Saudi Arabia disclosed today that it has offered to finance the reconstruction of the French-built nuclear reactor that Israeli warplanes destroyed in an attack near Baghdad on June 7.
In a statement to the official Saudi news agency, Saudi Information Minister Mohammeh Abdo Yamani said that King Khalid had issued an order for Saudi Arabia to pay "all the costs of rebuilding the Iraqi nuclear plant illegally attacked by Israel."
In another development, the saudi oil minister, Sheik Ahmed Zaki Yamani, reportedly told an informal meeting of six members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries that the kingdom is not ready to reduce its production, which currently is in excess of 10 million barrels a day.
Information Minister Yamani said the king had informed French President Francois Mitterrand of the Saudi decision to finance rebuilding the reactor during his state visit to France last month. He added that this was in keeping with the Saudi policy of helping its Arab brothers in bad as well as good times.
The Israeli bombing of the reactor amid charges that Iraq was planning to build a nuclear bomb have stirred an enormous international controversy and a struggle to will between Israel and its Arab neighbors over Arab and its Arab neighbors over Arab efforts to develop even a peaceful nuclear capability.
Israel has said it will bomb the Iraqi reactor again if there is any attempt to rebuild it.
Mitterrand told The Washington Post in an interview June 16 that France would agree to reconstruct the reactor only if Iraq agreed to strict safeguard against any possible military use. Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson said 10 days later that nuclear agreements like the one with Iraq could go ahead under "very rigorous restrictions."
But French external affairs sources said today that Paris has so far received no official Iraqi request to rebuild the plant. [Government sources in Paris said they had no knowledge of a reported visit by Tariq Aziz, Iraq's vice premier, news agencies reported. The Paris daily Le Monde, in a report from Baghdad, said Aziz planned to visit France "very soon" to negotiate the rebuilding of the reactor.]
In the past 10 months, Saudi Arabia has provided Iraq with billions of dollars in loans to help it finance its war with Iran. Thus, it comes as no great surprise that the kingdom should also offer to provide the funds for a new reactor as a sign of its continuing support.
The Osirak reactor, destroyed in the Israeli raid was built by France at an original cost of around $250 million and was about to go into operation. What it would cost today to replace was not immediately known, but it is certain to be much higher if only because of inflation.
Iraqi President Saddem Hussein reaffirmed Monday that his nation will go ahead with its nuclear development plans, saying that "the people who had built the reactor are able to build more than one reactor for the sake of freedom."
At the same time, Saddam Hussein lashed out at what he regards as a pro-Israeli stance by the new France President, suggesting that he may seek the cooperation of another Western nation, or possibly the Soviet Union, to replace the damaged reactor.
French sources in Paris suggested that rebuilding the reactor by France would help dispel the accusations from Saddam Hussein and other Arabs of being pro-Israeli. Mitterrand has announced plans to visit Saudi Arabia later this year.
Meanwhile, at the informal OPEC meeting in the Saudi summer capital of Taif, The Associated Press quoted an unnamed official as saying, "Saudi Arabia will continue its efforts to force prices down and united them."
The report said a number of the oil ministers attending the Taif meeting complained to Sheik Yamani, the Saudi oil minister, about the adverse effects the Saudi policy was having on some producers' economies because they have had to cut production levels sharply in a bid to keep up their prices.
Attending the gathering were the United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Algeria, Libya and Kuwait in addition to Saudi Arabia. Those suffering the most from production cuts are OPEC's four African members -- Algeria, Libya, Nigeria and Gabon -- which also charge the highest prices.
The respected Middle East Economic Survey estimated in its latest issue that the African producers faced cuts of as much as one half their total production during the next few months.
Saudi Arabia, which charges the lowest of any OPEC producer, is locked in a struggle with the African members to get them to reduce their prices and accept a long-range, unified pricing system.