London: Saudi Arabia has invested in Pakistani nuclear weapons projects and believes it could acquire atomic bombs “at will", the BBC reported on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia’s quest has often been set in the context of countering Iran’s atomic programme though it is now possible that the Saudis might be able to deploy nuclear devices more quickly than Pakistan, said the report that quoted unnamed Western and Pakistani officials and intelligence operatives.

“Earlier this year, a senior North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) decision maker told me that he had seen intelligence reporting that nuclear weapons made in Pakistan on behalf of Saudi Arabia are now sitting ready for delivery," said Mark Urban, diplomatic and defence editor of BBC’s Newsnight programme.

Last month, Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, told a conference in Sweden that if Iran got the bomb, “the Saudis will not wait one month. They already paid for the bomb, they will go to Pakistan and bring what they need".

Since 2009, when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia warned visiting US special envoy to the Middle-East, Dennis Ross, that if Iran crossed the threshold, “we will get nuclear weapons", the country has sent the US numerous signals of its intentions. Gary Samore, who was President Barack Obama’s counter-proliferation adviser until March, said: “I do think that the Saudis believe that they have some understanding with Pakistan that, in extremis, they would have claim to acquire nuclear weapons from Pakistan."

The report said the story of Saudi Arabia’s project—including the acquisition of missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads over long ranges—goes back decades. In the late 1980s, the Saudis secretly bought dozens of CSS-2 ballistic missiles from China, the report said. These rockets, considered by many experts too inaccurate for use as conventional weapons, were deployed 20 years ago. “It has also been clear for many years that Saudi Arabia has given generous financial assistance to Pakistan’s defence sector, including, Western experts allege, to its missile and nuclear labs.

Visits by the then Saudi defence minister Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz al Saud to the Pakistani nuclear research centre in 1999 and 2002 underlined the closeness of the defence relationship," the report said. It said some experts think it is a cash-and-carry deal for warheads while others believe it is an arrangement whereby Pakistani nuclear forces could be deployed in the Kingdom. However, Samore was quoted as saying that giving Saudi Arabia nuclear weapons would be a “very provocative action".