As if US policy in the Middle East hasn’t been chaotic and contradictory enough in recent weeks and months (or more honestly decades), White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders let slip a bombshell admission regarding Saudi Arabia and nuclear weapons during a Wednesday press briefing.
Or perhaps it’s more important what she didn’t say regarding Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister announcing earlier that day that “his country stands ready to build nuclear weapons if Iran restarts its atomic weapons program.”
Sanders was asked by a reporter about the White House response to Saudi Arabia’s brazen statement declaring itself willing to pursue nukes. The exchange is as follows:
QUESTION: Sarah, Saudi Arabia said that they would pursue a nuclear weapons program if Iran were to pursue a nuclear weapons program. Would they have the administration’s support in the event that that occurred?
MS. SANDERS: Right now, I don’t know that we have a specific policy announcement on that front, but I can tell you that we are very committed to making sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons.
Q. Saudi Arabia said they would pursue a nuclear weapons program if Iran were to pursue one. Would they have the administration's support?
Sanders: I don't know that we have a specific policy on that front… but we are committed to making sure Iran doesn't have nuclear weapons. pic.twitter.com/Y8Mvaw2iAY
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 9, 2018
Previously in the day on Wednesday Saudi FM Adel Al-Jubeir told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that “we will do whatever it takes to protect our people. We have made it very clear that if Iran acquires a nuclear capability we will do everything we can to do the same.”
In a follow-up al-Jubeir was asked to state unambiguously that a nuclear armed Iran would mean the kingdom will work to produce its own nuclear capability, to which said firmly, “That’s what we mean.” So when Sanders was presented with this statement, all the White House Press Secretary could say is, “we are very committed to making sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons.”
And not even so much as a cautionary word from the White House regarding the Saudi FM’s bold declaration. No doubt, both the Iranians and Saudis took note of this exchange, though largely ignored across mainstream media as Al-Jazeera’s Mehdi Hasan observed: “Astonishing comment – the US has no policy on Saudi getting nukes? And yet it will be forgotten by tomorrow…”
Astonishing comment – the US has no policy on Saudi getting nukes??And yet it will be forgotten by tomorrow given all the other insane Trump-related stories that we have to digest on an hourly basis.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) May 9, 2018
And yet in response to the very next question Sanders reaffirmed that the US pullout of the Iran nuclear deal means “enormous sanctions” and “maximum pressure” will be put on Iran.
As the President said yesterday, he would like to see something happen, but we are 100 percent committed to making sure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons. And that’s — until we see that happen, we’re going to continue to put maximum pressure, enormous sanctions on them.
All of the sanctions that were in place before the deal are back in place, and we are preparing to add additional sanctions that may come as early as next week.
Notably, Iran has never publicly declared intent to build a nuclear bomb, and yet, Saudi Arabia just did on one of America’s largest and most visible news networks.
But it appears that both the White House and mainstream media merely yawned in response, content to quickly return to Iran’s supposed quest for world domination.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir says his country “will do whatever it takes to protect (its) people” if Iran restarts its nuclear weapons program, including developing its own nuclear weapons capability https://t.co/eUcIn3dpRR
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) May 9, 2018
As many commentators have already pointed out the obvious regarding US double-dealing and hypocrisy on nuclear proliferation, none of this bodes well for Trump’s impending negotiations with North Korea regarding its nuclear arsenal.
And not to mention that Wednesday’s White House press briefing just gave the Saudis the green-light to do whatever they want (though perhaps capability is another thing altogether), especially as the accepted US-Saudi-Israeli position appears to be that the Iranians were already in the process of secretly restarting their program—hence the claimed need to collapse the deal.
It is quite possible that historians will look back on all of this as the week the White House triggered a Middle East nuclear arms race.