China has helped Saudi Arabia escalate its ballistic missile program, US intelligence has found, a report said quoting unnamed sources. This could threaten decades of U.S. efforts to ‘limit missile proliferation’ in the Middle East.

Ballistic missiles have the ability to carry nuclear warheads to targets thousands of kilometers away. Saudi Arabia is United States’ biggest weapons buyer, but it is barred from purchasing ballistic missiles under regulations set forth under the 1987 Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The MTCR aims to limit the spread of ballistic missiles and other unmanned delivery systems that could be used for chemical, biological and nuclear attacks.

The intelligence newly available shows that the oil-rich Islamic kingdom has expanded it missile infrastructure and technology through recent purchases from China. Although it was known to have made some missile purchases from China a few decades back, it was not known to have pursued the ability to develop and build missiles. The Saudi embassy in the U.S. did not respond to CNN's request for comments.

CNN also reported that the Trump administration had not disclosed this classified development to the Congress’s key members. This infuriated Democrats who alleged that the government had intentionally excluded them from a series of briefings. Reports said Congress is concerned over a "potential arms race in the Middle East."

President Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have shared a special relationship with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, the real power behind the throne in the country.  Trump defended the crown prince in April despite a CIA report that the latter ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Turkey and his body allegedly cut up using a bone saw and disposed.

In 2018, Bin Salman had said that the kingdom wouldn’t hesitate to develop nuclear weapons if Iran does. USA Today published satellite images of a military base in Saudi Arabia that could be testing and possibly manufacturing ballistic missiles.

The CNN reported quoting sources that the Saudis' missile advancement could mark another step in potential efforts to "one day deliver a nuclear warhead." While the country is trying to match Iran's capabilities, it may also want to reign the region with the ability to build and deploy its own missiles.

Jeffery Lewis, a missile expert at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California, said he would be a "little worried" that the U.S. is underestimating Saudi Arabia’s ambitions. “From bone-saws to ballistic missiles. Satellite images taken by @planetlabs seem to show that Saudi Arabia has constructed a solid-fuel missile plant,” he tweeted.

A State Department official confirmed that Saudi Arabia remains a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has accepted an obligation never to acquire nuclear weapons. The official also reaffirmed the United States' commitment to "the goal of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems."