The Saudi crown prince, who is in Washington to push for an atomic deal with the United States that could pave the way for the Saudi regime to enrich uranium, says Riyadh will be quick to develop nuclear bombs if Iran does so.
“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,” Mohammad bin Salman told CBS in an interview that will be aired on Sunday.
In another part of his interview, Bin Salman claimed that “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. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.”
The White House is set to host the heir to the Saudi throne on March 20.
Earlier this month, high-level Saudi and US officials resumed talks on a lucrative deal for the construction of 16 nuclear reactors in the kingdom over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion.
Those talks were frozen under the former American administration over Riyadh’s refusal to accept Washington’s non-proliferation “gold standard” for civil nuclear cooperation deals.
Saudi Arabia has reportedly enlisted American lobbyists to fight for its ambitious plan to build its first nuclear plants.
The standard prohibits the recipient of the nuclear technology from enriching uranium and reprocessing plutonium, which could be used to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.
However, the new US administration is reportedly considering giving in to Riyadh’s insistence on bypassing the standard in order to prevent potential contractors from rival countries, including Russia and China, from winning the profitable deal.
Prior to Bin Salman’s trip to the US, the Saudi cabinet adopted a national policy for a “peaceful” nuclear program.
Bin Salman’s comments come amid warnings that Riyadh’s refusal to accept restrictions on uranium enrichment and plutonium extraction means it seeks to keep a nuclear weapons option open.
Many experts have also raised concerns over the potential threats posed by a nuclear Saudi Arabia.
On March 1, the Foreign Policy magazine published a piece, in which it enumerated many reasons why Saudi Arabia should not be given an easy path to nukes.
“Saudi Arabia is neither a stable state nor a benign actor in the Middle East that deserves US coddling,” said the piece, warning Washington against standing by Riyadh in its deadly war on Yemen and zeal for confronting Iran.
In an opinion peace in February, the New York Times said signs are growing that the “Saudis want the option of building nuclear weapons to hedge against their archrival, Iran.”
Saudi Arabia is a staunch opponent of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, including the US, which puts certain limits on Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Despite US attempts to kill the deal, the document, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, has been hailed globally as a diplomatic win and testimony to the country’s peaceful nuclear activities.
Iran, as a victim of weapons of mass destruction, has repeatedly said it is not after developing such arms. Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has also issued a fatwa (religious decree) against the acquisition, development and use of nuclear weapons.