Saudi Arabia would move quickly to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran successfully tests an atomic bomb, according to a report. Citing an unidentified Saudi Arabian source, the Times newspaper in the U.K. (which operates behind a pay wall) said that the kingdom would seek to buy ready-made warheads and also begin its own program to enrich weapons-grade uranium.
The paper suggested that Pakistan was the country most likely to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons, saying Western officials were convinced there was an understanding between the countries to do so if the security situation in the Persian Gulf gets worse. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have denied such an arrangement exists. Iran, which follows the Shiite branch of Islam, and Sunni Saudi Arabia are major regional rivals.
The Times described its source for the story as a “senior Saudi,” but gave no other details. “There is no intention currently to pursue a unilateral military nuclear program, but the dynamics will change immediately if the Iranians develop their own nuclear capability,” the source told the newspaper. “Politically, it would be completely unacceptable to have Iran with a nuclear capability and not the kingdom.”
It also cited an unnamed Western official as saying that Saudi Arabia would ask Pakistan to honor the alleged agreement “the next day” after any Iranian nuclear bomb test. The U.S. and other nations suspect that Iran is using its civilian nuclear work as a cover for a weapons program, but Iran insists that its nuclear ambitions are strictly peaceful. The U.S. has used sanctions and diplomacy to pressure Iran on the issue, but has long refused to rule out military action saying that all options are on the table. Israel is also believed to be contemplating a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
In a statement issued Friday by the Pakistan Embassy in Saudi Arabia, Ambassador Mohammed Naeem Khan was quoted as saying that “each Pakistani considers (the) security of Saudi Arabia as his personal matter.” Naeem also said that the Saudi leadership considered Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to be one country. In January this year, Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the U.S., Prince Turki al-Faisal, said in an interview with The Associated Press that unless a zone free of weapons of mass destruction was created in the Mideast there would “inevitably” be a nuclear arms race, and “that’s not going to be in the favor of anybody.”
He stressed that the Gulf states were committed not to acquire WMD. “But we’re not the only players in town. You have Turkey. You have Iraq which has a track record of wanting to go nuclear. You have Egypt. They had a very vibrant nuclear energy program from the 1960s. You have Syria. You have other players in the area that could open Pandora’s box,” the Saudi prince told The AP.
Asked whether Saudi Arabia would maintain its commitment against acquiring WMD, Turki said: “What I suggest for Saudi Arabia and for the other Gulf states … is that we must study carefully all the options, including the option of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. We can’t simply leave it for somebody else to decide for us.”
Turki is also a former Saudi intelligence chief and remains an influential member of the Saudi royal family. Turki said the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council should guarantee a nuclear security umbrella for Mideast countries that join a nuclear-free zone — and impose “military sanctions” against countries seen to be developing nuclear weapons.
“I think that’s a better way of going at this issue of nuclear enrichment of uranium, or preventing Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction,” he said in the AP interview. In October, the U.S. claimed that agents linked to Iran’s Qud’s Force, an elite wing of the Revolutionary Guard, were involved in a plot to kill Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the U.S., Adel Al-Jubeir. Iran said the claims were “baseless.”
Turki said in November that there was “ample and heinous” evidence that Iran was behind the alleged plot. He added that the evidence “indicates the depths of depravity and unreason to which the (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad regime has sunk.” Turki called the plot “the tip of the iceberg,” saying Iran was “meddling” in the affairs of many other countries, including Lebanon, Turkey, Pakistan and especially Iraq.
The Saudi government has also accused a terror cell linked to Iran of plotting to blow up its embassy in Bahrain, as well as the causeway linking the island kingdom to Saudi Arabia. In a secret diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks, Saudi King Abdullah allegedly urged Washington to strike at Iran and “cut off the head of the snake.” Turki dismissed the cable in November, telling reporters that Saudi Arabia supported sanctions and diplomatic pressure against Iran but not a military strike.
He said military action would only stiffen Iran’s resolve, rally support for the regime and at best delay, but not halt, the nuclear program. “Such an act I think would be foolish, and to undertake it I think would be tragic,” he said.