Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DCREUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

In a move that has raised several eyebrows and questions, the Donald Trump administration has approved a secret deal to sell nuclear technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia. Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers on Thursday, March 28, that the admin had approved six applications from US companies, which had requested that the application be kept a secret.

Perry revealed that the Energy Department had approved 37 nuclear applications since January 2017, of which nine were in the Middle East. Two other applications were also approved for Jordan. The approvals will allow the companies to carry out ground work on nuclear power, before a deal to build a nuclear plant gets a nod. There have been plans to build at least two nuclear plants in the nation. However, the companies will not be permitted to ship any equipment to these nations.

The approvals were first reported by the Daily Beast, after which Perry confirmed them to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Meanwhile, the six companies had reportedly requested that the details of the application and the deal be kept a secret. "In this case, each of the companies which received a specific authorization for (Saudi Arabia) have provided us written request that their authorization be withheld from public release," the National Nuclear Security Administration said in a document, accessed by Reuters.

However, Perry refuted these reports and said that the US companies just wanted to keep the details of the application private. "These US companies that are going to be doing this work want to keep that proprietary information from being out in the public domain," the Associated Press quoted Perry as saying. "What we're talking about here is something that goes on every day in this town and across the country."

Lawmakers question Trump admin's decision

The revelation comes at a time when Riyadh and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have faced the ire of several nations for the brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on October 2. Several US lawmakers have slammed the crown prince for this act over the last few months, with many even calling him a "wrecking ball" and someone who had gone "full gangster."

After Perry spoke of the plans, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine asked him if the approvals came after October 2, when Khashoggi was murdered, but the former said that he did not know the specific dates. 

Republican and Democratic lawmakers have slammed the move and many said that one couldn't trust Saudi Arabia with such crucial nuclear power, when they couldn't even be trusted with a bone saw -- a reference to Khashoggi's murder.  Many are also specially concerned about the deal with Riyadh after a Washington Post article earlier, citing satellite imagery, said that there were speculation on how Saudi Arabia has built a facility to produce ballistic missiles. 

Keeping in mind all these issues, Representative Brad Sherman, a Democrat, has urged Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release the names of the companies that got the approvals by the mid of April and also added that the Trump admin has tried to evade the Congress in regard to sharing nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia. However, Pompeo has said that he will look into the matter and that the US officials were "working to ensure that the nuclear power that [the Saudis] get is something we understand and doesn't present that risk" of allowing them to make nuclear weapons, reported AP. 

Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez have also said that they were "troubled by the administration's lack of consultations with Congress."