Kingdom’s deal with
Pakistan may trigger
nuclear arms race
Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, the king of Saudi Arabia.
IN A STUNNING development that could change the balance of terror in the Middle East – and the world – the BBC reported this week that Saudi Arabia might be able to get atomic weapons before Iran.
The report has been all but ignored in the U.S., but coming on the eve of the now failed Geneva negotiations over Iran’s weapons program, it is of great significance.
The report was not denied by the Saudis, but the timing was also seen as a ploy to influence and deflect the warming of relations between the U.S. and Iran, which is also bitterly opposed by Israel.
If it turns out to be accurate, it has profound global implications.
REPORTING FOR THE authoritative and well-respected Newsnight show on Nov. 6 (and repeated for American audiences over the weekend), Diplomatic and Defense Editor Mark Urban began his report with the following:
“Several sources have told Newsnight that Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear projects and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will.
The opening screen of the BBC Newsnight show on Saudi Arabia’s deal with Pakistan. Click image to enlarge.
“And while the kingdom’s quest is seen as countering Iran’s nuclear program, it is now possible that the Saudi’s may be able to deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic Republic.”
If this did not catch your attention, he expanded with:
“A few months ago a senior NATO decision maker told me he had read intelligence reports that said that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan for Saudi Arabia were sitting waiting for delivery. … if the Saudis asked for them they would be immediately delivered.”
Next up on the show was Gary Samore, former White House coordinator of arms control from 2009 until this year.
“When I was working in the White House the Saudis were extremely alarmed by the possibility that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons and they told every American visitor they could get their hands on that if Iran got nuclear weapons the Saudis would have to have nuclear weapons,” Samore said.
A great deal of in-depth reporting behind the broadcast can be found at Saudi nuclear weapons ‘on order’ from Pakistan which carries Urban’s byline.
The lead is similar to the broadcast version:
The online version of the BBC Newsnight story on the Saudi-Pakistan nuclear arms deal. Click image to enlarge.
“Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will, a variety of sources have told BBC Newsnight,” it reads.
But the extent of the investigation behind the report goes much deeper.
“Last month Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need to bring,” Urban reports.
“It has also been clear for many years that Saudi Arabia has given generous financial assistance to Pakistan’s defense sector, including, western experts allege, to its missile and nuclear labs.”
Urban says the deal has been confirmed by “many serving and former officials” and “the only real debate I have found is about how exactly the Saudi Arabians would redeem the bargain with Pakistan.”
Urban says there are two ways for the arrangement to be implemented.
“Some think it is a cash-and-carry deal for warheads… others that it is … an arrangement under which Pakistani nuclear forces could be deployed in the kingdom.”
Urban notes the deep distress in Saudi Arabia over the negotiations themselves and the thaw in relations with Iran.
“[It] has touched deep insecurities in Riyadh, which fears that any deal to constrain the Islamic republic’s nuclear program would be ineffective.”
As any responsible journalist would, the BBC contacted both governments for comment before the show went on the air.
They report: “The Pakistan Foreign Ministry has described our story as “speculative, mischievous and baseless” – but not, significantly, inaccurate.
However, of greater import, the Saudi embassy in London issued a non-denial denial in “a statement pointing out that the Kingdom is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has worked for a nuclear free Middle East.”
The follow-up story in Haaretz newspaper in Israel.
Click image to enlarge.
IN A FOLLOW-UP report Nov. 7 What does the Saudi government’s nuclear statement mean? Urban dissects the Saudi response.
“Saudi Arabia’s response to our story on Wednesday … is in itself a fascinating signal about that country’s intentions at what it regards as a time of great danger.”
On the show, Sir William Patey, former UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, said he considered the timing of this statement, with nuclear talks under way with Iran in Geneva, to be significant.
“The refusal of Saudi Arabia to deny our story can be seen as a continuation of signaling that started in 2009,” Urban wrote.
“There is enough information out there to create the impression that the kingdom could have a nuclear option and perhaps that is all it wants, in order to deter Iran from further steps.”
While this development has drawn little attention in the U.S., it has received considerable play abroad, especially in Israel where Haaretz reported on it Nov. 7 in Pakistan ready to give Saudi Arabia nuclear bombs, experts say.
Anshel Pfeffer wrote:
“Saudi Arabia helped finance the Pakistani nuclear weapons program and is confident Islamabad will give it atomic bombs – which could trigger a Middle Eastern nuclear arms race, the BBC reported on Wednesday.
“Experts say the kingdom has long aspired to achieve nuclear capacity of its own, in order to counter Iran’s atomic ambitions. Getting the bomb merely by tapping Pakistan for it could bring the unnerved kingdom, which is openly anxious about Washington’s warming ties with Iran, into the nuclear age even before its Muslim neighbor, they now suggest.
“The veiled threat from Riyadh of its instant nuclear option was a clear signal to the leaders of the west not to be tempted in to cutting the Iranians some slack and that in the regional arms race that will be on the moment Iran completes its nuclear cycle, the Saudis won’t be starting from square one.”
In view of the failure of negotiations, perhaps the Saudi message was in fact of great influence. The first broadcast of this story was Wednesday; negotiations began Thursday, and were declared at impasse early Sunday in Geneva.
A Saudi Arabia with immediate access to atomic weapons would enormously complicate the delicate balance of terror in the Middle East and the world. It is a game changer, and deserves far more attention.
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