Professor Paul Pillar, who was CIA intelligence analyst for 28 years, says Saudi Arabia has been eager to keep pace with Iran in developing nuclear program.
“The Saudis have been interested all along in developing a nuclear program, and keeping pace with Iran involves part of their motivations,” Pillar says in an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times.
Following is the text of the interview.
Q: The Institute for Science and International Security has said that the Saudi government has accelerated research into nuclear programs to counter Iran. What is your analysis of this move?
A: The Saudis have been interested all along in developing a nuclear program, and keeping pace with Iran involves part of their motivations. It would be difficult to attribute any change in the pace of Saudi research, one way or another, to conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear agreement with Iran. There are too many other variables, and not enough time yet gone by since conclusion of the JCPOA, to reach that kind of judgment.
Q: What will be the reaction of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to this news?
A: The IAEA merely monitors compliance with whatever treaties and agreements others have negotiated. Its role regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran is one of monitoring compliance with the nuclear provisions in the agreement; it was not up to the IAEA to determine what those terms should be. The agency’s current responsibilities regarding Saudi nuclear activities have to do with any international agreements to which Saudi Arabia is already a party, especially the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. If there were to be a JCPOA-like agreement ever negotiated with Saudi Arabia, then the IAEA would have the responsibility to monitor compliance with that agreement.
Q: How the West would react to such a policy by Saudi Arabia?
A: There does not appear to be any inclination among Western governments to make an issue of Saudi nuclear activities. That situation might change if the Saudi program were to get well beyond the very preliminary stage it is in now, and especially if there were indications of any Saudi moves to acquire nuclear weapons.
Q: Some Saudi and Western experts argued Iran is gifted with abundant oil and gas reserves and it did not need nuclear energy. Will they make such argument about Saudi Arabia?
A: Although that argument did come up in debates about the agreement with Iran, it ultimately played a lesser part in the debate than did other arguments. Obviously the argument about having oil and gas would apply to Saudi Arabia just as much as to Iran. But there is a legitimate case to be made, in both Iran and Saudi Arabia, for developing nuclear power for domestic use of energy while saving more of the oil and gas for export.