King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia welcomes the Gulf Arab leaders in Riyadh, May 14, 2012.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia welcomes Gulf Arab leaders in Riyadh, May 14, 2012. Photo by AP
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Former senior U.S. diplomat Dennis Ross confirmed for the first time on Tuesday night that Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has explicitly warned the U.S. that if Iran obtains nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will seek to do so as well.

“If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons,” Abdullah told Ross during a meeting between the two in April 2009. Ross said he responded to the King’s assertion with a lengthy appeal against nuclear proliferation, but after hearing him out, the king responded by repeating the same line: “If they get nuclear weapons, we will get nuclear weapons.”

Ross’ on-the-record confirmation of Abdullah’s threat was made in a joint public appearance with Washington Institute researcher David Makovsky at New York’s 92nd Street Y. The two co-authored a book on the Middle East peace process entitled Myths, Illusions, and Peace: Finding a New Direction for America in the Middle East.

Ross’ direct quote of the Saudi king appears to be the first public confirmation of the Saudi position and the threat of a Middle East nuclear arms race if Tehran acquires a nuclear bomb. It was reported previously, though not confirmed, that Abdullah had made a similar assertion in his February 2007 summit in Riyadh with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In June 2011, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former Saudi intelligence chief and ambassador to Washington, warned senior NATO military officials that the existence of an Iranian bomb "would compel Saudi Arabia...to pursue policies which could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences."

In February of this year, the London Times quoted a “senior Saudi official” as saying that Riyadh would launch a “twin-track nuclear weapons program” should Tehran realize its ambition of obtaining a nuclear weapon.

The Saudi threat is one of the prime factors motivating Washington’s campaign to stop Tehran’s nuclear program. Extending the non-proliferation regime is one of U.S. President Barak Obama’s most cherished foreign policy and national security goals, analysts in New York said Tuesday night.

Ross said that while it would be “unrealistic” to expect serious progress in the nuclear talks with Iran after only two rounds of negotiations, the U.S. and the other P5+1 countries should set a deadline for the conclusion of diplomatic contacts – and make Tehran aware of it.

He added that recent public statements, including those made by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, about the U.S. being “militarily ready” for an attack on Iran “are not coincidental” and are aimed at increasing pressure on Tehran. According to Ross, Iran is much more concerned about an American military attack than an Israeli one because “an Israeli attack is not regime-threatening, while an American attack is.”

Ross also laid out a four-point plan for resolving the situation in Syria and reaching a “tipping point” that would see the ouster of President Assad. Ross said the Russians need to be brought on board to participate in the effort; the Alawites must be assured that there will be no acts of revenge by the Sunnis in a post-Assad era; the opposition Syrian National Council should be recognized as the alternative to the regime; and the U.S., together with Turkey and NATO, should set up “safe haven” areas in northern Syria.

Both Ross and Makovsky appeared to be impressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement on Tuesday to the INSS think tank that his aim is to prevent the establishment of a binational state, saying this new formula gives rise to optimism that Netanyahu will use his 94-seat majority in the Knesset to advance the peace process.

Ross, who resigned at the end of the year from his position in the Obama administration’s National Security Council, lavished praise on the president’s “unprecedented support” for Israel’s security. Israel’s security is “inviolable” in Obama’s eyes, he said, adding that as someone who has worked with five previous U.S. administrations, he is of the opinion that Obama’s level of support and cooperation with Israel is “better than all of his predecessors.”