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US intel shows Saudi Arabia escalated its missile program with help from China

  • Published at 03:34 pm June 7th, 2019
Xi-Jinping-Mohammed-bin-Salman
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China September on 4, 2016 Reuters

The previously unreported classified intelligence indicates Saudi Arabia has expanded both its missile infrastructure and technology through recent purchases from China

The US government has obtained intelligence that Saudi Arabia has significantly escalated its ballistic missile program with the help of China, three sources with direct knowledge of the matter said, a development that threatens decades of US efforts to limit missile proliferation in the Middle East.

The Trump administration did not initially disclose its knowledge of this classified development to key members of Congress, the sources said, infuriating Democrats who discovered it outside of regular US government channels and concluded it had been deliberately left out of a series of briefings where they say it should have been presented, reports CNN.

The previously unreported classified intelligence indicates Saudi Arabia has expanded both its missile infrastructure and technology through recent purchases from China.

The discovery of the Saudi efforts has heightened concerns among members of Congress over a potential arms race in the Middle East, and whether it signals a tacit approval by the Trump administration as it seeks to counter Iran.

The intelligence also raises questions about the administration's commitment to non-proliferation in the Middle East and the extent to which Congress is kept abreast of foreign policy developments in a volatile region.

The development comes amid growing tensions between Congress and the White House over Saudi Arabia.

Despite bipartisan criticism over the Kingdom's war in Yemen and its role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the White House has sought an even closer relationship with the Saudis, as evidenced by its recent decision to sell the Kingdom billions of dollars in weapons and munitions despite opposition in Congress.

While the Saudis' ultimate goal has not been conclusively assessed by US intelligence, the sources said, the missile advancement could mark another step in potential Saudi efforts to one day deliver a nuclear warhead were it ever to obtain one.

The Kingdom's Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, has made clear that should Iran obtain a nuclear weapon, Saudi would work to do the same, telling 60 Minutes in a 2018 interview that, "Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible."

Though Saudi is among the biggest buyers of US weapons, it is barred from purchasing ballistic missiles from the US under regulations set forth by the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime, an informal, multi-country pact aimed at preventing the sale of rockets capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction.

Yet the Saudis have consistently taken the position that they need to match Iran's missile capability and have at times sought help on the side from other countries, including China, which is not a signatory to the pact.

Saudi Arabia is known to have purchased ballistic missiles from China several decades ago, and public reports speculated that more purchases may have been made as recently as 2007. 

The Kingdom has never been assessed to have the ability to build its own missiles or even effectively deploy the ones it does have.

Instead, the Saudis' arsenal of Chinese-made ballistic missiles was a way to signal its potential military strength to regional foes, primarily Iran.

That, the sources told CNN, has shifted based on the new intelligence.

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