Saudi Official Calls for Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone in Mideast

Prince Turki Al Faisal warned of a nuclear arms race without a region-wide agreement

by John Glaser, January 25, 2012

A prominent member of the Saudi royal family has called for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, warning of the potential for a nuclear arms race in the region.

Prince Turki Al Faisal urged the five permanent U.N. Security Council members to guarantee a nuclear security umbrella for Mideast countries that agree to a nuclear weapons-free zone and impose sanctions on countries that develop or maintain nuclear weapons.

“I think 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 told the Associated Press. “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 said establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone “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.”

The former Saudi intelligence chief was referring not just to Iran – on whom the Security Council has already imposed sanctions for its nuclear program – but also to Israel, the only state in the region that possesses nuclear weapons, although they refuse to confirm or deny the fact.

An Iranian nuclear weapons program would certainly be a concern to Saudi Arabia, who competes with Iran for regional influence, but the opinion of the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration, and the latest IAEA report is that Iran’s enrichment is so far civilian in nature.

In May 2010, all 189 signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – including Iran – tacitly agreed to a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East and called for a conference in 2012. Finland will be hosting that event this year.

But Israel has refused to support a nuclear weapons-free zone for the region, reluctant to give up its own. Israel also is not a signatory to the NPT. These facts have arguably destabilized the region, leaving open the possibility of a nuclear arms race in the region, as Turki warned.

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