Saudi Arabia will develop a nuclear bomb if its arch-rival Iran does so, the kingdom’s 32-year-old crown prince said in a preview of a television interview released on Thursday.
“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS in an interview that will air on Sunday.
The kingdom, locked in a tussle for influence with Iran across the Middle East and beyond, is stepping up plans to develop a nuclear energy capability as part of a reform plan led by Prince Mohammed to reduce the economy’s dependence on oil.
The United States, South Korea, Russia, France and China are bidding on a multi-billion dollar tender to build Saudi Arabia’s first two nuclear reactors.
The world’s top oil exporter has previously said it wants nuclear technology only for peaceful uses but has left unclear whether it also wants to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel, a process which can also be used in the production of atomic weapons.
The government approved a national policy for its atomic energy programme on Tuesday, including limiting all nuclear activities to peaceful purposes, within the limits defined by international treaties.
Reactors need uranium enriched to around five per cent purity but the same technology in this process can also be used to enrich the heavy metal to a higher, weapons-grade level. This has been at the heart of Western and regional concerns over the nuclear work of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival which enriches uranium domestically.