As Camp David summit opens, Saudis threaten Iran nuclear arms race

Obama welcomes Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the White House
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

On Thursday, President Obama is holding a high-level summit at Camp David with Persian Gulf Arab countries, seeking to assuage their concerns about the prospective nuclear deal to limit Iran's nuclear capabilities. Obama is expected to offer some increased military aid, but nothing like a guarantee of their safety like the U.S. has obligated itself to with South Korea and Japan.

The officials from the Gulf Cooperative Council nations — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain — are not expected to leave with their concerns assuaged. In fact, some leaders are saying a deal would force them to start their own nuclear programs. "We can't sit back and be nowhere as Iran is allowed to retain much of its capability and amass its research," one Arab leader meeting with Obama told The New York Times.

Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki bin Faisal has been publicly more explicit with the threats, The Times notes. "Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too," he said recently in South Korea. Accusing Obama of going "behind the backs of the traditional allies of the U.S. to strike the deal," Prince Turki said that the deal apparently "opens the door to nuclear proliferation, not closes it, as was the initial intention."

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Saudi Arabia and its neighbors are years behind Iran on nuclear technology, and they have only two real options for obtaining nuclear reactor parts: North Korea and Pakistan, says David Sanger at The New York Times. "It is doubtful that any of the American allies being hosted by Mr. Obama this week would turn to North Korea," he says, but "Pakistan is another story":

The Saudis have a natural if unacknowledged claim on the technology: They financed much of the work done by A.Q. Khan, a Pakistani nuclear scientist who ended up peddling his nuclear wares abroad. It is widely presumed that Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with the technology, if not a weapon itself. [New York Times]

That should make for an interesting day at Camp David.

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