Netanyahu warns of Mideast nuclear arms race

After reportedly urging Trump to nix agreement with Saudi Arabia to provide reactors, PM says region could be ‘nuclearized’ following Iran deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2018. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool)

Echoing reports that he warned US President Donald Trump against selling Saudi Arabia nuclear reactors last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Sunday against “nuclearizing the Middle East,” saying that the Iran nuclear deal, in its current form, could lead to a dangerous arms race.

“Many countries in the Middle East say that they too should be allowed to enrich uranium if Iran is allowed to,” Netanyahu said at the opening of his weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem detailing his meetings with US officials, including Trump, during his five day-trip to the US.

“The diplomatic discussions focused primarily on Iran,” he said. “I said that buried within the Iran nuclear deal are many dangers to the world, including a specific danger of the nuclearization of the Middle East.”

In recent months Saudi Arabia has announced its intentions of embarking on a massive program to become “self-sufficient” in producing nuclear fuel. Preliminary plans suggest the Saudis may be looking to build as many as 17 reactors in all.

President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, March 5, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Trump reportedly refused to commit to halting an emerging deal to sell reactors to Saudi Arabia, telling the prime minister that if the US did not supply the reactors, then the Russians or Chinese would, Channel 10 news said last week, citing unnamed senior Israeli officials.

Netanyahu and his team reportedly requested that, if the Americans insist on going ahead with building the reactors, Saudi Arabia be prevented from enriching uranium by itself. They demanded that this be a precondition for the entire deal, the report added.

The Saudis meanwhile, are reportedly demanding the right to enrich uranium and have made it a condition to awarding the contracts — expected to be worth tens of  billions of dollars — to US companies.

The Israeli and Americans agreed that senior officials would continue to discuss the issue, the report said.

Netanyahu’s efforts to prevent Saudi enrichment come despite an apparent ongoing improvement in behind-the-scene ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh, ironically spurred by a joint desire to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to alter the Iran nuclear deal.

Last week, the Saudis granted Air India permission to fly through Saudi airspace to Israel, a first in 70 years.

A worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr, Iran, on October 26, 2010. (AP/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File)

During a visit to the UN in New York on Thursday, Netanyahu said he was asked in Washington about his position on other Middle East countries seeking to enrich uranium. He said he responded by asking why they would want to do that.

US officials, he said, told him “the reason that they’re asking to enrich uranium is because Iran has received the right to enrich uranium under the dubious nuclear agreement.”

“The best way to prevent the nuclearization of the Middle East is to either fully fix the Iran deal, or fully nix it,” he then said. “This is the only way to prevent the inevitable spread of nuclear technology and nuclear weapons in the Middle East.”

Throughout his trip, Netanyahu repeatedly said he supports Trump’s vow to abrogate the nuclear deal if Congress does not modify it — by ending its sunset provisions, incorporating a ban on ballistic missile tests and granting inspectors greater access to Iran’s military sites.

The American legislature is now on a deadline of less than two months to reach an agreement.

On Sunday, Netanyahu reiterated his belief that that the way to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is “to fix the deal from its roots or annul it.”

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