The nuclear question has become part of an ongoing conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, and it reached a fever pitch after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in the Iranian capital of Tehran. The embassy assault came as a result of the execution of prominent Shia Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by the Saudi government.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif claimed in an interview with CNN today that “We [Iran] do not have a fight to pick with Saudi Arabia.”
Zarif claims that Iran and Saudi Arabia can co-exist peacefully in the Middle East, but noted that “unfortunately, the Saudis have had the illusion that backed by their Western allies, they could push Iran out of the equation in the region.”
Rumors of a Saudi nuclear purchase caught the public eye in May 2015 when the Sunday Times quoted an anonymous U.S. defense official as saying “the house of Saud has now made the strategic decision to move forward” to purchase a weapon “off-the-shelf” from Pakistan.
“The Sunni states will play tit-for-tat and keep up with Iranian nuclear developments. Once they achieve a nuclear energy level of development, if Iran creates moves to create a nuclear weapon, states like Saudi Arabia will move rapidly to do the same and may even consider working with their strong partners like Pakistan,” said former U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in an interview in September 2015.
Speculation on Saudi Arabia’s nuclear desires started in the 1990’s when former Saudi diplomat Muhammad Khilewi leaked documents claiming that Saudi Arabia had been interested in nuclear weaponry since 1975. Khilewi also claimed in a 1998 interview that Saudi Arabia had invested millions of dollars in the Pakistani nuclear program under the assumption that there would be a sort of nuclear quid-pro-quo between the two countries.