The N-word never appeared in the texts of the cooperation accords the Saudi Crown Prince, Defense Minister Salman Bin Abdulaziz and Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif signed Monday Feb. 17 in Islamabad. Their oral understandings were another matter.
Over and above the written accords, the two leaders effectively settled on the terms and timetables for the transfer of Pakistani nuclear weapons to Riyadh, a step which has already produced four epic consequences, DEBKA Weekly reports.
1. Five regional countries now have nuclear weapons or the option for building one in short order: Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, India and Pakistan. And the regional nuclear race is picking up speed.
2. The new Saudi-Pakistani pact promises Saudi Arabia will attain a nuclear weapon before Iran builds its first nuclear bomb – or, more precisely, when Iran actually starts assembling its first nuke, it will be the signal for Pakistan to install a nuclear warhead on Saudi soil.
3. The Six Powers’ task has been immensely complicated at the Vienna talks, which opened Tuesday, Feb. 18 for the purpose of negotiating a comprehensive accord for Iran’s nuclear program. It will be harder than ever before to persuade Tehran to give up its military nuclear option when nuclear weapons are demonstrably available to Saudi Arabia and Israel.
And indeed, no sooner had the talks begun, than Iran’s senior negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was playing hard ball: Iran would not consent to discuss any military aspects of its nuclear program or anything related to its missiles, he said. Nor would there be any discussion on shutting down nuclear facilities.
Obama was too late to avert the Saudi-Pakistan nuclear deal
4. By their deal with Pakistan, Saudi leaders have tied President Barack Obama’s hands for raising the subject of a Saudi bomb when he visits Riyadh at the end of March. If he does, his hosts will turn stubborn on understandings on other pressing issues such as the Syrian civil war and US-Saudi coordination on oil prices.
The Obama administration woke up too late to do much about this unfortunate standoff
Only last week, did the US make a belated, last-minute attempt through intelligence channels to persuade Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif not to go through with his understandings with Prince Salman.
And even then the odd argument – that those understandings would be an obstacle to six-power nuclear diplomacy with Iran – provided the two partners a further incentive for going ahead with their nuclear deal, rather than a deterrent.
Washington’s intervention might have done some good at an early stage of the trade between Riyadh and Islamabad – catching it, for instance, when the live wire, Prince Bandar Sultan, Saudi National Security Adviser and intelligence Director, was in Islamabad; or even when Pakistani Chief of Staff Gen. Raheel Shari’s was in Riyadh in the first week of February to iron out the last details for the nuclear transfer to Saudi Arabia.
It might have been possible then to slow the transaction down – but not by a last-minute appeal in the hours before it was clinched. Not surprisingly, that appeal was not answered.
Saudis flexible on non-nuclear issues like Syria
Saudi and Pakistani leaders proved more sensitive to the Obama Administration’s views on Syria and other matters. Their consensus could have been a dress rehearsal for the positions the Saudis planned to present to President Obama when he visits Riyadh.
They agreed, for instance, on the importance of immediately withdrawing all foreign forces and armed elements from Syrian territory; lifting the siege on Syrian towns and villages; suspending aerial and artillery bombardment; and establishing secure corridors and zones for the delivery of food and humanitarian aid under international supervision to beleaguered Syrian populations.
The Saudi and Pakistani leaders also agreed to support the formation of a transitional government in Damascus with full executive powers to administer national affairs.
They also affirmed their commitment to combat extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and continue to share security-related intelligence.
With the nuclear deal in the bag, the Saudis were ready to make a gesture to smooth over their prickly relations with Obama: To this end, they sacrificed Prince Bandar, the sharp point of Riyadh’s resistance to the US-Iranian détente and nuclear diplomacy, and the architect of Saudi military intervention in the Syrian civil war. As yet, he has not been officially stripped of his high-powered jobs.
(For the repercussions from Bandar’s removal, see the lead item in this issue.)
Riyadh eyes security ties further to the east
The Saudis also invested careful work in the strategic ties they were opening up in the Indian subcontinent and Far East.
(See the last DEBKA Weekly 623 of Feb. 14: Saudis Procure Pakistani Nuclear Shield, also Indian and Japanese Fleets).
With Pakistani nuclear arms and military units parked in the oil kingdom and an Indian fleet berthed at its naval bases, Riyadh needed to ascertain that the long rivalry between its two nuclear protectors did not rock the set-up. Saudi go-betweens went into action for some bridgework between Islamabad and New Delhi.
Indeed in the accords signed with Pakistan, the Saudis specified that positive developments in Pakistani-Indian relations were welcome as serving the interests of both powers and South Asian stability.
That done, Crown Prince Salman flew off to Tokyo. He arrived Tuesday Feb. 18 to wrap up Saudi Arabia’s military pact with Japan.