Nervous Saudis Seeking Nuke, Report Says

By Mike Wendling | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

London ( - Saudi Arabia is considering obtaining a nuclear weapon in response to the tense political situation in the Middle East, according to a report in a British newspaper.

According to plans leaked to The Guardian newspaper, the Saudis are considering one of three defense options in an ongoing strategic review. They include entering into a protective alliance with a current nuclear power; negotiating a regional agreement for a nuclear-free Middle East; or obtaining a nuclear capability as a deterrent.

The Saudis have denied the report.

The Guardian reported Thursday that Saudi Arabia is wary of decreasing American support since the Sept. 11 attacks but that Riyadh has yet to take a decision on any one of the three options. Fifteen of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 held Saudi citizenship.

The paper quoted an unnamed senior U.N. official who said nuclear watchdogs were keeping track of developments.

In 1988, the Saudis bought intermediate-range missiles from China, and Saudi defense officials have toured nuclear facilities in Pakistan.

The Saudi government's Information Office in Riyadh issued a denial of the report in a press release Thursday, calling the story "baseless and totally false."

"Saudi Arabia has long advocated for a Middle East that is free of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and there is no basis to change current policies," the release said. "Reports that the kingdom is seeking nuclear, biological or chemical weapons are motivated by malice and have no grounding in the truth."

The Reuters news agency, quoting unnamed sources "familiar with" the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that the organization had no information to back up The Guardian's report and that any such leaks from the Saudi government would be highly unusual.

But an expert says that that a Saudi push towards nuclear capability is a distinct possibility.

Sir Timothy Garden, an associate fellow with the New Security Issues program at the London-based Royal Institute of International Affairs, said the Saudis have the motivation and money to put together a WMD program.

"It seems to me entirely plausible," Garden told .

"The Saudis have as much case as anyone to go down that route," he said, citing Israel's strong nuclear program and recent indications that "Saudi is not the flavor of the month in America."

Garden also cited the intermediate-range missile purchase from China.

"These missiles are so inaccurate that they would only be useful if you had an area weapon, either biological or nuclear," he said.

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