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Are The Saudis Getting Their Nukes?

Citing unnamed senior administration officials, the Times of London is reporting that Saudi Arabia has in fact followed up on its threats and made the “strategic decision” to get nukes from Pakistan, whose nuclear program Riyadh has paid for through the years. Some highlights:

“For the Saudis the moment has come,” a former American defence official said last week.

“There has been a longstanding agreement in place with the Pakistanis and the House of Saud has now made the strategic decision to move forward.”

While the official did not believe “any actual weaponry has been transferred yet”, it was clear “the Saudis mean what they say and they will do what they say”, following last month’s Iranian outline nuclear deal. His assessment was echoed by a US intelligence official who said “hundreds of people at Langley”, the CIA’s headquarters, were working to establish whether or not Pakistan had already supplied nuclear technology or even weaponry to Saudi Arabia.

“We know this stuff is available to them off the shelf,” the intelligence official said. Asked whether the Saudis had decided to become a nuclear power, the official responded: “That has to be the assumption.”

If this story is just based on intelligence community assessments, there might not be that much actual ‘news’ here. But it does belie President Obama’s assurances in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that Saudi Arabia in fact does not intend to go down this road:

Part of the reason why they would not pursue their own nuclear program—assuming that we have been successful in preventing Iran from continuing down the path of obtaining a nuclear weapon—is that the protection that we provide as their partner is a far greater deterrent than they could ever hope to achieve by developing their own nuclear stockpile or trying to achieve breakout capacity when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Maybe. Or maybe not. Recent reports have indicated that King Salman has thoroughly lost confidence in America as a reliable partner. The Guardian, in its excellent piece from the weekend which detailed how the Saudis had taken matters into their own hands over Syria, had this nugget in it:

King Salman, who was formerly defence minister, is known to have railed against Barack Obama’s equivocation on Syria, especially his decision not to bomb Damascus in August 2013, after a sarin gas attack blamed on the Syrian regime. “That was the moment when we realised that our most powerful friend was no longer reliable,” the official said. “We had to step out from behind the curtain.”

In any case, the incentives are there for the Saudis to loudly talk up this option right up until the deadline for the Iranian nuke talks in hopes of nudging Tehran to walk away. What happens after July 1 if the accords are signed is anyone’s guess. But we are not necessarily convinced that the Saudis are just bluffing.

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  • Kevin

    That quote:

    ” the protection that we provide as their partner is a far greater deterrent than they could ever hope to achieve by developing their own nuclear stockpile”

    indicates either a deeply delusional world view in Obama’s part and/or deep willingness to lie. Having squandered his and America’s credibility for six plus years, it’s a bit late for Obama to try to draw water from that well. Is he so delusional as to not realize that after betraying one ally after another, that they will have decided they can no longer rely on us and need their own defenses? Or is he just trusting sycophants in the press not to point out his obvious mendacity?

    • Dale Fayda

      Probably a little from column A. and a little from column B.

  • JR

    I bet I know at least one person who reads this blog regularly that thinks this is all just a big bluff. As for what Obama thinks, who cares? Events on the ground have moved far beyond reading from a teleprompter in front of a camera. Giddy up.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Oooo….A Muslim nuclear exchange, killing millions of Muslim Jihadists and their supporters. This could only be measured as an advancement of modern civilization, as millions of the backward Islamic culture holding back human progress are exterminated. Cruel, but reality is cruel, and unforgiving of stupidity.

  • Beauceron

    President Obama seems almost obsessively concerned with his “legacy”.
    His primary legacy in international politics will be this:
    Midwife to a nuclear armed middle-east.
    Well, done, Mr. President.

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