Saudi Arabia is actively pursuing the manufacture of ballistic missiles with help from China, CNN reported today.
US intelligence agencies said satellite images prove the Saudis branched out to building rather than buying weapons from China.
The worry is that the initiative could cause Iran, the arch-rival of Saudi Arabia, to refuse pressure to stop pursuing its nuclear and missile programmes – an initiative backed by the US, EU, Israel and other countries in the Middle East.
Satellite images purportedly show the Saudi missile manufacturing facility and test site.
The question is how Iran will react.
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"The domestic production of ballistic missiles by Saudi Arabia suggests that any diplomatic effort to control missile proliferation would need to involve other regional actors, like Saudi Arabia and Israel, that produce their own ballistic missiles," Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on weapons who is a professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, told CNN.
The Saudi missile programme with Chinese technical aid could also affect US President Joe Biden administration's efforts to thaw relations with Beijing.
In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson for China's Foreign Ministry shrugged off the development.
"Such cooperation does not violate any international law and does not involve the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," the representative said in a statement.
The US has been aware of the Saudi missile programme dating to the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Under Trump, the US let the matter go, thereby providing tacit approval to the Saudis.
"Normally, the US would have pressured Saudi Arabia not to pursue these capabilities, but the first indicators that the Saudis were pursuing these capabilities indigenously emerged during the Trump era. The Trump administration, to put it lightly, was not interested in bearing down on Riyadh over these issues," according to Ankit Panda, a nuclear policy and weapons expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
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