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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Saudi Arabia Special Weapons

Saudi Arabia does not have weapons of mass destruction. It did, however, buy long-range CSS-2 ballistic missiles from China in 1988. More recently, Saudi officials have discussed the procurement of new Pakistani intermediate-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Some concern remains that Saudi Arabia, like its neighbors, may be seeking to acquire nuclear weapons, apparently by purchase rather than indigenous development. While there is no direct evidence that Saudi Arabia has chosen a nuclear option, the Saudis have in place a foundation for building a nuclear deterrent.

Saudi Arabia first opened a nuclear research center in the desert military complex at Al-Suleiyel, near Al-Kharj, in 1975. Saudi Arabia reportedly offered to pay for reconstruction of the Osirak-reactor, destructed by Israel on 06 June 1981. By at least 1985 Iraqi and Saudi military and nuclear experts were co-operating closely. Saudi nuclear scientists were sent to Baghdad for months of training.

In late June 1994 Muhammad Khilewi, the second-in-command of the Saudi mission to the United Nations, abandoned his UN post to join the opposition. After defecting, Mr. Khilewi, who was denied federal protection, went into hiding, fearing for his life. He has tried to distribute more than 10,000 documents he obtained from the Saudi Arabian Embassy.

Khilewi produced documents for the London Sunday Times that supported his charge that the Saudi government had paid up to five billion dollars from the Saudi treasury for Saddam Hussein to build a nuclear weapon. Between 1985 and 1990, up to the time Saddam invaded Kuwait, the payments were made on condition that some of the bombs, should the project succeed, be transferred to the Saudi arsenal. Khilewi cache included transcripts of a secret desert meeting between Saudi and Iraqi military teams a year before the invasion of Kuwait. The transcrips depicts the Saudis funding the nuclear program and handing over specialised equipment that Iraq could not have obtained elsewhere.

What Khilewi did not know was that the Fahd-Saddam nuclear project was also a closely held secret in Washington. According to a former high-ranking American diplomat, the CIA was fully apprised. The funding stopped only at the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991.

The defector's documents also showed that Riyadh had paid for Pakistan's bomb project and signed a pact that if Saudi Arabia were attacked with nuclear weapons, Pakistan would respond against the aggressor with its own nuclear arsenal.

Khilewi's claims of possessing damning evidence against Saudi Arabia were met with some skepticism in the US Congress.

During Mr Nawaz Sharif's tenure as prime minister, Saudi Arabia appears to have begun funding Pakistan's nuclear and missile programs. The North Korean missiles ("red missiles painted green") traded for Pakistani nuclear know-how in the late 1990s took place at a time when the Pakistani economy was in shambles. Saudi Arabia appears to have bailed Pakistan out of this financial crisis.

Following Pakistan's nuclear weapons tests in May 1999, Saudi authorities denied the speculation about any possible cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the nuclear field. Saudi Arabia's second deputy prime minister, defense and aviation minister and inspector general, Prince Sultan Bin Abd al-Alziz, denied reports of Saudi attempts to acquire nuclear arms from Pakistan. Concerns about Saudi plans to buy nuclear weapons were raised after Prince Sultan toured Pakistan's secret nuclear facilities in May 1999. The prince toured the Kahuta uranium enrichment plant and an adjacent factory where the Ghauri missile is assembled with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif and was briefed by A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's atom bomb. The site is so secret that former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto said she was not allowed to go to there during her tenure in office.

In August 1999 Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz denied viewing secret sites within the plant and insisted that Saudi Arabia, as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is seeking a region free of nuclear weapons.

Officials from the UAE had also visited Kahuta during the summer of 1999. Prince Sultan's visit to Kahuta was thought to be related to possible purchase of Pakistan's new medium-range Ghauri missile.

The Islamabad-Riyadh close cooperation was evident shortly after Pakistan's nuclear tests , when Saudi Prince Sultan visited Pakistan and toured the uranium-enrichment plant and missile-production facilities at Kahuta.

Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan, the mastermind behind the nuclear explosions in Pakistan, visited Riyadh to attend the November 1999 symposium on Information Sources on the Islamic World at King Faisal Hall. Dr Saleh Al-Athel, president of King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), visited Pakistan in the second week of November 1999 to work out the details for cooperation in the fields of engineering, electronics and computer sciences. The two sides explored possibilities of mutual cooperation for peaceful use of nuclear energy applications in the field of agriculture and genetic engineering.

After Gen. Pervez Musharraf ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup on 12 October 1999, his first foreign tour was to Saudi Arabia. Nawaz Sharif, his younger brother and their families are living in Saudi Arabia after a deal between General Musharraf and Mr Sharif in which Riyadh had played a key role.

Press reports have speculated that China has approached the Saudis with offers to sell modern missile systems. The 600-km range CSS-6 and 1800-km range CSS-5 solid-fueled missiles have been mentioned.

Saudi Arabia is examining the prospect of raising the level of its strategic relations with Pakistan. The Saudis have accelerated talks with Islamabad for the purchase of Pakistani weapons as well as joint military and strategic projects. Riyad also seeks to exploit Pakistani's expertise in missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have already developed an array of defense and military relations. But the discussions in Riyad to expand strategic ties reflect the kingdom's concerns over its deteriorating relations with the United States.

It was reported in mid-September 2003 that Saudi Arabia had launched a strategic review that includes acquiring nuclear weapons. A strategy paper being considered at the highest levels in Riyadh sets out three options:

  • To acquire a nuclear capability as a deterrent;
  • To maintain or enter into an alliance with an existing nuclear power that would offer protection;
  • To try to reach a regional agreement on having a nuclear-free Middle East.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not considering acquiring a nuclear bomb or nuclear weapons of any kind," the Saudi Embassy in London said in a statement issued on 19 September 2003. "There is no atomic energy programme in any part of the kingdom and neither is one being considered," the statement said.

On 19 October 2003 Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and an entourage of 200, including Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal and several Cabinet ministers, met with senior officials in Pakistan. Pakistan's Premier, Mir Zafrullah Jamali, received Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Deputy Premier and Commander of the National Guard, at his palace. During the meeting, they discussed recent developments in Islamic and international arenas, and reviewed bilateral relations between the two countries and means of enhancing them. At the close of the meeting, Crown Prince Abdullah received a memorial gift from Pakistan's Prime Minister. The meeting was attended by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the Foreign Minister, and his Pakistani counterpart, Khurshid Kasuri. After the meeting, Jamali hosted a luncheon in honor of the Crown Prince. The luncheon was attended by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the official delegation accompanying the Crown Prince, and Pakistani ministers and senior officials. The Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said in a news conference that Israeli-Indian defence cooperation would inflame the region, escalate the arms race, and damage the region's interests by triggering instability.

"Saudi Arabian officials went to Pakistan and are negotiating the purchase of nuclear warheads for their land-based missiles," head of Israel Defense Forces' Military Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon Ze'evi reportedly told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on 21 October 2003. Committee chairman MK Yuval Shteinitz said this was the first time he had heard a report about Saudi Arabia's nuclear plans. "There is an assumption that Saudi Arabia financed the Pakistan nuclear plant and that there is a tacit understanding between the two countries that, if Iran becomes nuclear, Saudi Arabia will be provided with some nuclear warheads from Pakistan," Shteinitz said.

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