US Intel Claims Saudi Arabia Is Building Its Own Ballistic Missiles With China - Report
15:40 GMT 23.12.2021 (Updated: 13:27 GMT 06.08.2022)
The report comes in the light of already tense negotiations in Vienna regarding the revival of the JCPOA accord with Iran. Aside from restricting the Islamic republic's nuclear programme, it also envisages limiting missile technologies.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is building its own missiles in cooperation with China, CNN reported
Thursday, citing US intelligence agencies.
Satellite images allegedly show that the kingdom is currently manufacturing the weapons in at least one location, the report said, citing three people familiar with the intelligence.
Additionally, US officials from numerous agencies (among them the National Security Council at the White House) have allegedly been briefed over the past several months on classified intelligence that appears to reveal "multiple large-scale transfers of sensitive ballistic missile technology" between Beijing and Riyadh.
According to the reported US intelligence assessments, the Saudis are "already building" the missiles on the sites that were constructed with the help of the Chinese.
The Saudi side has not offered any comments so far.
The so-called "first unambiguous evidence that the facility is operating to produce missiles" appeared between 26 October and 9 November, when a commercial imaging company, Planet, took photos showing "a burn operation" allegedly occurring at a facility near Dawadmi in Saudi Arabia.
"The key piece of evidence is that the facility is operating a 'burn pit' to dispose of solid-propellant left over from the production of ballistic missiles," weapons expert and professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, Jeffrey Lewis, told CNN.
The report offered no concrete details about the alleged Saudi missiles.
The reported assessments, however, may pose additional challenges for the Biden administration in the Vienna talks with Iran regarding the restoration of the JCPOA - an accord that does not only envisage restrictions on Tehran's nuclear programme but also on missile technology.
The CNN report estimated that, if Saudi Arabia were indeed to start building its own missiles (something that the kingdom has never done before), it may significantly complicate the already tense Vienna talks, as Iran may refuse to accept limitations to its missile programme if Saudi Arabia has no such restrictions.
"While significant attention has been focused on Iran's large ballistic missile programme, Saudi Arabia's development and now production of ballistic missiles has not received the same level of scrutiny," Lewis said.
Plausible missile advances in Saudi Arabia would affect any diplomatic effort to restrain Iran's ballistic missile programme - especially in light of the fact that relations between Riyadh and Tehran are at a low.
Besides, considering its possible response to the allegations, Washington must also consider Beijing's position taking into account the Biden administration's aspiration to re-engage with China on several acute issues such as climate change and pandemic response.
As an unnamed senior administration official put it to CNN, "it's all a matter of calibration".
Commenting on the allegations of missile technology transfers between Riyadh and Beijing, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs told CNN that the two countries are "comprehensive strategic partners" and "have maintained friendly cooperation in all fields, including in the field of military trade".
According to the spokesman, such cooperation does not violate any international law and does not involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The network's report comes just days before the scheduled resumption of nuclear talks in Vienna. The eighth round of negotiations is expected to start on 27 December, with the parties set to "discuss and define the way ahead" in the restoration of the JCPOA.
The nuclear accord was signed back in 2015 between Iran and the P5+1 countries (the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China and the United States plus Germany). According to the deal, Tehran was supposed to scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for sanction relief. However, after former US President Donald Trump unilaterally exited the JCPOA, Iran has started to step away gradually from its nuclear commitments.