A clandestine deal has seen Saudi Arabia invest in Pakistan’s atomic weapons programme in exchange for it providing the Gulf kingdom with access to nuclear warheads, sources told the BBC.
Sources in US and Pakistani intelligence told the broadcaster’s Newsnight programme that Pakistan had gone so far as to build nuclear weapons for the Saudis, which were ready to be shipped.
The revelation came on the eve of talks in Geneva on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme, which the Islamic Republic claims is for civilian purposes but Western powers fear could be weaponised.
Claims of an atomic arms deal between Saudi and Pakistan, which declared itself a nuclear weapons state in 1998, also come amid souring relations between the US and major oil-exporter and Middle East ally Saudi.
Ruling authorities in Saudi Arabia have watched in disbelief as relations between the US and Iran have thawed considerably since new president Hassan Rouhani came into the power this year.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, has even gone so far as to publicly state that the kingdom could make a “major shift” away from the US in protest over America’s overtures towards Iran and its 11th hour decision not to bomb Syria.
Sunni Muslim-majority Saudi and predominantly Shi’a Iran, the two dominant regional powers, have a long-held animosity, in which the ongoing Syrian civil war has become a proxy. Saudi and other Gulf states have pushed for the removal of Bashar Al Assad, while Iran is a staunch supporter of the embattled president, whose Alawite sect is as an off-shoot of Shi’a Islam.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has been involved in high-level talks with Saudi rulers, including King Abdullah and Foreign Minister Prince Faisal, in Riyadh last week.
A former head of Israeli military intelligence, Amos Yadlin, last month told a peace conference in Sweden that if Iran successfully developer a nuclear weapon “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”.
A Pakistani government official has denied claims of a pact.