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Saudi Arabia secretly purchased ballistic missile technology from China: Report

US members of Congress furious to discover sale outside of 'regular US government channels', CNN reports
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in February (AFP/File photo)

Saudi Arabia has "significantly" expanded its ballistic missile programme through recent purchases from China, CNN reported on Wednesday.

The purchases expanded both its missile infrastructure and technology, the news agency said, citing three unidentified sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

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Key Congressional Democrats discovered the weapons expansion programme outside of "regular US government channels", CNN reported.

The legislators told the news agency they concluded the Trump administration had knowledge of the weapons deal and deliberately left Congress out of a series of meetings where they would have been briefed on the purchases.  

While Saudi Arabia is the US's top arms buyer, it is barred from purchasing ballistic missiles from Washington under a 1987 regulation that prevents the sale of rockets capable of carrying weapons of mass destruction.

The purchases are particularly worrying to a Congress that has been attempting to limit Saudi Arabia's weapons capabilities for months, amid growing concerns over the devastating Saudi-led war in Yemen.

On Wednesday, key US senators from both major parties introduced 22 separate resolutions in an attempt to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The resolutions aim to stop the $8bn sale of weapons to Saudi Arabia, pushed through by the Trump administration without congressional oversight late last month.

The sale was pushed through by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who declared a state of emergency on 24 May, citing tensions with Iran as a means to strip Congress of its authority to halt the sales.

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Since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi government agents last year, Congress has passed a series of measures to denounce Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in defiance of US President Donald Trump.

Congress also passed a resolution that aimed to end Washington's support for Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen, but Trump vetoed that measure.

In March, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released a report that showed an 87 percent increase in arms flows to the Middle East over the past five years.

The defence think-tank’s annual survey showed that Saudi Arabia became the world’s top arms importer between 2014-18, with an increase of 192 percent over the preceding five years.