open public discourse and peaceful assembly. The promotion of freedom of speech and press freedom is essential.

2. Gender Equality: Progress has been made, but more must be done to promote gender equality in Saudi Arabia. Empowering women to participate fully in all aspects of society, including politics and the workforce, is not only a matter of human rights but also a key element of responsible nuclear development.

3. Justice and Rule of Law: A robust justice system based on the rule of law is critical for responsible nuclear development. Saudi Arabia should prioritize judicial reforms that ensure fair trials, protection of due process rights, and the elimination of arbitrary detentions.

4. Freedom of Religion: Saudi Arabia should continue its efforts to promote religious tolerance and freedom of religion. Enhancing religious pluralism is vital for fostering a society that respects diversity and individual rights.

Recommendations for Enhanced Human Rights Protections

To address these human rights concerns and ensure responsible nuclear development in Saudi Arabia, the following recommendations are proposed:

1. International Monitoring and Reporting: As part of the nuclear development process, Saudi Arabia should allow international organizations and human rights watchdogs access to monitor and report on the country’s human rights situation. This transparency will demonstrate a commitment to improvement.

2. Human Rights Education: Implement educational programs within Saudi Arabia to raise awareness of human rights principles and their importance. This includes educating the public, government officials, and law enforcement agencies.

3. Legislative Reforms: Amend existing laws or enact new legislation to align with international human rights standards. This includes legal protections for freedom of speech, assembly, gender equality, and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

4. Engagement with Civil Society: Encourage dialogue and collaboration between the government, civil society organizations, and human rights activists to identify and address pressing human rights issues. A constructive and inclusive approach is essential.

5. International Collaboration: Collaborate with international partners and organizations to access technical expertise and resources for human rights reform initiatives.

6. Independent Investigations: Establish mechanisms for independent investigations into human rights abuses, and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.


Enhancing human rights laws and practices in Saudi Arabia is not just a moral imperative; it is also a fundamental prerequisite for responsible nuclear development. The international community should prioritize these recommendations and work collectively to ensure that Saudi Arabia’s path to acquiring nuclear capabilities is one marked by respect for human rights, transparency, and adherence to international norms. Ultimately, fostering a culture of respect for human rights is not only a vital step towards responsible nuclear development but also contributes to a more stable and secure world. As we evaluate Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions, let us not forget the importance of upholding the principles of human rights on the global stage.



  • NYCFPA Editorial

    The New York Center for Foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA) is a policy, research, and educational organization headquartered in New York State with an office in Washington D.C. NYCFPA is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, institution devoted to conducting in-depth research and analysis on every aspect of American foreign policy and its impact around the world. The organization is funded by individual donors. The organization receives no corporate or government donations.

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