Tuesday, 18 February, 2020

Report: Fearing Iran, Saudis boosting own nuclear weapons capability

Saudi Arabia is still seeking nuclear weapons to deal with the alleged Iranian threat, according to a report issued on Friday by the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, DC.

The report, written by By Sarah Burkhard, Erica Wenig, David Albright, and Andrea Stricker, and titled “Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Ambitions and Proliferation Risks,” claims that Saudi Arabia will increase its investment in its nuclear weapons program as the Iranian nuclear deal reaches its time limit. Indeed, the Saudis have already stated their intention to build at least 16 nuclear reactors in the coming years.

“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an uneasy relationship with Iran,” the report begins, noting that the nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic has not “eliminated the Kingdom’s desire for nuclear weapons capabilities and even nuclear weapons, but rather reduced the pressure on Saudi Arabia to match Iran’s nuclear capabilities in the short term. In that sense, the deal has delayed concerns about nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia.”

Which means, according to the report, that “there is little reason to doubt that Saudi Arabia will more actively seek nuclear weapons capabilities, motivated by its concerns about the ending of the JCPOA’s major nuclear limitations starting after year 10 of the deal or sooner if the deal fails.

“If Iran expands its enrichment capabilities, as it states it will do,” the report states, “the Kingdom is likely to seek nuclear weapons capabilities as a hedge.”

The report recommends that “a priority of the administration of Donald J. Trump is to prevent Saudi Arabia from developing such capabilities, in particular acquiring reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities. The administration’s stated commitment to better enforce and strengthen the JCPOA provides a sounder foundation to achieve that goal.”

Here are some of the report’s key findings:

1. Saudi Arabia is in the early stages of nuclear development and does not possess much nuclear material. It is a nuclear “newcomer.”

2. A European government official confirmed in 2014 that Saudi Arabia is pursuing scientific and engineering expertise necessary to control the nuclear fuel cycle.

3. Saudi Arabia is committed to importing many nuclear reactors and has pursued numerous cooperation agreements with other countries.

4. Saudi Arabia has conducted at least one feasibility study on its “involvement in all stages of the nuclear power generation cycle.”

5. Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in developing an indigenous capability to manufacture nuclear reactors.

6. Saudi Arabia appears to have a domestic supply of uranium sufficient for a small-scale, clandestine nuclear weapons program.

7. Saudi Arabia’s nuclear workforce is increasing at a rapid pace in both quality and quantity.

8. An on-going concern is that Saudi Arabia may plan to receive nuclear assistance from Pakistan.

9. Saudi Arabia secretly purchased a controversial set of ballistic missiles from China in the 1980s, the DF-3 missiles, which can carry nuclear weapons. They appear to have remained operational.

Photo: US President Donald Trump and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Mohammed bin Salman meet at the Oval Office of the White House. (AP)

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