A deal that leaves Iran with the ability to enrich uranium could trigger a nuclear race across the Middle East, a senior member of the Saudi royal family warned Monday — a prospect that analysts believe will further destabilize the already volatile region.
Speaking to the BBC, Prince Turki bin Faisal al-Saud, a former director of Saudi intelligence and a former ambassador to the US, also cautioned that Tehran’s aggressive behavior must be reined in — notwithstanding the outcome of current negotiations — because it threatens peace in the Middle East.
Turki said Riyadh and other capitals in the volatile region would seek the same rights as Iran to enrich uranium should that be the result of high-level negotiations with world powers currently taking place.
“I’ve always said whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same. So if Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that,” Turki said.
“The whole world will be an open door to go that route without any inhibition, and that’s my main objection to this P5+1 process,” he said.
Top Saudi and Israeli officials have repeatedly warned that Iran is developing nuclear weapons to assert its hegemony over the region — a claim that Tehran has denied, insisting that its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes.
Iran and the P5+1 — the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — are currently engaged in negotiations that would see an easing of economic sanctions vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic in exchange for some compromise on its controversial nuclear program.
Diplomats hope to arrive at an accord with Tehran by March 31, and to fine-tune the details by July 1.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif was set to continue talks with counterparts from the six powers, as well as the EU, on Monday in Switzerland, as officials indicated a deal may be only a few days off.
According to reports, an emerging deal would force Iran to freeze its drive toward nuclear weapons for at least 10 years in exchange for eased sanctions, after which restrictions would be lifted.
Saudi officials warn that the deal in its speculative current form is not effective enough — because it focuses only on Iran’s nuclear program, and not on what officials say is its belligerent conduct that currently threatens the security of other Middle Eastern states.
“Iran is already a disruptive player in various scenes in the Arab world, whether it’s Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, or Bahrain,” Prince Turki said.
“So ending fear of developing weapons of mass destruction is not going to be the end of the troubles we’re having with Iran. Now it seems that Iran is expanding its occupation of Iraq and that is unacceptable,” he said.
According to unconfirmed reports, in the event that a “bad deal” will leave the Islamic Republic with the ability to produce atomic weapons, Saudi Arabia “would let Israeli jets use their air space to attack Iran” — a pre-preemptive move that analysts say may signal reticent, but warming ties between Riyadh and the Jewish State in the shadow of the Iranian nuclear threat.
Prince Turki also dismissed claims that fighting the Islamic State terror group would entail the need for a tacit alliance between the United States and Iran.
Both countries have signaled that they will oppose the brutal Iraq-and-Syria-based Islamist organization by military means if necessary.
“Inevitably I believe fighting [IS], or Fahash as I prefer to call it, is fighting Assad,” Prince Turki said, using an Arabic word for obscene.
“It’s because of Assad’s treatment of his people that Fahash has taken advantage of the situation… so the enemy is both Fahash and Bashar al-Assad,” he said.