Riyadh Turns to Moscow, Far East to Attain Self-Controlled Nuclear Fuel Cycle & Military Self-Sufficiency
Anti-American rhetoric reached a new crescendo in Riyadh after Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) saw President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on June 18. The most important deals that they struck were not released for publication.
(See last week’s DEBKA Weekly report: Salman Seeks a Russian Safety Net in Case Saudi-US Collaboration Fails to Oust Assad.)
The atmosphere in Riyadh these days was best depicted by Abdulrahman Al-Rashid, a prestigious Saudi journalist with close ties to the royal house. He wrote on June 23:
The most important feature of the Deputy Crown Prince’s visit was that it was not customary; it took place at a time when the United States and its European allies have decided to economically boycott Russia, sanctioning Moscow over events in Ukraine. This is one of the rare times that Riyadh has taken an opposing line to Washington. But the reason is clear: the Saudis who supported the Western position to boycott Iran for 20 years have discovered that Washington betrayed them when it decided to collaborate with Tehran, without coming to an understanding with its partners who had joined the initial boycott.
Saudis offended by US ridicule of their capabilities
The transaction Prince Mohammed signed for Russia to build and operate 16 nuclear reactors in the kingdom under the supervision of Russian nuclear engineers – a deal modeled on Moscow’s Bushehr reactor sale to Iran – makes naught of Washington’s insistence that the nuclear deal shaping up with Tehran would curb a Middle East nuclear race – even though President Barack Obama himself admitted in 2012 that “other players in the region would feel it necessary to get their own nuclear weapons.”
And, indeed, Egyptian President Abdel-Fatteh El-Sisi too has just signed a nuclear deal with Moscow similar to the one negotiated by the Saudi prince.
The Saudis are still smarting over the derisive article by the American writer Fareed Zakaria, a friend of the Obama White House, published in the Washington Post on June 11. He mocked Saudi Arabia by asking: “If the Kingdom has not been able to make a car, how can it develop sophisticated nuclear weapons?”
The wide-ranging Saudi transactions with Moscow – and the reciprocal invitations exchanged between King Salman and President Putin – may be seen partly as a rejoinder to the Obama administration’s contemptuous attitude towards the Saudi royal house.
Saudis now aim for own nuclear weapons program
In another part of Riyadh’s rejoinder, DEBKA Weekly reports exclusively that the king’s son and Putin agreed to Moscow establishing a Saudi nuclear research program with military dimensions. Russian nuclear research institutions will immediately start taking in 1,000 Saudi students and train them to fill future slots in this domestic program.
According to our Gulf sources, Riyadh is talking about nuclear cooperation – not just with Moscow, but also with Beijing and Tokyo – but most significantly about a radical nuclear policy departure.
The Saudis are waiting to see how the Six Power-Iran nuclear negotiations turn out and will then, those Gulf sources disclose, form a select committee to draft a white paper on a national weapons nuclear program. Its underlying strategy will hinge on “indigenous technology to ensure that the entire fuel cycle remains under Saudi control,” those sources disclose.
In short, King Salman has adopted the key word “indigenous”, turning away from his predecessor’s policy of “buying nuclear weapons from countries like Pakistan.”
Saudis stock up on sophisticated arms against a nuclear-armed Iran
In another token breakaway from reliance on the US, our sources reveal that Riyadh and Moscow have contracted a huge secret arms deal. Only a few particulars have reached us, but our Moscow sources disclose that they include some of the highly sophisticated weapons systems supplied hitherto exclusively to the Russian army and never made available to foreign buyers.
Those sources estimated that this transaction would give the Saudi army the “military edge” (a term used by the US with respect to Israel) over any other armed force in the region, including Iran.
The Saudi acquisitions are likely to include the Iskander 3 mobile short-range ballistic missiles (NATO-named SS-26 Stone) which are capable of delivering nuclear warheads, in which the Saudis expressed an interest.
Last year, Riyadh secretly purchased from China another nuclear-capable weapon – the DF-21D (CSS-5 Mod-4) anti-ship ballistic missile. It is the first ASBM weapon system capable of targeting a moving aircraft carrier and its strike group from long-range, land-based launchers.
The Saudis are not of course planning to fire this missile against American carriers, but in their sights are Iranian Revolutionary Guards warships and missile bases on the Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Sirri Islands which command the Strait of Hormuz.
American and Gulf oil tracks move apart
The picture unfolding is of a well-planned, cautious Saudi strategy to arm itself with a self-owned stock of state of the art Russian and Chinese nuclear-capable ballistic missiles of varying ranges. They will serve to defend the oil kingdom’s essential Persian Gulf oil routes against a nuclear-armed Iran, without its having to resort to the United States for protection or assistance.
Riyadh is pivoting toward the east to replace America with new strategic allies in Moscow and the Far East.
This strategy is moving on two tracks: On the one hand, America is fast reducing its imports of Saudi oil. By 2035, it is estimated that the United States will be buying only 100,000 pbd, while 90 percent of Middle East oil will go to Asia. On the other, China and Japan are increasing their purchases of Gulf oil.