Order Code 98-525 F
June 5, 1998
CRS Report for Congress
Received through the CRS Web
South Asia Crisis: Effects on the Middle East
-name-r edactedSpecialist in Middle Eastern Affairs
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
The May 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan have raised concerns that these
countries, particularly Pakistan, might transfer nuclear or other weapons of mass
destruction technology to Iran or other Middle Eastern states. Iran has developed
military ties to both India and Pakistan, and has tried to acquire advanced technology
from Pakistan, but political and other differences have limited these relationships. There
is little evidence that other Middle Eastern countries have tried to acquire weapons of
mass destruction technology from India or Pakistan. This paper will not be updated.
Many observers fear that the May 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan are likely
to cause a broader arms race in the neighboring Middle East. There is particular concern
that Iran or Arab states in the Middle East will cultivate Pakistan, the first Islamic state
to detonate a nuclear device, as a nuclear supplier to help them counter Israel’s purported
nuclear capability. Iran has been cited by U.S. officials as actively attempting to acquire
weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and it has pursued conventional military and WMD
relationships with both India and Pakistan. However, Iran’s technology relationships with
India and Pakistan have been on a small scale as compared to Iran’s primary WMD
technology suppliers Russia, China, and North Korea.
Although the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said Iraq’s nuclear
program has been ended, the United States and other countries suspect Iraq might try to
revive its nuclear program in the future, although it is not certain it would turn toward
Pakistan or India to do so. Saudi Arabia is not generally considered a nuclear
proliferation threat, but it and some of the other Persian Gulf monarchies have close
relations with Pakistan and could, in the event of a Middle Eastern arms race, look to
Pakistan for advanced weapons technology.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Although public reaction does not necessarily indicate future intentions, statements
by Iran and other Middle Eastern countries on the Indian and Pakistani nuclear tests have
been cautious. On June 1, Iran’s Foreign Minister said the Pakistani tests would make
Muslims feel more confident in the face of Israel’s perceived nuclear capability.
However, the Foreign Ministry also said that Iran wanted both to end their arms race and
join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). (Iran is a party to that treaty.) Saudi
Arabia said the nuclear tests undermine regional stability but it partly blamed the tests on
a double standard in which the world community ignores Israel’s nuclear capability.
Media in other Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), criticized the
United States for imposing sanctions on Pakistan and India but not on Israel, although
Israel did not test a nuclear weapon.
Iran’s Relations With Pakistan and India
Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan have some strategic interests in common, but relations
have fluctuated. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robin Raphel
testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 1995 that Iran and
Pakistan share a common border and are wary neighbors, not strategic allies. Iran and
Pakistan are both Muslim states, although Iran follows the Shiite sect of Islam, whereas
Pakistan is predominantly Sunni Muslim but with an important Shiite elite. Pakistan’s
Embassy in Washington hosts Iran’s interests section here.
Iran and Pakistan both seek access to markets in Central Asia and influence in
Afghanistan. Along with Turkey, the two countries formed a regional cooperation
organization in 1964, revived it in 1985 after it had lapsed, and expanded it in 1992 by
incorporating into it several of the Muslim states of the former Soviet Union. Both
countries, along with Turkey, Britain, and the United States, were members of the Central
Treaty Organization (CENTO), a U.S. effort to prevent the spread of Communism into
the Middle East and South Asia. (CENTO collapsed after the fall of the Shah in 1979.)
During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89), Iran and Pakistan supported
different anti-Soviet mujahedin (Islamic warriors) factions, although in a common effort
to oust Soviet forces. Iran’s primary concern in Afghanistan has been to protect Shiite
Muslim groups and Persian-speaking peoples on Iran’s eastern border. Pakistan was the
primary conduit for U.S. assistance to the Sunni Muslim Afghan mujahedin during the
war. Iran and Pakistan, along with other Muslim countries, provided material support to
the Muslims in Bosnia at the height of the inter-ethnic war in the former Yugoslavia.
More recently, Iran and Pakistan have been at odds in Afghanistan, particularly since
the Sunni Muslim Taliban movement captured the Persian-speaking areas near Iran (Herat
Province) in September 1995. Since then, Iran has provided material support to Shiite
Muslim and Tajik and Uzbek minority forces fighting against the Taliban movement,
which controls two thirds of Afghanistan, including the capital Kabul.1 In February 1997,
Pakistani gunmen attacked the Iranian cultural center in Multan, Pakistan, and in
September of that year, other Pakistani assassins killed five Iranian air force technicians
Steele, Jonathon. “America Includes Talks On Ending War in Afghanistan.” Washington
Times, December 15, 1997. For further information, see CRS Report 98-106 F, Afghanistan:
Current Issues and U.S. Policy Concerns, February 10, 1998, by (name#r edacted).
In part because of the potential for Pakistani-Iranian rivalry, Iran’s efforts to acquire
strategic capabilities and technology from Pakistan have had mixed success. When Iran
restarted its nuclear program in 1984 (it suspended the program in 1979 after the fall of
the Shah), Iran reportedly sought Pakistani help but was rebuffed.2 However, in 1987,
following a visit to Iran by A.Q.Khan (considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear
program), Pakistan signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with Iran and 39 Iranian
scientists went to train in Pakistan.3 The training in Pakistan represented an Iranian
attempt to rebuild its core of nuclear scientists, many of whom had left Iran following the
1979 Islamic revolution. Western fears grew in 1991 when Pakistan’s then Chief of Staff
Mirza Aslam Beg publicly called for further nuclear cooperation with Iran. However, in
July 1995, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the United States was
unaware of any official nuclear cooperation that resulted from Beg’s pronouncement,
although the United States could not rule out covert or unofficial nuclear contacts between
Pakistan and Iran.
Even if Iran succeeds in obtaining nuclear assistance from Pakistan, it is not clear
that Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts would accelerate significantly. Iran has been receiving
nuclear technology from Russia and, to a lesser extent, from China, but U.S. officials
have stated that Iran is still about seven to ten years away from a nuclear weapons
No evidence has come to light indicating that Pakistan and Iran are cooperating to
develop ballistic missile technology. However, both sought the M-11 missile from China
(Pakistan reportedly received the missile, Iran did not), and both are developing medium
range missiles based on the North Korean Nodong missile design. Pakistan’s Nodongbased Ghauri missile, flight tested by Pakistan in April 1998, has a reported range of 930
miles.4 Iran’s Shahab-3 missile program, which is receiving assistance from Russian
entities, is believed to be about 18 months from flight testing, also is based on the Nodong
design and is expected to have a range of about 800 miles.5 If relations with Pakistan
improve, Iran could turn toward Pakistan for technical assistance, especially if the United
States succeeds in its efforts to persuade Russia to prevent its entities (firms and
universities) from aiding Iran’s Shahab program.6
Iran and Pakistan have had limited conventional military-to-military ties. In
November 1991, the Commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said that the Guard
enjoys a “strategic relationship” with Muslim countries like Pakistan. He and his
subordinates made several visits to Pakistan during the 1980s, and Pakistan apparently
helped the Guard improve its tactics during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88). In February
“Iran’s Weapons of Mass Destruction.” Jane’s Intelligence Review, Special Report No. 6.
1995, p. 11.
Ibid., p.12, and Ritchelson, Philip. “Iranian Military Resurgence: Scope, Motivations, and
Implications for Regional Security.” Armed Forces and Society. Vol. 21, No. 4, Summer 1995,
Anderson, John Ward. “Pakistan Claims It has New Missile.” Washington Post, June 2, 1998.
“Israel: Iran Could Build Nodong in Two Years.” Jane’s Defence Weekly, April 30, 1997.
For further information on Russian assistance to Iran’s missile program, see CRS Report 98299, Russian Missile Technology and Nuclear Reactor Transfers to Iran.
1994, Iran and Pakistan held ten days of joint naval exercises, which included joint
submarine operations. Another account suggests that Pakistan transferred an
undetermined number of midget submarines to Iran in the early 1990s.7
India. Iranian officials have repeatedly talked of forging a strategic relationship
with India, but no such relationship has yet emerged. Military contacts have been at a
relatively low level and confined to specific issues. In 1993, facing a declared Clinton
Administration policy of isolating Iran, then President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said
that India (and China) were Iran’s natural partners in a potential coalition to blunt
American international hegemony.8 In April 1995, then President Rafsanjani visited New
Delhi, partially upstaging a visit by U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin. However, in
part because Iran has always viewed Muslim Pakistan as a more natural ally than Hindu
India, no strategic relationship between India and Iran emerged from the Rafsanjani visit.
In addition, Iran has become increasingly dependent on China for technology and
weapons, and closer relations with India — a rival of China — could have complicated
Iran’s ties to China.
The Rafsanjani visit resulted in only minor pledges of military cooperation. During
the visit, India reportedly agreed to help Iran maintain the three Kilo-class submarines it
was receiving from Russia. In 1994, India’s navy, which fields eight Kilos, helped Iran
overcome some problems with the batteries in the first two Kilos it received.9 India
reportedly also agreed to Iranian requests to help upgrade Iran’s communications
equipment and maintain combat aircraft and ground armor acquired from Russia.10
However, India has not been identified as a supplier to Iran of additional T-72 tanks,
which Iran requested and which India manufactures under Russian license.
India has apparently provided some WMD technology to Iran, but not on a large
scale and apparently not in the nuclear field. Then State Department spokesman Nicholas
Burns said in April 1995 that there were no indications that India had a nuclear
relationship with Iran. No reports have surfaced since to contradict that statement,
although in February 1996, Russia, China, Iran, and India set up a research foundation to
adapt nuclear power for commercial uses. One press report in early 1995 said that Indian
companies (Tata Consulting, Transpek, and Rallis India) were helping Iran complete a
chemical weapons complex, using some German technology.11 The press report was
confirmed to some extent by a June 1997 unclassified Central Intelligence Agency report
on worldwide proliferation. According to the report, prepared biannually under
Eisenstadt, Michael. “Dual Bomb Blasts in South Asia: Implications for the Middle East.”
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Policywatch #318. June 1, 1998.
“Iran Talks of Bid For New Alliances.” New York Times, September 26, 1993. P.9.
“Iran Cultivates Ties With India in Military, Business Ventures.” Washington Times, June 21,
Dettner, Jamie. “Tehran Building Deadly Gas Plant.” Washington Times, January 30, 1995.
congressional mandate and covering the period July-December 1996, “Iran obtained the
bulk of its chemical weapons from China and India.”12
In contrast to Iran, Saudi Arabia has not been identified as a major proliferation
threat in any U.S. government or outside reports on proliferation, and it is a close ally of
the United States. In 1987, Saudi Arabia acquired a number of CSS-2 ballistic missiles
(1,750 mile range) from China, but it is not believed to have a chemical, biological, or
nuclear weapons program. However, Saudi fears of the potential threats from Iran and
Iraq could lead Saudi Arabia to seek WMD capabilities if Iran’s WMD programs
accelerate or Iraq is able to fully erode the U.N. weapons inspections regime Iraq has
been under since the Gulf war.
If Saudi Arabia were to seek to acquire WMD, Pakistan could be a natural partner.
The two countries enjoy good relations and have a history of security ties. Pakistani
officers have long served as advisors in the Saudi military, and, until the early 1990s,
Pakistanis formed one Saudi brigade.13 Some observers believe Pakistani troops helped
Saudi Arabia recapture the Grand Mosque in Mecca when it was seized by Islamic
fundamentalist dissidents in November 1979. These longstanding ties to Saudi Arabia
could make Pakistan forthcoming with technology that other suppliers — because of U.S.
pressure or international censure — might deny. The two countries have also cooperated
on important foreign policy initiatives, although doing so is not necessarily an indicator
of future WMD technology cooperation. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia supported hardline
Islamic fundamentalist factions during the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan,
and both now recognize the puritan Islamic Taliban movement as the legitimate
government of Afghanistan. (The only other country to extend such recognition is the
United Arab Emirates.)
Other Middle Eastern Countries
The Pakistani nuclear test, in particular, has raised concern that other Middle Eastern
proliferants might try to approach Pakistan for nuclear technology. U.S. concerns center
on Iraq, which, at the time of the 1991 Gulf war, was about one year away from achieving
its own nuclear weapons capability, according to estimates from U.N. weapons inspectors
in Iraq. U.N. Security Council resolutions after the war required the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) to dismantle Iraq’s nuclear program, and IAEA reported to the
Security Council in April 1998 that it had largely completed that mission.14 Cease-fire
resolutions do not permit Iraq to develop or renew nuclear technology relationships with
other countries. However, the IAEA said in early May 1998 that it was investigating an
The Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced
Conventional Munitions: July - December 1996. Director of Central Intelligence, June 1997.
Eisenstadt, “Dual Bomb Blasts in South Asia: Implications for the Middle East.”
For further information on the cease-fire requirements imposed on Iraq, and the status of Iraqi
compliance, see CRS Issue Brief IB92117, Iraqi Compliance With Cease-fire Agreements, by
internal Iraqi document implying that Pakistan might have offered Iraq contact with
Pakistani nuclear scientists.15 Pakistan has denied it made such an offer to Iraq.
Two other Arab countries that concern the United States are Libya and Syria, both
of which are included on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and have sought to
thwart some U.S. policy objectives in the Middle East. However, neither has close ties
to either Pakistan or India. According to the Defense Department’s November 1997
proliferation report, Syria, despite the widespread belief that Israel has nuclear weapons,
has not pursued development of nuclear weapons and is not likely to do so because of
financial and technical constraints. It is a party to the NPT. The same DOD report
identifies Libya as a nuclear aspirant, but says that, despite a 25-year effort to acquire a
nuclear weapon, its nuclear program remains in the “embryonic” stage. Libya also is a
party to the NPT.
Israel, not a party to the NPT, is considered a nuclear power even though it has not
conducted a test in Israel. It is developing close defense ties to India, but Israeli officials
have sought to reassure Pakistan that their burgeoning relationship is not directed against
it. Israel and India reportedly have cooperated covertly in nuclear and missile technology
for over two decades, and Israel is believed to be seeking from India space and missile
technology, in which India is more advanced than is Israel.16
The majority of expert opinion suggests that the South Asian arms race will not
immediately or easily spill over into the Middle East. WMD relations between Pakistan
and India and the Middle East have been intermittent and relatively low-level. Israel is
unlikely to confirm its own nuclear capability by conducting a nuclear test. Both Pakistan
and India have said they would not spread nuclear technology to other countries. Pakistan
does not appear to view its nuclear test in an “Islamic” context, apart from the element of
pride in being the first Islamic country to detonate a nuclear weapon. However, some
Middle Eastern countries, such as Iran, might seek to exploit their existing relations with
Pakistan or India to try to acquire WMD capabilities if an arms race in the Middle East
accelerates. Pakistan might be vulnerable to such overtures if its economy suffers
significantly from U.S. sanctions. The United States is likely to stress restraint in
technology transfer to the Middle East as it attempts to calm the crisis caused by the
Indian and Pakistani tests, and will probably try to exercise greater vigilance in existing
U.S. efforts to prevent WMD proliferation in the Middle East, particularly with regard to
Iran. The Pakistani and Indian tests could, for example, make the United States demand
a higher standard of evidence from the IAEA that Iraq has, as the IAEA has said, ended
its nuclear program.
“IAEA Probes Possible Pakistan Nuclear Help to Iraq.” Reuters, May 5, 1998
Chellany, Brahma. “Israel, India Cooperate on Defense Issues.” Washington Times, June 2,
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a federal legislative branch agency, housed inside the
Library of Congress, charged with providing the United States Congress non-partisan advice on
issues that may come before Congress.
EveryCRSReport.com republishes CRS reports that are available to all Congressional staff. The
reports are not classified, and Members of Congress routinely make individual reports available to
Prior to our republication, we redacted names, phone numbers and email addresses of analysts
who produced the reports. We also added this page to the report. We have not intentionally made
any other changes to any report published on EveryCRSReport.com.
CRS reports, as a work of the United States government, are not subject to copyright protection in
the United States. Any CRS report may be reproduced and distributed in its entirety without
permission from CRS. However, as a CRS report may include copyrighted images or material from a
third party, you may need to obtain permission of the copyright holder if you wish to copy or
otherwise use copyrighted material.
Information in a CRS report should not be relied upon for purposes other than public
understanding of information that has been provided by CRS to members of Congress in
connection with CRS' institutional role.
EveryCRSReport.com is not a government website and is not affiliated with CRS. We do not claim
copyright on any CRS report we have republished.