Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz stated that, if Iran were to obtain a nuclear weapon, Riyadh would do likewise, ending speculation of how the kingdom would react towards what it perceives as its greatest threat.
“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb but, without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Crown Prince Mohammed, who is also the Saudi defence minister, told CBS News’ “60 Minutes.”
The interview was in advance of the crown prince’s trip to the United States, which will include stops in Washington, New York and Boston. Crown Prince Mohammed is on his first global tour as heir to the throne and visited allies Egypt and the United Kingdom ahead of his trip to the United States.
During the “60 Minutes” interview, the first with a Saudi leader on American programming since 2005, Crown Prince Mohammed dismissed the notion of a Saudi Arabia-Iran rivalry.
“Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy,” said Crown Prince Mohammed.
The crown prince compared Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Adolf Hitler, saying: “He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler, who wanted to expand at the time.
“Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realise how dangerous Hitler was until what happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.”
This is not the first time a member of the Saudi Royal family has made such statements about the country being nuclear armed. Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence minister and ambassador to Washington and the United Kingdom, warned senior NATO officials in 2011 that, if Iran would acquire a nuclear bomb, it “would compel Saudi Arabia… to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences.”
Crown Prince Mohammed’s US visit comes amid a significant reshuffle in the Trump administration. US President Donald Trump sacked US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 13 and nominated CIA Director Mike Pompeo as his replacement, a move certain to be welcomed by Riyadh as Pompeo is, like Trump, critical of the Iran nuclear deal.
“I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism,” Pompeo wrote on his official Twitter account during his CIA confirmation hearings.
Media in Saudi Arabia generally supported the Tillerson firing. Writing in the Saudi-owned pan-Arab dailyAsharq Al-Awsat, analyst Mishari al-Zaydi said that Tillerson’s “presence in the [US administration] team was strange, especially while Trump was leading significant changes in foreign policy.”
“Tillerson ‘resisted’, albeit in a soft way, the Trumpian determination against Iran and Trump’s support of the Arab quartet — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain — against Qatar’s ‘harmful’ policies,” Zaydi wrote. “Meanwhile, Tillerson leaned more in favour of Qatar’s version of the story, which involved using Qatari-Muslim Brotherhood terminology about the Qatari-Arab crisis.”
The Saudi cabinet last July approved a proposal for a national programme for atomic energy. Dubai-based Al Arabiya reported at the time that Riyadh hoped to generate 9.5 gigawatts of electricity from renewable energy by 2030 as part of its Vision 2030 reform plan.
Mohammed Alkhereiji is the Arab Weekly’s Gulf section editor.
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