WASHINGTON, March 15, (Agencies): Likening Iran’s leader to Adolf Hitler, Saudi Arabia’s crown prince warned in a US television interview that if Tehran gets a nuclear weapon, his country will follow suit. “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,” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an excerpt of the interview that aired Thursday on “CBS This Morning.”
The 32-year-old Prince Mohammed said he has referred to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as “the new Hitler” because “he wants to expand.” “He wants to create his own project in the Middle East, very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time,” Prince Mohammed said.
“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.”
The interview is scheduled to run on CBS’ “60 Minutes” show on Sunday, two days before the crown prince’s scheduled White House meeting with US President Donald Trump. His comments come amid concerns over nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and just days after the kingdom put an atomic energy program on a fast track.
Although intended to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, analysts warn the capacity to produce atomic energy could open a pathway to nuclear development for military purposes. A 2015 nuclear agreement has placed curbs on Iran’s nuclear program, but Trump has expressed a desire to scrap it, making its future uncertain. The Saudi cabinet says its nuclear program will be in “full compliance with the principle of transparency” and meet nuclear safety standards “in accordance with an independent regulatory and supervisory framework.”
The country has accelerated plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next two decades, according to officials and analysts, at a cost of around $80 billion. Saudi Energy Minister Khaled al-Faleh said in October that the nuclear program would start by building two reactors, each producing between 1.2 and 1.6 gigawatts of electricity.
The Iran nuclear deal was in near terminal condition and on life support even before Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson’s dismissal this week may hasten its demise. As CIA chief and Iran hawk Mike Pompeo prepares to run the State Department, the Trump administration is weighing a speedier withdrawal from the agreement than even the president has threatened, according to two US officials and two outside advisers briefed on the matter.
They were not authorized to discuss the sensitive negotiations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. While such a scenario is unlikely, the fact it is being floated as an option may give US officials more leverage in negotiations with European signatories to salvage the accord by toughening it. Two such negotiating sessions have already been held and a third is set for Thursday in Berlin.
Trump, who calls the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy achievement the worst deal ever negotiated, has vowed to walk away from the 2015 agreement in mid-May unless Britain, Germany and France join the US in addressing what the president says are its fatal flaws.
These include no penalties for Iran’s missile work and support for militant groups in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.
The deal that was negotiated by the Obama administration and six other countries limits Iran’s enrichment and stockpiling of material that could be applied to a nuclear weapons program. In exchange, Tehran was granted widespread relief from international trade, oil and banking sanctions.
Trump’s next deadline to extend some of those concessions is May 12, and he has vowed not to do so again unless the Europeans meet his demands. Any US withdrawal would likely crater the agreement.
If the US begins threatening fines and other punishments for sanctions violations, countries around the world are likely to curtail commerce with Iran. That could prompt the Iranians to walk away as well, and perhaps even restart nuclear activities banned under the accord.
An indication of the Trump administration’s thinking could come Friday, when the US, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, the European Union and Iran meet for a periodic review at the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna.
State Department policy planning chief Brian Hook, who is running the negotiations with Europe, will lead the US delegation to the larger meeting in Austria’s capital.
Hook, who Tillerson leaned on heavily for policy advice and direction, could meet separately in Vienna with the Iranian delegation head, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Aragchi. For his part, Aragchi sees the writing on the wall. He told a parliamentary committee in Tehran on Wednesday that Tillerson’s ouster was proof that Trump would pull out and promised that Iran would withdraw if the US does.