by Joseph Fitsanakis
November 8, 2013
Saudi Arabia is able to obtain atomic bombs "at will" through a secret pact
with Pakistan, and can acquire nuclear weapons far quicker than Iran,
according to the BBC.
On Wednesday, the British broadcaster’s flagship
Newsnight television program cited "a senior decision maker" at the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), in claiming that Pakistan had
already built nuclear weapons ordered by Saudi Arabia.
The weapons, which include "finished warheads"
that can be affixed on long-range missiles,
"are now sitting ready for delivery" as soon
as Riyadh asks for them, according to the BBC.
The program’s producers spoke to an unnamed
"senior Pakistani official" who allegedly confirmed in general terms the
secret agreement between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The pact is said to require the Pakistanis to
build and maintain a nuclear arsenal for use by the oil kingdom.
Another Pakistani source, identified by
"a one-time intelligence officer", told the
program that Pakistan maintained "a certain number of warheads" and that
"if the Saudis were to ask for them at any given time they would
immediately be transferred".
Newsnight’s diplomatic and defense editor,
wrote on the BBC website that Pakistan may
already have transferred several Shaheen ballistic missiles to Saudi Arabia,
in preparation for delivering nuclear warheads later on.
This is not the first time such allegations have
surfaced in public, though it is rare for Pakistani intelligence insiders to
be quoted in such reports.
Claims of a Saudi-Pakistani nuclear pact have
been circulating in diplomatic circles since the mid-1990s, with some
sources suggesting that the Saudis funded the Pakistani nuclear weapons
program in exchange for access to nuclear warheads.
But Saudi and Pakistani officials have adamantly
and consistently denied such claims.
The Newsnight report suggests that the
Saudi-Pakistani secret nuclear agreement was solidified in 2003, following
the invasion of Iraq by the United States. The changing security environment
in the Middle East, epitomized in the removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq,
which led to the prevalence of Iranian interests in the country, led Riyadh
to turn to Islamabad for assistance.
The Newsnight producers contacted both the Saudi
and Pakistani governments for comments on the story.
The Foreign Ministry of Pakistan responded
saying the allegations of a nuclear pact with Saudi Arabia were,
"speculative, mischievous and baseless".
Saudi Nuclear Weapons 'On Order' from Pakistan
by Mark Urban
Diplomatic and defence editor -
6 November 2013
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.
While the kingdom's quest has often been set in the context of countering
Iran's atomic program, it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to
deploy such devices more quickly than the Islamic republic.
Earlier this year, a senior NATO decision maker told me that he had seen
intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of
Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery.
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."
Since 2009, when 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", the
kingdom has sent the Americans numerous signals of its intentions.
Gary Samore, until March 2013 President Barack Obama's
counter-proliferation adviser, has told Newsnight:
Gary Samore Gary Samore
as President Barack
Obama's WMD tsar
"I do think that the Saudis believe that they have some understanding
with Pakistan that, in extremis, they would have claim to acquire
nuclear weapons from Pakistan."
"What did we think the Saudis
were giving us all that money for?
It wasn't charity"
Senior Pakistani official
The story of Saudi Arabia's project - including the acquisition of missiles
capable of delivering nuclear warheads over long ranges - goes back decades.
In the late 1980s they secretly bought dozens of CSS-2 ballistic missiles
These rockets, considered by many experts too inaccurate for use as
conventional weapons, were deployed 20 years ago. This summer experts at
defence publishers Jane's reported the completion of a new Saudi
CSS-2 base with missile launch rails aligned with Israel and Iran.
It has also been clear for many years that Saudi Arabia has given generous
financial assistance to Pakistan's defence sector, including, western
experts allege, to its missile and nuclear labs.
Visits by the then Saudi defence minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al
Saud to the Pakistani nuclear research centre in 1999 and 2002
underlined the closeness of the defence relationship.
undisclosed missile site
Defence publisher Jane’s revealed the existence
of Saudi Arabia’s third and undisclosed intermediate-range ballistic missile
site, approximately 200 km southwest of Riyadh
In its quest for a strategic deterrent against India, Pakistan co-operated
closely with China which sold them missiles and provided the design for a
The Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan was accused by western
intelligence agencies of selling atomic know-how and uranium enrichment
centrifuges to Libya and North Korea.
A.Q. Khan is also believed to have passed the Chinese nuclear weapon design
to those countries. This blueprint was for a device engineered to fit on the
CSS-2 missile, i.e. the same type sold to Saudi Arabia.
Because of this circumstantial evidence, allegations of a Saudi-Pakistani
nuclear deal started to circulate even in the 1990s, but were denied by
They noted that their country had signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and
called for a nuclear-free Middle East, pointing to Israel's possession of
The fact that handing over atom bombs to a foreign government could create
huge political difficulties for Pakistan, not least with the World Bank and
other donors, added to skepticism about those early claims.
"The Saudis speak about Iran
and nuclear matters
They don't bluff on this issue"
Director of Global Gulf and Energy
Eating Grass, his semi-official history
of the Pakistani nuclear program, Major General Feroz Hassan Khan
wrote that Prince Sultan's visits to Pakistan's atomic labs were not proof
of an agreement between the two countries.
But he acknowledged,
"Saudi Arabia provided generous financial
support to Pakistan that enabled the nuclear program to continue."
Whatever understandings did or did not exist
between the two countries in the 1990s, it was around 2003 that the kingdom
started serious strategic thinking about its changing security environment
and the prospect of nuclear proliferation.
A paper leaked that year by senior Saudi officials mapped out three possible
responses - to acquire their own nuclear weapons, to enter into an
arrangement with another nuclear power to protect the kingdom, or to rely on
the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
It was around the same time, following the US invasion of Iraq, that serious
strains in the US/Saudi relationship began to show themselves, says Gary
The Saudis resented the removal of Saddam Hussein, had long been unhappy
about US policy on Israel, and were growing increasingly concerned about the
Iranian nuclear program.
In the years that followed, diplomatic chatter about Saudi-Pakistani nuclear
cooperation began to increase.
In 2007, the US mission in Riyadh noted they were being asked questions by
Pakistani diplomats about US knowledge of "Saudi-Pakistani nuclear
The unnamed Pakistanis opined that,
"it is logical for the Saudis to step in as
the physical 'protector'" of the Arab world by seeking nuclear weapons,
according to one of the State Department cables posted by Wikileaks.
By the end of that decade Saudi princes and
officials were giving explicit warnings of their intention to acquire
nuclear weapons if Iran did.
Having warned the Americans in private for years, last year Saudi officials
in Riyadh escalated it to a public warning, telling a journalist from the
Times "it would be completely unacceptable to have Iran with a nuclear
capability and not the kingdom".
But were these statements bluster, aimed at forcing a stronger US line on
Iran, or were they evidence of a deliberate, long-term plan for a Saudi
bomb? Both, is the answer I have received from former key officials.
One senior Pakistani, speaking on background terms, confirmed the broad
nature of the deal - probably unwritten - his country had reached with the
kingdom and asked rhetorically,
"what did we think the Saudis were giving us
all that money for? It wasn't charity."
Another, a one-time intelligence officer from
the same country, said he believed,
"the Pakistanis certainly maintain a certain
number of warheads on the basis that if the Saudis were to ask for them
at any given time they would immediately be transferred."
As for the seriousness of the Saudi threat to
make good on the deal, Simon Henderson, Director of the Global Gulf
and Energy Policy Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy,
told BBC Newsnight,
"the Saudis speak about Iran and nuclear
matters very seriously. They don't bluff on this issue."
Talking to many serving and former officials
about this over the past few months, the only real debate I have found is
about how exactly the Saudi Arabians would redeem the bargain with Pakistan.
Some think it is a cash-and-carry deal for warheads, the first of those
options sketched out by the Saudis back in 2003; others that it is the
second, an arrangement under which Pakistani nuclear forces could be
deployed in the kingdom.
Gary Samore, considering these questions at the centre of the US
intelligence and policy web, at the White House until earlier this year,
thinks that what he calls, "the NATO model", is more likely.
"I think just giving Saudi Arabia a handful
of nuclear weapons would be a very provocative action", says Gary
"I've always thought it was much more likely
- the most likely option if Pakistan were to honor any agreement would
be for be for Pakistan to send its own forces, its own troops armed with
nuclear weapons and with delivery systems to be deployed in Saudi
This would give a big political advantage to
Pakistan since it would allow them to deny that they had simply handed over
the weapons, but implies a dual key system in which they would need to agree
in order for 'Saudi Arabian' "nukes" to be launched.
Others I have spoken to think this is not credible, since Saudi Arabia,
which regards itself as the leader of the broader Sunni Islamic 'ummah' or
community, would want complete control of its nuclear deterrent,
particularly at this time of worsening sectarian confrontation with Shia
Map of Saudi Arabia
And it is Israeli information - that Saudi Arabia is now ready to take
delivery of finished warheads for its long-range missiles - that informs
some recent US and NATO intelligence reporting.
Israel of course shares Saudi Arabia's motive in
wanting to worry the US into containing Iran.
Amos Yadlin declined to be interviewed for our BBC Newsnight report,
but told me by email that,
"unlike other potential regional threats,
the Saudi one is very credible and imminent."
Even if this view is accurate there are many
good reasons for Saudi Arabia to leave its nuclear warheads in Pakistan for
the time being.
Doing so allows the kingdom to deny there are any on its soil. It avoids
challenging Iran to cross the nuclear threshold in response, and it
insulates Pakistan from the international opprobrium of being seen to
operate an atomic cash-and-carry.
These assumptions though may not be safe for much longer. The US diplomatic
thaw with Iran has touched deep insecurities in Riyadh, which fears that any
deal to constrain the Islamic republic's nuclear program would be
Earlier this month the Saudi intelligence chief and former ambassador to
Washington Prince Bandar announced that the kingdom would be distancing
itself more from the US.
While investigating this, I have heard rumors on the diplomatic grapevine,
that Pakistan has recently actually delivered
Shaheen mobile ballistic missiles to Saudi
Arabia, minus warheads.
These reports, still unconfirmed, would suggest an ability to deploy nuclear
weapons in the kingdom, and mount them on an effective, modern, missile
system more quickly than some analysts had previously imagined.
In Egypt, Saudi Arabia showed itself ready to step in with large-scale
backing following the military overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi's
There is a message here for Pakistan, of Riyadh being ready to replace US
military assistance or World Bank loans, if standing with Saudi Arabia
causes a country to lose them.
Newsnight contacted both the Pakistani and Saudi governments.
The Pakistan Foreign Ministry has described our
"speculative, mischievous and baseless".
"Pakistan is a responsible nuclear weapon
state with robust command and control structures and comprehensive
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.
But it also points out that
the United Nations,
"failure to make the Middle East a nuclear
free zone is one of the reasons the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia rejected the
offer of a seat on the UN Security Council".
It says the Saudi Foreign Minister has stressed
that this lack of international action,
"has put the region under the threat of a
time bomb that cannot easily be defused by maneuvering around it".