Saudi Arabia has reportedly stepped up its ballistic missile program with the help of China, with the administration of US President Donald Trump withholding intelligence on the issue.
Citing three sources familiar with the matter, CNN reported on Wednesday that based on classified US intelligence, Riyadh had expanded both its missile infrastructure and technology through recent purchases from Beijing.
The sources said that the Trump administration did not initially disclose its knowledge of the Saudi missile development to key members of Congress.
The move, they added, infuriated Democrats who discovered the matter “outside of regular US government channels and concluded it had been deliberately left out of a series of briefings.”
The informed sources also stressed although the Saudis’ objective was not clear from the intelligence, the missile development “could mark another step in potential Saudi efforts to one day deliver a nuclear warhead were it ever to obtain one.”
Saudi Arabia is the US’s top arms buyer, but it is barred from buying ballistic missiles from Washington under the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime.
Back in January, The Washington Post published satellite images of a Saudi military base, indicating that Riyadh was testing and possibly manufacturing ballistic missiles.
Jeffrey Lewis, a missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, said the Saudi installations closely resembled a design used by China, though they were smaller.
In March 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman threatened that the kingdom would be quick to develop nuclear weapons if Iran — which Riyadh views as its arch rival in the region — did so.
Many US Congress members are concerned about the provision of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, a destabilizing force under the Salman clan, amid Trump’s attempts to reach lucrative nuclear deals with the kingdom.