Saturday, 9 November 2013

Is Saudi Arabia set to arm itself with nuclear arsenal from Pakistan?

By Yusni Yussof

BBC Newsnight on 6/11/2013  reported that Saudi Arabia will be getting nuclear weapons from Pakistan, further solidifying reports the kingdom has been investing in Pakistan’s nuclear development program.  The report claims that earlier this year, a senior Nato decision maker had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.

It is difficult to simply dismiss the allegation and consider it as mere speculation, as the kingdom is reported to have given generous financial assistance to Pakistan’s defence sector, including, western experts allege, to its missile and nuclear labs. The visits by then Saudi defence minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz to the Pakistani nuclear research centre in 1999 and 2002, clearly confirms the existence of a close defence relationship between the two countries. 

The report surfaced in the midst of the negotiations by six of the world’s largest military powers with Iran in Geneva to discuss the ongoing effort to curb its nuclear programs. Analysts are following the meeting with great interest as it could see putative sanctions against Iran lifted.

To date, Iran has been insisting that  it’s enrichment program is aimed towards pursuing nuclear energy, medical treatments and research, but the United States and its allies fear that Iran could turn this material into the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

If the outcome of the meeting becomes favorable to Iran, Saudi Arabia is certainly will not be at ease. In 2009, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle East Dennis Ross that if Iran crossed the threshold, “we will get nuclear weapons”.

Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have  issued statements as official reactions to the allegation. Pakistan has dismissed the allegation as “speculative, mischievous and baseless” . The Pakistan’s foreign ministry affirms that  Pakistan is a responsible nuclear weapon state with robust command and control structures and comprehensive export controls”.  Meanwhile the Saudi embassy in London has also issued a statement pointing out that the kingdom is a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has worked for a nuclear-free Middle East.

In light of the denials by  Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the influential and popular Pakistani nuclear scientist Doctor Abdul Qadeer Khan rejected the allegations, saying that neither his country nor Saudi Arabia had anything to gain – and a lot to lose – from being ostracized by the international community and slapped with sanctions.

However speculative it may seems, it is fair to believe that Saudi Arabia has all the motivation to do so. The kingdom is known to be highly cautious of Iran’s nuclear capability, and anxious of its principal regional rival Iran developing a “Shia bomb”. It is conceivable that it will make effort to counter Iran’s atomic program.

What is interesting to note is that the intelligence is thought to have originated in Israel. 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."

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