As Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi concluded his visit to the UN, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman vowed to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does.
Speaking to Fox News, bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, known as MBS, spoke candidly about the kingdom’s nuclear ambitions.
While Riyadh and Tehran only reinstated diplomatic ties this year, it is clear the mistrust remains and nuclear is at the heart of their long-strained relations.
While Tehran continues to deny making a nuclear bomb, in recent days it banned one third of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspectors from visiting the country and continues enriching uranium up to 60-percent purity, only a short step from producing weapons grade fissile material.
When asked about Iran’s escalating nuclear program, MBS said it is “a bad move”. “If you use it, you got to have a big fight with the rest of the world,” he said in his English language interview.
Making no secret of his own ambition to match the threat, he told the channel: “If they get one, we have to get one, for security reasons and the balance of power in the Middle East. But we don’t want to see that.”
It is no secret that the shared threat of Iran is at the heart of Saudi’s ongoing US-brokered negotiations to normalize diplomatic ties with Israel, which until now, have been conducted behind closed doors but include allowing Israeli flights to use Saudi airspace and granting permission to athletes and businessmen to attend events in the kingdom.
During the interview, MBS said ties with Israel are deepening, claiming “every day we get closer”, remarks quickly slammed by Raisi who was clearly unmoved by the fragile nature of the newly revived alliance.
“The initiation of a relationship between the Zionist regime and any country in the region, if it is with the aim to bring security for the Zionist regime, will certainly not do so,” Raisi told a news conference as he attended the UN General Assembly, without specifically naming Saudi Arabia.
“We believe that a relationship between regional countries and the Zionist regime would be a stab in the back of the Palestinian people and of the resistance of the Palestinians,” he said.
It was not the only diplomatic faux pas Raisi made as he spoke amid the world’s leadership summit, the United Nations General Assembly.
When asked if the regime was still seeking revenge for the murder of Qods force commander, Qassem Soleimani, the architect of Iran’s proxy wars in the Middle East murdered in an airstrike by US forces as he traveled from Baghdad’s international airport in January 2020, Raisi was clear.
“That cannot be forgotten or forgiven… How can we overlook this criminal act? … The perpetrators… they must meet the punishment for the crime committed,” he said when asked by Al Monitor’s reporter.
Just last year, an Iranian operative was charged in a plot to murder former US national security adviser John Bolton, but plots have been unveiled against several other of the Trump administration advisors under whom the orders were given.
US lawmakers and others have criticized the Biden administration for issuing a visa to Raisi to travel to New York, while the Iranian regime continues to threaten former Trump administration top officials, such as Bolton and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Last week, Senators Lindsey Graham and Bill Hagerty raised the issue in a letter to President Joe Biden, asking if the administration has raised the issue with Iran as it released $6 billion in frozen funds as part of a prisoner release deal.
“It was determined by the Biden Administration that ‘serious and credible threat[s] from a foreign power’…namely the Islamic Republic of Iran, still exists towards” former Trump administration officials…,” the Senators said.