Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister criticized the Iran nuclear deal as “flawed” and told reporters the country is “looking at ways in which we can push back” against the Shiite state sponsor of terrorism on Monday, as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) traveled to meet with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump and MBS will share a lunch meeting on Tuesday to discuss issues of mutual concern, with the growing threat of Iran and its terror arms such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Hezbollah considered the top matter. The Crown Prince will be in the United States for three weeks and tour the country, seeking foreign investment into Saudi Arabia as well as defense and cultural ties.
Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, who is in Washington with MBS, told reporters Monday that relations between Washington and Riyadh are “at an all-time high” because the two nations have “virtually identical” positions on many of the major issues facing the country today.
“When we look at the challenges that we face, whether it’s Iran, whether it’s Syria, whether it’s Yemen, whether it’s the peace process, whether it’s Libya, whether it’s supporting Iraq, whether it’s trying to stabilize Afghanistan,” he listed, “Whether it’s terrorism and extremism and terror financing, our interests are completely aligned and our vision for what we think needs to happen is virtually identical.”
On Iran, al-Jubeir was clear that the Saudis rejected the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), the 2015 deal between Iran and a multilateral coalition to limit it nuclear weapons development.
“Our view of the nuclear deal is that it’s a flawed agreement,” the foreign minister said. “We’ve called for tougher policies towards Iran for years.”
“We’re looking at ways in which we can push back against Iran’s nefarious activities in the region,” he added.
Mohammed Bin Salman himself made clear that a nuclear-armed Iran is among the top concerns of his country in an interview with 60 Minutes airing Sunday, which he delivered while still in Saudi Arabia. He defended his description of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as a “new Hitler.”
“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.”
MBS added that Saudi Arabia had no interest in nuclear weapons, “But without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
The Trump administration has reportedly aided the Saudis in expanding their peaceful nuclear energy program. American Energy Secretary Rick Perry met with Saudi officials in February to discuss nuclear energy; already at that time, reports circulated that the Saudis wanted to discuss nuclear energy in the context of how the Iranian nuclear deal empowered Iran by enriching it to the tune of millions in exchange for a slowdown, and not complete halt, of their nuclear weapons program.
Saudi Arabia maintains close ties to one nuclear-powered state, Pakistan, that for years has been accused of having nuclear weapons “on order” for Saudi Arabia in the event that Iran announces it has acquired a nuclear weapon. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are both Sunni Muslim countries; Iran is the world’s largest Shiite Muslims state. Iran has repeatedly expressed a desire to strip Saudi Arabia of its guardianship of the two holiest sites in Islam, the cities of Mecca and Medina. Riyadh has dismissed these claims by asserting that Iranian leaders are “not Muslims.”
Like the Saudi leaders, President Trump has expressed extreme skepticism over the Iranian nuclear deal, once calling it “the worst deal ever.” Standing in his way for most of his tenure in office was his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who argued that the deal had been in place for too many years by the present time to do away with it. Trump dismissed Tillerson of his duties last week, stating that his disagreements with Tillerson over the Iran deal were part of the reason why.
“When you look at the Iran deal, I think it’s terrible. I guess he [thought] it was okay,” Trump said of Tillerson. “I wanted to either break it or do something, and he felt a little bit differently. So, we were not really thinking the same.”
Of the incoming secretary of state, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump said the two are thinking more closely in line on international issues.