Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to Washington, said last week in a panel discussion in a Carnegie conference in Washington that the UAE is not happy about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He said that the Iranian regime benefited the most from the deal because it still has its uranium enrichment program in place, adding “while we made a commitment to forgo uranium enrichment”, implying that other Middle Eastern countries would like to have the same uranium enrichment capability.
The UAE’s first of four reactors should be in use in a few months, making it the first Arab state that has a civilian nuclear program.
Other Middle Eastern countries with ongoing plans to implement their own independent nuclear programs are Ehypy, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
It could be because of energy needs, but it could also be that these plans are advancing due to the threat from Iran.
As it stands, the Iran nuclear deal allows the Islamic Republic to pursue unrestricted uranium enrichment in the future, other Middle Eastern countries have reasons to implement enrichment programs. Despite pressure from the United States, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have decided to keep their options open regarding uranium enrichment.
Another factor is inter-Arab competition because Saudi-Arabia, for example, does not want the UAE to have one-up. Its plans include 16 nuclear reactors and officials in the kingdom say that the site will soon be operational. Nuclear experts have been sent abroad for training.
Saudi Arabia has also completed nuclear cooperation agreements with China, South Korea and Russia. A source said in 2015 that Saudi Arabia was keen to have another look at domestic enrichment and said that it no longer felt obliged by the United States agreement. Al-Otaiba said to Congressman Ed Royce: “Your worst enemy has achieved this right to enrich. It's a right to enrich now that your friends are going to want, too, and we won't be the only one.”
If the Iran nuclear deal does not collapse, the Middle Eastern neighbours of Iran have approximately a decade to pursue their emerging nuclear plans. Looking further into the future, the nuclear programs can cut down on military program development.
The future of the nuclear deal is uncertain. During the election campaign, Donald Trump said that he would scrap the deal – saying it was the “worst” deal. However, for now, he has pledged to enforce the deal and impose additional sanctions.
Whatever happens with the deal, the Middle Eastern neighbours of Iran want to match or exceed its nuclear capabilities causing a possible nuclear arms race.