A former Saudi diplomat seeking political asylum in the United States asserts that Saudi Arabia tried to buy nuclear research reactors from China and from a U.S. company in 1989 as part of a secret effort to acquire nuclear weapons.
In an interview Friday, Mohammed A. Khilewi, formerly the second-ranking official at the Saudi Mission to the United Nations, produced some letters to support his allegations.One letter, dated Jan. 10, 1989, appeared to be from the China Nuclear Energy Industry Corp. in Beijing to Prince Abdel Rahman, a nephew of King Fahd, saying it was willing to sell research reactors known as miniature neutron source reactors to Saudi Arabia and pay the prince a 5 percent commission on the deal.
The letter does not state the value of the deal. Experts describe such reactors as small models suitable for research, with relatively simple applications.
In another letter, dated Feb. 5, 1989, to a senior official at Riyadh University, Prince Abdel Rahman reports on a visit to Chinese nuclear industries and says Saudi Arabia needs a "nuclear reactor and training program." Khilewi provided an English translation of that letter, written in Arabic.
In a letter dated May 16, 1989, to an Alexandria, Va., company called Marine Services Limited, a senior official of the King Abdel Aziz City for Science and Technology acknowledges receipt of a "documents/specifications for a Miniature Neutron Source Reactor" and promises to give them "careful review."
Asked about Khilewi's claims, an official of the Saudi embassy in Washington, Adel Jubir, challenged the authenticity of the documents Saturday in a telephone call from Paris but did not comment on their substance.
Khilewi says he has some 14,000 documents proving human rights abuses, terrorism and corruption by the Saudi government. He broke with his government in May and formally applied for political asylum in the United States in June. His request is still pending.
In the interview Friday, Khilewi asserted that when he left Saudi Arabia two years ago he believed that the kingdom had two undeclared research reactors. He offered no documents to support that assertion.
Saudi Arabia signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1988, pledging not to acquire nuclear weapons. Despite pressure from the United States, it has refused since then to sign a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency, as required by the treaty.
Such an agreement would require the Saudis to declare any nuclear installations the country possesses and open them to international inspection.
In the interview, Khilewi also said he had evidence confirming American newspaper and television reports that the Saudis had contributed about $5 billion to Iraq's covert nuclear program in the years leading up to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The alliance collapsed after the invasion, he said.
The reports said the CIA had concluded in 1990 that Saudi Arabia had helped to bankroll the program in return for a share of weapons and technology developed by Iraq.
Khilewi said Saudi Arabia originally had not planned to develop a nuclear program of its own.
But in 1985, two years before it approached China for nuclear reactors and bought a Chinese CSS-2 medium-range missile system, he said, "Saudi Arabia started to think seriously about starting its own nuclear weapons program."