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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Saudi Looking Into Nuclear Energy Offers

Riyadh (AFP): Saudi Arabia confirmed Wednesday that it was in talks with Russia over the possible purchase of Russian weapons for the first time and welcomed Moscow's offer to help it develop nuclear energy. "There are no obstacles to cooperation between the two countries in all fields pertaining to... armament and nuclear energy," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh, a close US ally in the Middle East, has traditionally used Western defence systems, but is seeking to diversify its sources of weaponry.

"On the armament front, there have been discussions between the two countries. They are taking place in accordance with the kingdom's requirements in terms of armament and with what Russia can provide of the kingdom's needs for such equipment," Saud said.

He did not give details, but a diplomatic source had earlier said that Putin's talks during his first visit to Saudi Arabia were expected to lead to a "verbal understanding" on the sale of about 150 Russian T-90 battle tanks to the oil-rich kingdom.

The source said that tests were carried out on the T-90 in Saudi Arabia last year to determine the tank's suitability for harsh desert conditions, and Russia is also looking to sell Mi-17 helicopters.

Putin held a one-on-one meeting with Saudi Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz before leaving Riyadh Monday for Qatar on the second leg of a Middle East tour that also took in Jordan.

In remarks to a Saudi-Russian business forum, Putin also offered to help Saudi Arabia develop civilian nuclear energy.

"On the nuclear issue, there was a contact with the kingdom and the (Riyadh-based Gulf) Cooperation Council during the visit," Saud said.

He recalled that the six oil-rich GCC states had decided during a summit in Riyadh two months ago to pursue nuclear energy technology in accordance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other international protocols "without going into the issue of (nuclear) weapons."

"Russia is one of the states which possess this industry and there are no obstacles to cooperating with her (on this score) as we would cooperate in any other domain," Saud said.

Russia is building a nuclear reactor in Iran amid a standoff with the West, which suspects the Islamic republic is seeking nuclear weapons, a charge denied by Iran.
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