2014-04-20 09:37 KST  
  RSS
Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening?
JapanFocus
Saudi Arabia: The Next Nuclear Domino?
Suspicions of an oil-for-nukes deal with Pakistan
Ludwig De Braeckeleer (LUDWIG)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2006-04-26 17:08 (KST)   
In January 2004, Dr. A. Q. Khan admitted "sharing" nuclear technology with other countries. Through a worldwide smuggling network, Dr. Kahn has sold the technology of ultracentrifuges to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Soon after Khan's admission, the Saudi government called back more than 80 diplomats from its missions around the world. To most observers, this massive pullout was intended to prevent any leak concerning a covert nuclear cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Since the early 70s, several initiatives have been launched in order to establish a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. The United Nations General Assembly has adopted several resolutions urging all Middle East countries to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). On May 11, 1995, more than 170 countries attended the NPT Review and Extension Conference in New York. They adopted a resolution endorsing the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East.

The government of Saudi Arabia openly supports these initiatives. Saudi Arabia's permanent representative to the U.N., Ambassador Fazvi A. Shobokshi, reiterated the official position of Riyadh in May 1999: Saudi's interest is to free the region from weapons of mass destruction.

But Ambassador Shobokshi also emphasized the longstanding concerns of Riyadh over Israel's nuclear arsenal: Israel refuses to sign the NPT. Estimates of Israel nuclear capability range from 200 to 400 weapons. As a result, all initiatives for the establishment of the nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East are bound to fail.

Arab countries generally agree on this matter. They have urged the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) to pressure Israel to sign the NPT and to treat Israel and Iran equally. Speaking on behalf of the Arab League, Oman's ambassador to the IAEA, Salim al-Riyami, thinks that "it's time to deal with this issue [Israel's nuclear capability] more substantively than before."

The disappointment of the Saudis about the absence of any international pressure on Israel to disarm has prompted them to consider acquiring nuclear weapons.

Experts have long suspected that Saudi Arabia may one day seek to acquire nuclear weapons and could develop a nuclear arsenal quickly. Most expect that the Saudis would rather purchase ready-to-use nukes, thus avoiding a pre-emptive strike on costly weapon factories.

In the late '80s, Riyadh secretly purchased about 50 CSS-2 missiles from China. These advanced missiles can deliver a 2,500-kilogram payload over a range of up to 3,500 kilometers. They are well suited to deliver a nuclear weapon and could hardly be used to deliver conventional weapons due to their poor accuracy.

Because of their cost, estimated at up to US$3 billion, and lack of accuracy, the purchase of these of long-range Chinese ballistic missiles has widely been interpreted as an indication that the Saudis were considering the nuclear option. To ease international worries over this matter, Saudi Arabia consented to sign the NPT in 1988.

The acquisition by Saudi Arabia of the longest-range ballistic missiles in the Middle East prompted no formal diplomatic complaint from the U.S. government.

Muhammad Khilewi was the second-in-command of the Saudi mission to the United Nations until he abandoned his post in late June 1994 to join the opposition. Mohammed Khilevi alleged that Riyadh has sought the nuclear bomb since 1975.

Khilewi has provided about 10,000 documents he obtained from the Saudi Arabian Embassy. According to these documents, the Saudi government paid about US$5 billion dollars to help Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. These payments were made in exchange for some of the bombs that the Iraqi nuclear scientists would produce.

Around 1975, Saudi Arabia opened a nuclear research center in the desert military complex at Al-Suleiyel, near Al-Kharj. Iraqi and Saudi military and nuclear experts were cooperating closely. Saudi nuclear scientists were trained in Baghdad.

According to the Khilewi documents, the Saudis also purchased dual-use items that Iraq could not have obtained directly. These covert activities violate the Saudis obligations under the NPT.

A former high-ranking American diplomat said the CIA was fully aware of this intense nuclear collaboration between Iraqis and Saudis. Washington chose to keep it secret. Khilewi was denied federal protection. The U.S. Congress paid little attention to his allegations and requested no actions.

In the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the Saudis' national security is threatened on new fronts: the Iranian nuclear program and the deterioration of U.S.-Saudi Arabia relations.

In 2002, members of the National Council of Resistance of Iran revealed the existence of a covert Iranian uranium-enrichment program. The Saudi rulers, who are Sunni Muslims, seem to believe that the rulers of Iran, who are Shiite Muslims, will not back down under international pressure and will obtain nuclear weapons capability. According to Patrick Clawson, deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, "Saudi Arabia is the state most likely to proliferate in response to an Iranian nuclear threat."

On Oct. 8, an editorial entitled "Yes, We Fear Iran's Uranium" appeared in the London-based daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, which stated, "The Iranians are enriching uranium to produce nuclear weapons aimed at its neighbors. The Iranian nuclear danger threatens us, first and foremost, more than it threatens the Israelis and the Americans."

The deterioration of U.S.-Saudi relationship has equally prompted Riyadh to consider the nuclear option as an alternative solution to its national security concerns.

Traditionally, Riyadh was pleased to put Saudi Arabia under U.S. military protection. But the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S. has now sunk to an all-time low.

It is hard to ignore that 15 of the September 11 hijackers were Saudi citizens. In 2002, a RAND analyst told the Defense Policy Board that Saudi Arabia was "the kernel of evil, the prime mover, the most dangerous opponent in the Middle East." In a speech delivered on November 2002, R. James Woolsey, former CIA director, described the Saudi royal family as barbarians.

Saudi officials have their own legitimate reasons to be concerned by U.S. foreign policies. In 2002, during a closed meeting of the U.S. Defense Policy Board, a U.S. expert argued that the United States should seize parts of Saudi Arabia's oil fields.

Bangladeshi military analyst M. Abdul Hafiz, wrote in the Bangladesh Daily Star: "There's obviously a lot of restlessness in the Middle East today, prompting and pushing the nations like Saudi Arabia to produce a nuclear deterrence."

Saudi Arabia could hardly enhance its security by undertaking a conventional buildup because few Saudis citizens consider their government legitimate. According to Middle East expert F. Gregory Gause III, Saudi Arabia's military is "weak in part by design, to prevent the internal threat of a military coup." A nuclear arsenal would enhance the Saudis security against external threats, but it would not increase the odds of a military coup against the royal family.

On Sept. 18, 2003, the Guardian revealed that 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; or to try to reach a regional agreement on having a nuclear-free Middle East."

The Saudi Embassy in London denied the allegations forcefully in a statement issued the next day. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is not considering acquiring a nuclear bomb or nuclear weapons of any kind. There is no atomic energy program in any part of the kingdom and neither is one being considered."

Simon Henderson is a London-based associate of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. According to Henderson, the strategy paper is the outcome of a three-day international symposium on "Saudi Arabia, Britain, and the Wider World" organized by the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies during the weekend prior to the publication of the Guardian article.

The meeting was attended by 29 invited participants, among them three princes from the Saudi royal family -- including Prince Turki -- the ambassador to Britain, a Saudi government minister, and two members of the Saudi consultative council. The owner of the London-based daily al-Sharq al-Awsat, Saudi prince Faisal bin Salman, was also invited to the symposium.

The meeting and the topic of discussion were later confirmed by one of the participants. In fact, the mere frequency of high-level visits of Saudi and Pakistani officials during the last several years suggests Saudi-Pakistani cooperation on clandestine nuclear cooperation.

In May 1999, the Saudi Defense Minister, Prince Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz, visited Pakistan. Prince Sultan and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif toured the Kahuta uranium enrichment plant. Prince Sultan was also briefed by Dr. A. Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb. Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto claims that the site is so secret that 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. He insisted, "Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and is seeking a region free of nuclear weapons."

Khan visited Riyadh to attend the November 1999 symposium on "Information Sources in the Islamic World" at King Faisal Hall.

A week later, Dr. Saleh Al-Athel, president of King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), visited Pakistan 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 the peaceful use of nuclear energy applications in the field of agriculture and genetic engineering.

After General Pervez Musharraf ousted Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Oct. 12, 1999, his first foreign tour was to Saudi Arabia.

In 2002, a son of Prince Abdullah attended Pakistan's test-firing of its Ghauri-class missile. These missiles have a range of 950 miles and are suitable to deliver a nuclear payload.

In June 25-26, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made an unscheduled trip to Saudi Arabia. Many analysts believe that the object of this visit was to develop a joint strategy to address the growing IAEA concerns.

Pakistani Prime Minister Mir Zafrallah Khan Jamali visited the kingdom on two occasions.

The Oct. 22-23, 2003 visit of Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz to Pakistan intensified international concerns over possible Saudi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation.

After the meeting, Prime Minister 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.

Following this visit, the Foreign Minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said in a news conference, "Israeli-Indian defense cooperation would inflame the region, escalate the arms race, and damage the region's interests by triggering instability."

In connection with this visit, the Washington Times reported that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia had concluded a secret agreement on nuclear cooperation. Pakistanis would provide the Saudis with nuclear-weapon technology in return for cheap oil. The Saudis provide Pakistan with an estimated US$1.2 billion of oil products annually, essentially free.

The Washington Times quotes a ranking Pakistani insider saying: "It will be vehemently denied by both countries but future events will confirm that Pakistan has agreed to provide Saudi Arabia with the wherewithal for a nuclear deterrent. Both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia see a world that is moving from non-proliferation to proliferation of nuclear weapons."

Major General Aharon Zeevi is a senior intelligence officer of the Israeli defense forces. On Oct. 21, 2003, Zeevi told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, "Saudi Arabian officials went to Pakistan and are negotiating the purchase of nuclear warheads for their land-based missiles."

These claims were vigorously denied by both the Saudi and Pakistani governments. Ahmad Khan, spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry, called the allegations a "figment of somebody's imagination." Saudi Arabia has also denied Zeevi's claim. According to Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, no military agreements were concluded between the two countries.

U.S. officials from the State Department find the allegations unsubstantiated. "We've seen the allegation, but we have not seen any information to substantiate what would seem to us to be rather bald assertions. And we would also note that Saudi Arabia is a party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, under which it has agreed not to obtain nuclear weapons," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

On June 16, 2005, Saudi Arabia signed an agreement that limits the scope of IAEA inspections of the nation's nuclear facilities. This 1971 agreement limits inspections in countries with small nuclear programs.

This protocol allows Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty member states to forgo reporting possession of up to 10 tons of natural uranium and 2.2 pounds of plutonium. The rule also allows new nuclear facilities to be kept secret until six months prior to operation.

The United States, European Union, and Australia had opposed Saudi Arabia adopting the Small Quantities Protocol, pushing for full IAEA nuclear inspections in Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, the Saudis defended their right to sign the Small Quantities Protocol. The Saudis will not oblige the demand for full inspections unless Israel also accepts full IAEA nuclear inspections.

In its last issue of March 30, 2006, the magazine Cicero claimed that Pakistani experts are assisting Saudi Arabia with a secret nuclear program. According to Western security sources, Pakistani scientists posed as pilgrims during the Haj pilgrimages to Mecca from 2003 through 2005.

German security expert Udo Ulfkotte told Cicero that some of them abandoned their hotel rooms for weeks at a time between October 2004 and January 2005.

According to Western security services, Saudi scientists have been working in Pakistan since the mid-1990s. John Pike, a U.S. security analyst at GlobalSecurity.org, told the magazine that "Saudi Arabia ... ultimately co-financed the Pakistani atomic nuclear program."

Muhammad Khilewi'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.

The trade of Pakistani nuclear technology in exchange for Korean missiles began in the late 1990s. As the Pakistanis could not pay for the Korean missiles, Saudi Arabia bailed them out.

MK Yuval Shteinitz is the chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. According to Shteinitz, "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."

Satellite images also indicate that Saudi Arabia has constructed a secret underground city and dozens of underground silos housing missiles similar to Pakistan's long-range Ghauri.

Saudis and Pakistanis denied these allegations. A defense ministry spokesman told the Saudi Press Agency that this story is "totally unfounded," adding that Riyadh "advocates imposing nuclear non-proliferation in the (Middle East) region."

Pakistan Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said, "It is a fabricated and baseless story, motivated by vicious intentions. As a responsible nuclear state, Pakistan has taken all measures to strengthen its export control."

According to diplomatic sources, between October 2003 and October 2004, Saudi C-130 Hercules cargo planes made many flights between the Dhahran military base and several Pakistani cities. More recently, the amount of Saudi C-130 trips to Pakistan has increased sharply, according to Western intelligence.

This new development brings some ground to the suspicions that the Pakistani military establishment helped Dr. A. Q. Khan to export nuclear technology to so-called rogue countries.

How else anyway would Khan get permission to travel to North Korea so frequently? How would he get to fly on a Pakistani air force cargo plane? "How many religious pilgrimages could he make to a country like North Korea?" asks former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

None of these questions seem to trouble the U.S. State Department. "We remain confident that Pakistan clearly understands [the U.S.] concerns regarding proliferation of nuclear technology," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ludwig De Braeckeleer

Add to :  Add to Del.icio.usDel.icio.us |  Add to Digg this Digg  |  Add to reddit reddit |  Add to Y! MyWeb Y! MyWeb

Ronda Hauben
 
Netizens Question Cause of Cheonan Tragedy
Michael Werbowski
 
[Opinion] Democracy's Downfall
Michael Solis
 
Arizona's Immigration Bill and Korea
Yehonathan Tommer
 
Assassination in Dubai
[ESL/EFL Podcast] Saying No
Seventeenth in a series of English language lessons from Jennifer Lebedev...
  [ESL/EFL] Talking About Change
  [ESL/ EFL Podcast] Personal Finances
  [ESL/EFL] Buying and Selling
How worried are you about the H1N1 influenza virus?
  Very worried
  Somewhat worried
  Not yet
  Not at all
    * Vote to see the result.   
KOREA WORLD SCI&TECH ART&LIFE ENTERTAINMENT SPORTS GLOBAL WATCH INTERVIEWS PODCASTS
  copyright 1999 - 2014 ohmynews all rights reserved. internews@ohmynews.com Tel:+82-2-733-5505,5595(ext.125) Fax:+82-2-733-5011,5077