Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, commonly referred to as MBS, asserted that Riyadh will pursue nuclear weapons development if Iran possesses a nuclear bomb and reiterated his claim that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is “very much like Hitler” in a CBS interview to air on Sunday.
MBS, who has become the face of Saudi Arabia’s “modernization” campaign to eradicate corruption and contain Iranian expansion, sat down for an interview with 60 Minutes’ Norah O’Donnell that will air shortly before he arrives in Washington to meet with President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration has prioritized improving relations with Saudi Arabia. The president visited the country in May and helped establish a regional center to fight terrorism. Trump has also kept in close contact with King Salman and expressed support for the Saudi government’s crackdown on corruption.
Speaking to O’Donnell, MBS dismissed the idea that Iran is a “rival” to Saudi Arabia because its military and economy are too weak to be a real contender.
“Iran is not a rival to Saudi Arabia. Its army is not among the top five armies in the Muslim world,” he said. “The Saudi economy is larger than the Iranian economy. Iran is far from being equal to Saudi Arabia.”
He nonetheless reiterated his belief that Khamenei was “the new Hitler” and elaborated on his logic.
“He wants to expand,” he said. “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 realize how dangerous Hitler was until what happened, happened. I don’t want to see the same events happening in the Middle East.”
Asked whether he has ambitions for his country to develop and keep nuclear weapons, MBS said no, “but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
MBS first referred to Khamenei as a “Hitler” successor in November, in another interview geared toward American audiences. Speaking to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, the crown prince said, “[Iran’s] supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East. We learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work. We don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”
More recently, MBS identified Iran as part of a “triangle of evil” including Turkey and “extremist religious groups” like the Islamic State. The Turkish government is run by Sunni Islamist President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, making it not a particularly overt ally to the Shiite Iranian government. The NATO members has moved away from supporting the Gulf States and America under Erdogan, however, and despite differences with Iran on the rule of dictator Bashar al-Assad in Syria, has attempted to establish closer ties to Tehran.
American officials consider Iran the world’s most prolific state sponsor of terrorism. American officials, in Congress and the executive branch, have warned that Iran uses its terror proxy, Hezbollah, to expand its influence in countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Unit (PMU/PMF) militias also depend on Iran for financial and military aid. In Yemen, Iran supports the Shiite Houthi insurgents, who ousted President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi from the capital, Sana’a, and have remained in a stagnant civil war against Saudi-backed Sunni government fighters.
In Latin America, Iran relies upon the support of the communist governments of Cuba and Venezuela to help Hezbollah establish profitable drug and human trafficking operations, according to U.S. officials and think tanks.
Iranian officials have warned the Saudi government not to attack them directly. In May, following remarks by MBS calling the Iranian government “extremist” and warned, “We won’t wait for the battle to be in Saudi Arabia,” Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan told reporters, “If the Saudis do anything ignorant, we will leave no area untouched except Mecca and Medina.”
Trump will welcome MBS to the White House on March 20.