NUCLEAR DESIGNS: Saudi crown prince threatens arms race
THE future king of Saudi Arabia has warned he would quickly obtain a nuclear weapon if Iran develops its own, raising fears of a possible Middle Eastern arms race.
"Without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible," said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a rare interview that airs this Sunday on CBS 60 Minutes.
Asked by host Norah O'Donnell why he had called Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei "the new Hitler", he replied: "Because he wants to expand. He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time.
"Many countries around the world and in Europe did not realise how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don't want to see the same events happening in the Middle East."
He insisted that the two countries, which are locked in a tussle for influence, could not be compared. "Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia," he said. "Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world. The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia."
The 32-year-old heir's interview will air at 7pm ET on Sunday, two days before the crown prince is due to meet Donald Trump. The last time a Saudi leader gave an interview to a US TV network was in 2005.
It comes amid questions over where the crown prince is hiding his mother. Fourteen curent and former senior US officials told NBC News Prince Mohammed blocked his mother from seeing his father, King Salman, more than two years ago.
The prince has given various explanation for her absence, such as that she is out of the country seeking medical treatment, but intelligence agencies say he took action against her because he was worried she opposed his plans for a power grab.
The officials said the prince, also known as MBS, placed his mother under house arrest at a Saudi palace without the king's knowledge in one of a string of brazen bids for influence.
SAUDI'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM RAMPING UP
The prince has been ramping up plans to develop nuclear energy capability as part of a reform plan to reduce the economy's dependence on oil, with the United States, South Korea, Russia, France and China bidding on a multi-billion dollar tender to build its first two nuclear reactors.
The world's biggest oil exporter has previously said it only wants nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, but it is unclear whether it also wants to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel, which can be used to produce atomic weapons.
The government approved a national policy for its atomic energy program on Tuesday, including limiting all nuclear activities to peaceful purposes.
In the 60 Minutes interview, the prince will also discuss Saudi Arabia's controversial role in the civil war in Yemen, its relations with America and an anti-corruption probe that saw hundreds of prominent Saudis detained at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh. The purge was expected to boost state coffers by $124 billion, with dozens of high-profile figures paying a high price for freedom.
Crown Prince Mohammed has also helped bring in vital changes for women, including allowing them the right to drive for the first time in the country's history.
He made headlines in December for buying the world's most expensive home, a $392 million French chateau. But it was not the billionaire's biggest purchase.
He paid a jaw-dropping $588 million at auction for Leonardo da Vinci's Salvator Mundi this year and owns of a 440-foot yacht that is even more expensive than the house - a $645 million vessel with two pools and a helipad, which he bought from a Russian oligarch after spotting it while holidaying in France.
Saudi-watchers say the prince's extravagance jars with his moves to jail enemies for corruption and tout fiscal conservancy at home, especially as oil prices drop.
'TRIANGLE OF EVIL'
The prince visited London and met the Queen and Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this month, but the visit was somewhat overshadowed by protests over British arms sales to the Saudi government that have been used against civilians, including children, in the war in Yemen.
Saudi Arabia is considered key to any Middle East peace deal.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been at loggerheads, backing rival sides in armed conflicts and political crises in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen.
Crown Prince Mohammed said last year the kingdom would make sure any future struggle between the two countries "is waged in Iran", prompting Iranian threats to hit back.
The royal has previously accused Turkey of being part of a "triangle of evil" along with Iran and hard line Islamist groups. Turkey has worked with Iran to try to reduce fighting in northern Syria in recent months.
Riyadh criticised the 2015 deal between world powers and Tehran under which economic sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for the Islamic Republic curbing its nuclear energy program. US sanctions will resume unless Mr Trump issues fresh waivers to suspend them on May 12.
Prince Mohammed's remarks also have implications for Israel, another US ally which neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it controls the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.
The crown prince recently said the dispute with Qatar could be long-lasting but played down its impact, dismissing the Gulf emirate as "smaller than a Cairo street".