WSJ conceals Saudi funding of pro-Saudi nuke deal source

Eli Clifton

Responsible Statecraft  /  September 22, 2203

The only expert quoted as supporting a plan for a uranium enrichment program inside the kingdom works at a think tank partly funded by Riyadh

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that “Israeli officials are quietly working with the Biden administration on a polarizing proposal to set up a U.S.-run uranium-enrichment operation in Saudi Arabia as part of a complex three-way deal to establish official diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern countries,” according to U.S. and Israeli officials.

The article, authored by Dion Nissenbaum and Dov Lieber, largely showcases Israeli opposition to the deal. Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a group whose mission includes providing “education to enhance Israel’s image in North America …” was quoted opposing a uranium enrichment program on Saudi soil. He warned that “we’re one bullet away from a disaster in Saudi Arabia,” adding, “What happens if, God forbid, a radical Islamist leader takes control?”

Israeli sources speaking to the WSJ acknowledged concerns about nonproliferation safeguards and the potential for a regional nuclear-arms race. But the one expert who was reported as thinking “the idea is worth exploring,” is an executive at an organization that depends heavily on Saudi funding, a potential financial conflict of interest that wasn’t disclosed by the WSJ to its readers.

The WSJ quoted Brian Katulis, described as “vice president of policy at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington,” supporting the controversial idea.

Nissenbaum and Lieber reported:

“The concerns of a nuclear-arms race in the Middle East are very serious and real, indeed,” [Katulis] said. “The question is whether the U.S. sitting on the sidelines, crossing its arms and scolding countries in the region for pursuing civilian nuclear energy is a more effective strategy than starting a discussion that aims to build trust and confidence among key actors in the region like Israel and Saudi Arabia.”

Katulis said, “The risk of some hostile leader getting these capacities is one we’ve seen and managed in a number of places around the world, including Pakistan.”

“It’s not an ideal situation in those instances,” he said, “but the risks can be managed.”

The WSJ didn’t provide readers with the context about MEI that is provided on MEI’s very own website: the organization’s biggest funders are linked to the Saudi government, a government which, in this case, is pushing for the very nuclear deal that the WSJ was reporting on.

MEI’s website discloses that in the first seven months of 2023, its single largest contribution was $833,456 from Saudi Research and Media Group, a publishing group with close ties to the Saudi ministry of information. MEI also collected $200,000 from Aramco, the Saudi largely-state-owned oil company and $25,000 from the Saudi embassy in Washington.

To its credit, MEI has been transparent about its funding and makes the information readily available on its website.

The WSJ, on the other hand, did not inform readers that its only pro-Saudi-nuclear-deal source’s work is partially funded by Saudi sources, a potential conflict of interest that may be of interest to readers seeking to better understand the benefits and pitfalls of the Saudi-Israeli normalization framework.

The WSJ did not respond to a request for comment.

Eli Clifton is a senior advisor at the Quincy Institute and Investigative Journalist at Large at Responsible Statecraft. He reports on money in politics and U.S. foreign policy