Thursday, April 06, 2006

Nuclear standoff in Saudi Arabia?

Ilan Berman, The American Foreign Policy Council: Eurasia Security Watch No. 123
Fueled by atomic assistance from Pakistan, the House of Saud is moving forward with a clandestine nuclear program, according to a bombshell expose in the German magazine Cicero. Citing information from "Western security sources," the Berlin political monthly has charged that Saudi nuclear scientists have been working in Pakistan since the mid-1990s - and that between 2003 and 2005, Pakistani experts traveled to the Kingdom disguised as pilgrims for the Hajj in order to assist the Saudi atomic effort. This connection, experts say, is logical, given the fact that Riyadh has effectively "co-financed the Pakistani atomic nuclear programme" over the past decade.

For their part, Saudi and Pakistani officials have been quick to disparage the story. The Saudi Defense Ministry has blasted the report as "totally unfounded." "It is a fabricated story and motivated by vicious intentions," a spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Office has similarly told reporters. (Agence France Presse, March 29, 2006; Jeddah Arab News, April 1, 2006) READ MORE


As part of its efforts to increase security in the "post-Soviet space," the United States has pledged closed to half a million dollars to the Republic of Turkmenistan. The commitment comes as part of a signed agreement between the U.S. embassy in Ashgabat and the government of Turkmenistan strongman Saparmurat Niyazov. The $450,000 grant is intended to bolster indigenous counter-narcotics operations in the Central Asian state and expand security contacts between Washington and Ashgabat. Additional funds - earmarked for judicial reform, maritime security and English language training - are expected to be forthcoming from the U.S. government in the near future. (Associated Press, March 31, 2006)


Are Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's controversial tactics catching up with him? The Jordanian-born master terrorist, who in recent months has waged a bloody and divisive campaign of violence against Iraq's civilian population, may have been forced to step down as al-Qaeda's top lieutenant in Iraq. "The Iraqi resistance high command asked al-Zarqawi to give up his political role and replaced him with an Iraqi because of several mistakes," Hudayfah Azzam, son of al-Qaeda's founding ideologue, Abdullah Azzam, has told al-Arabiya. "Al-Zarqawi's role," according to Azzam, has now been limited "to military action." (Times of London, April 4, 2006)


Iraq's most precious commodity appears to be exacerbating the insurgency against the U.S.-led Coalition. According to municipal officials, the former Ba'athist state's porous borders - and neighboring states hostile to American objectives - have enabled a vibrant black market in Iraqi oil which is sustaining the activities of anti-Coalition elements. "There are criminal gangs operating in neighboring countries, which used petrol smuggling revenues to bankroll terrorist activities in Iraq," Dawud Baghistani, president of Iraq's Transparency Commission in Mosul, has told reporters. A particular point of concern, according to Baghistani, is the Rabiya border crossing linking Syria and Iraq, which is "the most exploited for this type of activity." (Rome AKI, March 31, 2006)


The legislative victory of the Hamas terrorist group in the Palestinian Authority's late-January elections is emboldening Islamist elements in neighboring Jordan. Jordan's powerful Muslim Brotherhood is said to be positioning itself for a major showing in the Hashemite Kingdom's 2007 parliamentary elections - tightening its grip on religious schools, hospitals and Islamic charities, and embracing the same populist anti-corruption agenda that rocketed Hamas to power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. ''We are in a peaceful battle for change," says Zaki Sa'ed of the Brotherhood's public political body in Jordan, the Islamic Action Front. "We represent the will of the majority of Jordanians who seek change." (Boston Globe, March 20, 2006)