Nuclear weapons would "inevitably" spread across the Middle East in the continued absence of a regional ban on such armaments, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said on Wednesday (see GSN, Dec. 2, 2011).
The five recognized nuclear powers should extend atomic protection to Middle Eastern countries that pledge in a potential regional deal not to seek deterrent capacities of their own, the prince, a former ambassador to the United States and one-time head of Saudi intelligence, told the Associated Press.
Turki also urged the powers to adopt "military sanctions" targeting states considered to be pursuing nuclear weapons.
"That's a better way of going at this issue of nuclear enrichment of uranium, or preventing Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction," he said. "If it goes that route, I think it's a much more equitable procedure than what has been happening in the last 10 years or so."
Turki's proposed punitive steps could affect Iran and Israel, according to AP; Tehran is suspected of seeking a nuclear-weapon capacity despite its denial of such an effort, while Jerusalem publicly neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it holds an atomic arsenal.
Years-old tensions over Iran's atomic activities have escalated recently after the nation reportedly began enriching uranium to 20 percent at a second facility (see GSN, Jan. 10). The material can be used for nuclear reactor fuel or, at enrichment levels of roughly 90 percent, nuclear-weapon material.
The European Union this week finalized an embargo on Iranian oil that is to take full effect by July 1. Tehran, meanwhile, continues to threaten to block the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway for the transportation of Middle Eastern petroleum.
Turki has repeatedly suggested Saudi Arabia might need its own nuclear arsenal if it determines Iran holds such weapons.
A possible regional nuclear weapons ban "deserves everybody's attention and energy, more so than other activities which we see unfolding, whether it is redeployment of fleets in the area, whether Iranian or American or British or French, whether it is the sanctions efforts against Iran," Turki said.
Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty member states in 2010 called for a meeting this year aimed at establishing a Middle Eastern WMD-free zone. Israeli attendance at the planned event is uncertain, despite an anticipated push for Jerusalem's participation by Washington as well as Finnish envoy Jaakko Laajava, the meeting's planned "facilitator," according to AP.
British and U.S. envoys have suggested Israel would not accede to a regional nuclear weapons ban. Addressing the concerns, Turki asked: "So what?"
The prince called on the five nuclear powers -- China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- to issue a statement on the prohibition at the upcoming meeting.
Still, numerous regional disputes "will have to be dealt with to make the zone workable," he said. "So there are incentives there for everybody to be serious about establishing an overall peace so the zone can be put in place."
Barring the establishment of the regional nuclear weapons ban, governments in the area would "inevitably" scramble to build up nuclear stockpiles "and that's not going to be in the favor of anybody," Turki said.
Persian Gulf nations have forsworn the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction, he asserted (see GSN, June 30, 2011). "But we're not the only players in town. You have Turkey. You have Iraq which has a track record of wanting to go nuclear. You have Egypt. They had a very vibrant nuclear energy program from the 1960s. You have Syria. You have other players in the area that could open Pandora's box."
Addressing the potential for Gulf states to adhere to their anti-WMD stance, Turki said: "What I suggest for Saudi Arabia and for the other Gulf states ... is that we must study carefully all the options, including the option of acquiring weapons of mass destruction. We can't simply leave it for somebody else to decide for us" (Edith Lederer, Associated Press/Google News, Jan. 25).