Saudi defense official on Sunday Times report: "I don't understand what the story is"
Report: Saudis have taken "strategic decision" to acquire atomic weapons from Pakistan
A Saudi defense official on Tuesday dismissed as “speculation” a media report that Saudi Arabia is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan amid growing fears of a nuclear-armed Iran.
The Sunday Times of London reported that the Saudis had “taken the ‘strategic decision’ to acquire ‘off-the-shelf’ atomic weapons from Pakistan,” citing unnamed senior American officials.
Contacted about the report by CNN, a Saudi Defense Ministry official said: “I don’t understand what the story is. This has been in the news for 18 years and will continue to be for the next 15 years.”
The official added, “The ministry does not comment on rumors and speculation.”
A U.S. State Department official noted Tuesday that Saudi Arabia is a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
“It has committed never to acquire nuclear weapons, and to apply full international safeguards to all peaceful nuclear activities,” the official said. “We attach great importance to Saudi Arabia’s continued implementation of these commitments.”
The Sunday Times reported the move by the Saudis – said by the newspaper to have been bankrolling much of the Pakistani nuclear program for three decades – comes amid concern among Sunni Arab nations over a framework deal on Iran’s nuclear program that aims to limit Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.
The framework deal was hammered out by world powers and Tehran in talks that ended in early April. The parties have until the end to June to work out the details and finalize the plan.
The Obama administration has stressed that if a final deal is reached with Iran, the removal of any sanctions will come in phases. President Barack Obama has backed the deal but faces an uphill battle selling it to a skeptical Congress.
Although the discussions involve the so-called P5+1 – the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif did much of the hard negotiating on the outline deal.
“We have consulted throughout the recent negotiations with our allies and partners around the world, including Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries, and will continue to do so as we move into the final weeks and months of these talks,” the State Department official said Tuesday.
Besides the concern from Sunni nations that the agreement might allow Shiite powerhouse Iran to develop nuclear weapons, the deal has been met with fierce opposition from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Envoy: Saudi Arabia will take any steps for security
In a March interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, the Saudi ambassador to the United States would not rule out the possibility of the Saudis creating their own nuclear bomb to counterbalance a nuclear-armed Iran.
“This is not something we would discuss publicly,” Ambassador Adel Al-Jubeir said on “The Situation Room.” Later, when pressed, he said, “This is not something that I can comment on, nor would I comment on.”
He added, “But the kingdom of Saudi Arabia will take whatever measures are necessary in order to protect its security. There are two things over which we do not negotiate: our faith and our security.”
Al-Jubeir said, however, the details disclosed by the Obama administration to the Saudis at that point about the developing nuclear deal with Iran were “positive.”
Christie: Framework nuclear deal ‘flimsy’
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a possible 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, took a much more critical view of the outline deal in a speech Monday.
“The framework we’ve negotiated here seems flimsy, and I have grave concerns over how we’re going to make the Iranians live up to their end of the bargain and how we can ensure proper, verifiable compliance,” said Christie, laying out a hawkish foreign policy vision.
Christie also framed capitulating to Iran as potentially causing a domino effect that could ripple throughout the Middle East: “The deal as structured will lead to a nuclear Iran and, then, a nuclearized Middle East,” he said.
“That not only threatens Israel, everybody, it threatens the United States and it turns 70 years of nuclear deterrence policy on its head.”
The U.S. House of Representatives last week approved legislation that allows Congress to review any deal on Iran’s nuclear program negotiated by the Obama administration. The bill, already passed by the Senate 98-1, now goes to the President for his signature.
Obama: ‘A good deal’
The framework includes the easing of U.S. and U.N. sanctions on Iran if it takes certain steps to curb its nuclear program.
Iran would reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98% for 15 years and significantly scale back its number of installed centrifuges, according to the plan. In exchange, the United States and the European Union would lift sanctions that have crippled the country’s economy.
“It is a good deal, a deal that meets our core objectives,” Obama said after it was announced April 2. “This framework would cut off every pathway that Iran could take to develop a nuclear weapon.”
It would include strict verification measures to make sure Iran complies, he said.
CNN’s Jamie Crawford contributed to this report.