The US government has obtained intelligence that Saudi Arabia has significantly escalated its ballistic missile program with the help of China, CNN reported Wednesday, citing multiple sources familiar with the matter.
The previously unreported classified intelligence indicates Saudi Arabia has expanded both its missile infrastructure and technology through recent purchases from China, the report says.
The Trump administration did not initially disclose its knowledge of this classified development to key members of Congress, the sources said, infuriating Democrats who discovered it outside of regular US government channels and concluded it had been deliberately left out of a series of briefings where they say it should have been presented.
The discovery of the Saudi efforts comes amid growing tensions between Congress and the White House over relations with Saudi Arabia. Despite bipartisan criticism over the Kingdom’s war in Yemen and its role in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the White House has sought an even closer relationship with Riyadh, as evidenced by its recent decision to approve a multi-billion dollar arms sale to Saudi Arabia by declaring an emergency over growing tensions with Iran.
While the Saudis’ ultimate goal has not been conclusively assessed by US intelligence, the missile advancement could indicate potential Saudi efforts to one day deliver a nuclear warhead if it were to acquire one, the sources said.
In March 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman made clear that should Iran obtain a nuclear weapon, Saudi would work to do the same. “Without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” he said in an interview with 60 Minutes.
While Saudi Arabia is among the biggest buyers of US weapons, it is barred from purchasing ballistic missiles from Washington under a 1987 regulation that prevents the sale of rockets capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction. The US has sought to dissuade Saudi Arabia from seeking missiles elsewhere by ensuring it maintains its air supremacy in the region through sales of American military aircraft, CNN noted.
In January, satellite imagery published by the Washington Post suggested the Kingdom had constructed a ballistic missile factory. Analysts who viewed the images said they appeared to match technology produced by the Chinese. A second image of the same missile facility obtained by CNN shows a similar level of activity at the site on May 14, 2019.
The CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the matter. A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy in the US did not respond to a request for comment.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry told CNN that China and Saudi Arabia are “comprehensive strategic partners,” and that both countries “maintain friendly cooperation in all areas, including in the area of arms sales. Such cooperation does not violate any international laws, nor does it involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”