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Leaked Cables on Iran: Saudis Warn Gulf States May Go Nuclear to Deter Iran

(January 28, 2009)

Classified U.S. diplomatic cables, leaked by the whistleblower site WikiLeaks, contain accounts of a Saudi official warning the United States that countries in the Gulf region might develop or host nuclear weapons in order to deter the perceived threat from Iran.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009, 15:50
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1. (C) SUMMARY & COMMENT: Netherlands Ambassador Ron Strikker, Russian Ambassador Victor Gibinvish, and Embassy Riyadh Pol/Mil Counselor Scott McGehee met on January 25 with Dr. Prince Turki Al-Kabeer, Undersecretary for Multilateral Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to deliver a joint demarche on the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT). The meeting evolved into a pointed exchange between the Russian Ambassador and Dr. Prince Turki on Iran's nuclear ambitions. Prince Turki warned that if Iran tried to produce nuclear weapons, other countries in the Gulf region would be compelled to do the same, or to permit the stationing of nuclear weapons in the Gulf to serve as a deterrent to the Iranians. Turki then pointedly demanded that the US keep Saudi officials informed about US plans for Iran.

2. (C) Dr. Prince Turki is not a decision-maker, but he is a reliable transmitter of official Saudi thinking. Most of what he said is not new, although this is the most explicit mention we have heard of Saudi willingness to see nuclear weapons deployed in the GCC as a deterrent to Iran. His concern that the United States will negotiate a "grand bargain" with Iran without consulting Saudi Arabia is a concern we have heard often in recent weeks. End summary & comment.

3. (C) After hearing a brief verbal demarche from Ambassador Strikker on the upcoming June Plenary of the GICNT, Dr. Turki turned to Ambassador Gibinvish, saying, "On this issue, what concerns us most is how to get our neighbor to change its policy on enrichment." Iran needs to be convinced to enter a dialogue on this matter, he continued, noting that Saudi Arabia is also concerned about the Russian-built reactor at Bushehr. A leakage from a plant at that location could bring an environmental catastrophe to Saudi Arabia, pointing out that it is located less than 300 kilometers away from Saudi shores, across open water.

4. (C) Ambassador Gibinvish was able to say only "Sure, I agree!" before Prince continued, "The location is so dangerous! Not just to us, but to the world economy!" He urged that Russia use its influence to have the reactor moved north, suggesting that a location on the shore of the Caspian Sea would be much better, where there is water available for reactor cooling, and where mountains rise behind to contain any possible leakage from moving south. Perhaps more troubling, he said, is Iran's pursuit of nuclear enrichment. He explained that if Iran tries to produce nuclear weapons, other countries in the Gulf region would be compelled to do the same, or to permit the stationing of nuclear weapons in the Gulf to serve as a deterrent to the Iranians.

5. (C) Amb. Gibinvish responded that Iran's desire to enrich uranium reflected its fears that it will someday be attacked by Israel or the United States and also a sign of Iran's desire to establish its "supremacy" in the region. Prince Turki interjected: "And we cannot accept Iranian supremacy in the region. We are okay with nuclear electrical power and desalination, but not with enrichment." He said that the prospect of Iranian enrichment raises troubling questions about their motivations for doing so: "they do not need it!"

6. (S) Amb. Gibinvish noted that "some experts in Russia believe that Iran will have a bomb in 10 to 15 years." Russia, he said, is concerned about this matter as well, and has "put forward initiatives" with Iran. Russia hopes to discuss this further with Saudi Arabia in the near future, and he said that an "important delegation" would be coming to Riyadh in about two months to discuss this with the Saudi leadership. Prince Turki said that the Russian delegation would be welcomed, stressing that "we must work together to get them to abandon their effort to acquire nuclear weapons. Israel too, he said, must be convinced to surrender its nuclear arsenal. But you deal with them, you have influence, that is why I raise this with you." Amb. Gibinvish pledged that "we will do what we can. But the Iranians are difficult partners." At this point, Prince Turki turned to Pol/Mil Counselor who had momentarily stopped taking notes. Prince Turki said "Please write this down. Whatever is discussed with the Iranians, we must be kept informed! Any negotiations with the Iranians must take into account the interests of Saudi Arabia, otherwise, we will not accept it! We should be told -- in advance! -- of what you plan to say."

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Sources: Wikileaks