Saudi Arabia threatens to match Iran's nuclear capabilities

'Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too,' Saudi prince warns ahead of impending nuclear deal

Iranian nuclear enrichment facility
(Image credit: Getty)

Saudi Arabia has promised to match the nuclear enrichment capabilities Iran is allowed under a possible deal with the West, raising fears of a regional arms race.

"Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too," Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal, the 70-year-old former intelligence chief, said at a recent conference.

The controversial agreement over Iran's nuclear weapons programme is expected to be signed soon, though its success is still far from guaranteed.

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The six Arab powers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, are at a summit in the US, where Obama will attempt to reassure leaders that their security concerns are taken into account.

Saudi King Salman pulled out of the talks at the last minute, sending the crown prince instead, and although officials said the king had decided to remain in Riyadh to focus on the five-day ceasefire in Yemen, it has been interpreted by many as a deliberate snub over the Iran deal.

Saudi Arabia isn't alone in its desire to match Iran's nuclear capabilities. "Many of the smaller Arab states are now vowing to match whatever nuclear enrichment capability Iran is permitted to retain," says the New York Times.

"We can't sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research," said one Arab leader ahead of the conference.

Obama's former nuclear advisor, Gary Samore, said a race was inevitable. "With or without a deal, there will be pressure for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East," he said "The question is one of capabilities. How would Saudis do this without help from the outside?"

The Times suggests that the kingdom might be forced to turn to Pakistan or North Korea to secure nuclear components. Although a deal with North Korea is highly unlikely, "it is widely presumed that Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with the technology, if not a weapon itself," says the newspaper.

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