A week before Saudi Prince Mohamed bin Salman arrives to the United States to visit his friend and ally President Donald Trump, tidbits of his upcoming appearance on 60 Minutes have been released — and his aggressive comments about Iran show that he remains in lock-step with the U.S. president.
Bin Salman, also known as MBS, said that Saudi Arabia will develop nuclear weapons if Iran does. He also took the opportunity to repeat his oft-used comparison of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to Adolf Hitler.
“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,” said MBS. Never mind that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program, insists it has never wanted nuclear weapons, and is subjected to the most rigorous inspection regime of any country.
The nuclear watchdog agency charged with making sure Iran sticks with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal, which requires them to limit the scope of their enrichment program in exchange of sanctions relief, has said, time and time again, that Iran is complying with the terms of the agreement.
Through his comments, MBS is essentially threatening to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East — a dangerous possibility that the Iran Deal aims to prevent. (Currently, Israel is the only country in the region with nuclear weapons, although it maintains a policy of “opacity”on the issue, refusing to confirm what is widely known to be true in the international community.) This, at a time when U.S. military officials have credited Iran for scaling back its provocations against the United States in the Persian Gulf.
MBS also reiterated his comparison of Khamenei to Hitler. Why? Not owning to any genocidal proclivity (as he must know Hitler’s name would invoke), but because of what he views as Khamenei’s desire “to expand,” he told CBS. “He wants to create his own project in the Middle East very much like Hitler who wanted to expand at the time.”
When the 60 Minutes interview airs Sunday, MBS will also discuss what his government has described as a crackdown on corruption, but has been described by critics of the regime as a cash grab: In November, the government rounded up some of the country’s wealthiest and locked them up in a luxury hotel, releasing them after extracting a reported $106 billion in payments before releasing those who were targeted.
The New York Times reported that the scheme more of a coercion tactic than any kind of transparent, anti-corruption sweep, and that some of those released from the hotel essentially remain under arrest and forced to wear tracking ankle bracelets.
President Trump approved of these measures, tweeting at the time:
….Some of those they are harshly treating have been “milking” their country for years!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2017
MBS is expected to play up his country’s relative loosening of some laws pertaining to women, notably, allowing them to drive by this summer, and allowing them to attend sports games in public stadiums. But as he seeks to strengthen economic ties with the United States and discuss weapons purchases, it’s unclear whether the prince will shed any light onto the whereabouts of his mother, who has been blocked from seeing the Prince’s father, King Salman, for more than two years. As NBC reports on Thursday:
U.S. officials interviewed for this story believe, based on several years of intelligence, that MBS took action against his mother because he was concerned that she opposed his plans for a power grab that could divide the royal family and might use her influence with the king to prevent it. The officials said MBS placed his mother under house arrest at least for some time at a palace in Saudi Arabia, without the king’s knowledge.