Rob Crilly — Telegraph.co.uk Nov 7, 2013
Rumours of a deal have long circulated in the Middle East, amid Saudi anxiety at its principal regional rival Iran developing a “Shia bomb”.
Citing American intelligence reports and a former Pakistani security officer, BBC Newsnight reported that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan for Saudi Arabia were ready for delivery.
But AQ Khan, who has admitted running a proliferation ring supplying secrets to Iran and Libya, said neither Pakistan nor Saudi Arabia had anything to gain – and a lot to lose by being ostracised by the international community and slapped with sanctions.
“Saudis may be ‘camel drivers’ but not idiots,” said Dr Khan, who remains a hero to many Pakistanis.
Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also dismissed the allegations as “baseless”, as did General Hamid Gul, a former head of the ISI intelligence service.
Saudi officials have long told their American allies that they planned to obtain atomic weapons if Iran went nuclear.
The latest reports suggests they could be ready even sooner.
Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden last month 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”.
Pakistan declared itself as a nuclear armed state in 1998 with its first test.
It has never signed up non-proliferation agreements and has an expanding arsenal, with some estimates saying it has as many as 110 nuclear weapons with enough fissile material for more than 200.
The security of its warheads has long been of concern to the US, which has even developed plans to seize the weapons if it believed terrorists were closing on the country’s nuclear facilities.
Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have longstanding ties and the Kingdom has financed a range of infrastructure projects, mosques and defence contracts.
Newsnight said a senior Pakistani, speaking on background terms, had confirmed the broad nature of the deal and said: “What did we think the Saudis were giving us all that money for? It wasn’t charity.”
Gary Samore, who served as President Barack Obama’s counter-proliferation adviser until earlier this year, also told Newsnight: “I do think that the Saudis believe they have some understanding with Pakistan, that in extremis they would have claim to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan.”
However, such a deal would have dire costs for both countries. An alternative might be for Pakistan to offer Saudi Arabia protection under its “nuclear umbrella”.
A recent report by the Centre for a New American Security, concluded that both countries would face huge problems with a proliferation deal, undermining ties with the US and jeopardising billions of dollars in assistance.
“Despite longstanding rumors suggesting the existence of a clandestine Saudi-Pakistani nuclear deal, there are profound security and economic disincentives cutting against Riyadh’s motivation to seek a bomb from Islamabad – as well as considerable, though typically ignored, strategic and economic reasons for Pakistan to avoid an illicit transfer,” it concluded.