Saudi Arabia will develop nuclear weapons if Iran does the same, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi’s defense chief and heir to the throne, said Thursday.
“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,” he said in an interview with CBS News.
The international community has long been concerned that Iran’s development of nuclear weapons could spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, a key factor in the decision to reach a diplomatic settlement with Tehran over its nuclear program in 2015.
The Crown Prince also doubled down on his comparison of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to Adolf Hitler in the interview, saying the two both had dangerous expansionist goals.
“He (Khamenei) 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 realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East,” Salman said.
In November, the Crown Prince called Iran’s leader “the new Hitler of the Middle East.”
Salman’s comments are likely to renew concerns about what happens if US President Donald Trump follows through on his campaign promise to scrap the pact, which was negotiated by the Obama administration.
Trump decertified the Iran deal late last year, declaring it not in the interest of the United States, but has not pulled out of the agreement altogether. He has continued to extend a waiver that keeps sanctions against Tehran from kicking back in.
Trump and his nominee to be the next US Secretary of State, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, are vocal critics of the Iran nuclear deal, which essentially gave Tehran sanctions relief if it agreed to international supervision of its nuclear program and ceased all efforts to develop nuclear weapons.
Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, was believed to be more supportive of the deal than the President.
The US President and other critics believe the deal is flawed in part because it does nothing to address Tehran’s support for terror groups throughout the Middle East.
The Obama administration argued that in order to secure the deal, it needed to be laser-focused on the nuclear issue.
When asked about the Crown Prince’s comments, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said they didn’t warrant a response.
“He is a delusional naive person, who never talks, but with lies and bitterness, and has no idea of politics, but to use untimely strong words due to lack of foresight,” he said, according to Press TV, an Iranian state-run news outlet.
Shia Muslim majority-Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia have been adversaries for decades, but the proxy battle between the two has taken a new turn since the Crown Prince’s rise.
He has overseen Riyadh’s participation in Yemen’s civil war, where Iranian-backed Houthi rebels, who are Shia Muslims, are fighting the Saudi-backed fledgling government.
“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 Crown Prince said.