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March 15, 2018 3:07 pm

Proliferation Expert: Saudi Threat to Develop Nuclear Weapons Is ‘Serious’

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Interview

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman arrives at Lambeth Palace, London, Britain, March 8, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Yui Mok / Pool.

Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s warning that his country will build a nuclear bomb if Iran does so is “serious,” a proliferation expert told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

In fact, according to Andrea Stricker, a senior policy analyst at the Washington, DC-based Institute for Science and International Security, the Saudis have already made moves to develop their own nuclear capabilities.

“It looks like they’re seeking to facilitate a basis to obtain nuclear power capabilities in a way that could be used to make nuclear weapons later down the road,” Stricker said. “But it takes time to develop nuclear infrastructure. So that’s why if they want to be ready for the end of the nuclear deal with Iran they have to start now.”

“It seems like they’re trying to do it legitimately,” she added, with the Saudis acquiring civilian technology first, such as plutonium “that would give them the basis to use that plutonium down the road.”

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“They want a reactor that could produce plutonium,” Stricker continued. “And they could enrich their own fuel … they could claim they want to enrich uranium for the reactor.”

However, the international community may have some leverage in this case, because “all that would require outside supply,” Stricker said. “So one thing is you don’t want countries to supply them with enrichment or reprocessing capabilities. And you want to obtain commitments that they won’t reprocess or enrich if they are going to get a nuclear reactor.”

Asked whether the Iran nuclear agreement could be amended enough to assuage Saudi concerns, Stricker replied, “I think there’s a possibility. There’s a couple of months left before Europe has to agree to strengthening provisions that [President Donald] Trump has put down. He wants them to agree to extend the limitations on Iran’s nuclear program. And then deal with ballistic missiles and inspections, he wants stronger inspections. So there’s a chance. Sounds like right now they’re having difficulties though.”

The most pressing question, however, is whether all this could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. “I think it could,” Stricker commented. “Turkey might be the one that would go next. Maybe Egypt. It would take a few decades for all this to happen probably, but we definitely want to deal with the Iran problem now so there’s not a reason for anyone else to go nuclear.”

As to whether such an arms race could lead to an actual nuclear exchange, Stricker surmised, “I guess it’s hard to say. It creates a lot of instability in some ways. If you look at India and Pakistan, they’ve had conventional skirmishes, but it has never gone up to the level of nuclear war. But you never know. It depends on who’s in power.”

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