Saudi minister says nuclear weapons ‘an option’ for kingdom if Iran gets them

Adel al-Jubeir says Riyadh ‘will do everything’ to protect itself from Tehran; calls for pressure on Islamic Republic, says ‘we will have to see’ what Biden’s policies will be

By TOI STAFFToday, 5:15 am  0Saudi Arabia’s Adel al-Jubeir speaks to the media during a press conference in Prague, Czech Republic, January 10, 2020. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs said the kingdom will consider arming with nuclear weapons if Iran acquires them.

Adel al-Jubeir said in an interview with Germany’s DPA news agency that nuclear armament was “definitely an option.”

“Saudi Arabia has made it very clear that it will do everything it can to protect its people and to protect its territories,” Jubeir said. The report said the interview was held recently but did not give a specific date.

Jubeir said that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, other countries will follow, and expressed support for taking a harsh stance against Tehran.

“We believe that the Iranians have only responded to pressure,” he said.

“We will have to see” what US President-elect Joe Biden’s policies will be, Jubeir said.

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran are regional powers and fierce rivals in a struggle for hegemony in the Middle East, and have sparred through proxies in other countries, especially Yemen.

Iran is the region’s leading Shiite power and tied to groups in the region including its proxy Hezbollah, the Syrian regime and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza.

Saudi Arabia views itself as the leader of Sunni states in the Middle East, and is allied with countries including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which both signed normalization pacts with Israel in September. Riyadh is also an ally to the United States, which brokered the normalization deals.

Iran has marched toward nuclear armament since US President Donald Trump in 2018 withdrew the US from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and levied punishing sanctions against Tehran.

Taking a step back from the brink, Iran’s foreign minister said Tuesday that Tehran was willing to return to the nuclear deal if Biden lifts sanctions on Iran after entering the White House.

Biden pledged to return to the accord during his presidential campaign if Iran also adheres to its commitments again.

“We are ready to discuss how the United States can reenter the accord,” Zarif told Iranian media, according to a translation by the Reuters news agency.

“If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord… and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5+1,” Zarif said, referring to the six world powers that signed onto the deal.

Biden was vice president when former US president Barack Obama signed the deal with Iran. The pact was stridently denounced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who argued that it did not put in place sufficient safeguards to prevent Iran from seeking nuclear weapons capabilities.

Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons and views the possibility of a nuclear Iran as an existential threat.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning a bevy of wide-ranging sanctions on Iran to make it more difficult for the incoming administration to reenter the nuclear deal.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani called on Biden last week to “compensate for past mistakes” and return to the deal, opposed to Zarif, who did not call for restitution.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer said Monday it would be a “mistake” for the incoming US administration to reenter the deal.

The remarks appeared to mark the first time an Israeli official publicly spoke out against Biden’s plans to reenter the nuclear accord since he defeated incumbent Trump earlier this month.

During the recent presidential campaign, Biden and his aides slammed Trump’s 2018 decision to bolt the agreement, arguing that it allowed Iran to progress toward acquiring a nuclear weapon.

They pledged that a Biden administration would work to renegotiate a “longer and stronger” deal.

Last week, former Biden aide Amos Hochstein told Channel 12 that rejoining the Iran nuclear deal was “high on his agenda” and that the US president-elect would move to do so shortly after taking office.

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