Saudi Arabia is widely believed to have bankrolled the Pakistani nuclear weapons program. In exchange, Riyadh reportedly expects Islamabad to provide missiles in times of trouble to defend the kingdom. “For the Saudis the moment has come,” a former American defense official told The Sunday Times newspaper 17 May 2015. “There has been a longstanding agreement in place with the Pakistanis, and the House of Saud has now made the strategic decision to move forward.” According to the report, no actual transfer of weapons has taken place yet, but “the Saudis mean what they say and they will do what they say,” the source reportedly said.
Bruce Riedel, director of the Intelligence Project of the Washington-based Brookings Institute, wrote in 2008 that Pakistan has “an unacknowledged nuclear partnership to provide the kingdom with a nuclear deterrent on short notice if ever needed.”
A BBC Newsnight story in 2013 declared that Saudi nuclear weapons were practically “on order” from Pakistan. “Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects, and believes it could obtain atomic bombs at will,” the story said based on sources.
In March 2015, a Wall Street Journal story on Saudi nuclear ambitions declared: “Saudi officials have told successive U.S. administrations they expect to have Pakistan’s support in the nuclear field, if called upon, because of the kingdom’s massive financial support for the South Asian country.”
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.
Saudi Arabia was examining the prospect of raising the level of its strategic relations with Pakistan. The Saudis 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 had 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.
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.
“The Saudi Arabian leadership has said that Saudi Arabia will go nuclear,” former U.S. ambassador Mark Wallace, now the chief executive officer at the Counter Extremism Project and co-founder of United Against Nuclear Iran [UANI] said in April 2015. “That may be as easy as paying for and taking delivery of a bomb from Pakistan.”
Some experts, however, doubted that the supposed nuclear arming by Saudi Arabia was as simple as calling in the debt. “I doubt that Pakistan is ready to send nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia,” Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the Guardian in 2015.
“Pakistan's reputation suffered greatly the last time they assisted other countries with nuclear weapons technology (i.e., the sales by [Pakistani nuclear project chief] A.Q. Khan, with some governmental support or at least acquiescence, to North Korea, Iran and Libya). Pakistan knows that transferring nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia would also incur huge diplomatic and reputational costs.”
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