By Matt Spetalnick and Rami Ayyub
WASHINGTON, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a U.S. television interview that his country was moving steadily closer to normalizing relations with Israel and also warned that if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, “we have to get one.”
“Every day we get closer,” the crown prince told Fox News according to excerpts of an interview to be shown later on Wednesday, when asked to characterize talks aimed at long-time foes Israel and Saudi Arabia reaching a landmark agreement to open diplomatic relations.
The conservative U.S. network’s interview with the crown prince, widely known as MbS, comes as President Joe Biden’s administration presses ahead with an effort to broker historic ties between the two regional powerhouses, Washington’s top Middle East allies.
The normalization talks are the centerpiece of complex negotiations that also include discussions of U.S. security guarantees and civilian nuclear help that Riyadh has sought, as well as possible Israeli concessions to the Palestinians.
“For us, the Palestinian issue is very important. We need to solve that part,” MbS said when asked what it would take to get a normalization agreement. “And we have a good negotiations continue until now.”
“We got to see where we go. We hope that will reach a place, that it will ease the life of the Palestinians, get Israel as a player in the Middle East,” he said, speaking in English.
MbS also voiced concern about the possibility of Iran, a mutual adversary of Saudi Arabia and Israel that the U.S. wants to contain, could obtain a nuclear weapon. Tehran has denied seeking a nuclear bomb.
“That’s a bad move,” he said. “If you use it, you got to have a big fight with the rest of the world.”
Asked what would happen if Iran did get a nuclear bomb, MbS said: “If they get one, we have to get one.”
While U.S. officials insist any breakthrough is far away, they privately tout the potential benefits of a regional mega-deal, including removing a possible flashpoint in the Arab-Israeli conflict, strengthening the bulwark against Iran and countering China’s inroads in the Gulf. Biden would also score a foreign policy win as he seeks re-election in November 2024.
The broadcast of the crown prince’s comments will follow a meeting between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday in which they pledged to work together toward Israeli-Saudi normalization, which could reshape the geopolitics of the Middle East.
Both leaders also said Iran could not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Leslie Adler and Josie Kao)