Second Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector-General Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, in an interview published yesterday in the Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat, voiced his confidence that the Arabs would emerge winners in their present conflict with Israel, and gave assurances that the Kingdom would continue to support the Palestinians "until Al-Quds [Jerusalem] is liberated and the Palestinian authority raises its flag over the liberated territories."
As for Iraq, Prince Sultan declared that Saudi Arabia is ready to welcome it back into the Arab fold. "We are ready", he said, "to forget the past, to overcome the present difficulties, and we welcome Iraq's return into the Arab fold." He went on to state that the Kingdom has absolutely no interest in imposing sanctions against Baghdad or creating any political and military tension, saying: "Our hope is that Iraq will be able to alleviate the suffering of its people by complying with the UN Security Council resolutions." He referred to the Kingdom's stance, reiterated at the most recent Arab Summit in Amman, as being supportive of the Iraqi people, and declared: "We have offered them everything and stood with them in all matters; it is the Iraqi government that has rejected our initiatives."
Prince Sultan dismissed the idea that the Arabian Gulf region is under the protection of foreign forces, referring to such comments as biased and remarking: "The best way to stop foreign ambition is to shut out the possibility of chaos in the region." He went on to confirm military cooperation among the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states, and to deny reports that military aircraft carrying out strikes against Iraq had been setting off from Saudi territory, declaring that any planes flying from any of the GCC states are on air surveillance and security missions only, and not allowed to conduct any military operations.
Pursuing the false idea of the security of the GCC region being in the hands of foreign forces, Prince Sultan declared that protection of Saudi Arabia is carried out by the Saudi Armed Forces, and added: "The claim about foreign protection in the Gulf is inaccurate. The presence of foreign forces in GCC waters is not a new development. These are international waters, like most other seas and gulfs in the world." As for the idea that the GCC countries require political changes more than military development, he remarked: "Why is there talk about new arrangements, when the GCC is more successful and more stable than ever? The essential matter is to work for the development of our potential so as to better our situation."
Prince Sultan denied that there were plans to militarize Saudi society, expanding military institutions and increasing military spending. "The development and security of the region", he pointed out, "will not be based on more tanks and warplanes and ships. There will be progress at the educational and economic levels, and all other levels, not just that of military development." He went on to commend the Kingdom's economic reforms introduced in line with international developments. Expressing support for Saudi Arabia to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), he insisted that this should not be at the expense of the country's Islamic faith, and declared: "We have defended our faith for a century, and we will continue to do so." He went on to say: "I think that the WTO, realizing the Kingdom's economic weight, will take into account the importance of its accession, and will respect its uniqueness."
As for Iran, Prince Sultan stressed that Riyadh's good relations with Tehran are not at the expense of the right of the United Arab Emirates to the three disputed Gulf islands, Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Moussa, adding: "Our good relations with Iran could be used to settle this issue." He urged the two Islamic countries to settle their differences in order to reinforce peace and stability in the region.
Prince Sultan highlighted the Kingdom's ongoing efforts to unify the Arab ranks, declaring: "We have always worked to forge Arab unity and solidarity and to settle differences between Arab countries." Saudi Arabia, he noted, was the first to call for a conference on Arab and Islamic solidarity, held in Makkah during the reign of King Abdulaziz.
On the oil situation, Prince Sultan reiterated that the Kingdom is shouldering its responsibility for oil, which constitutes the world's major source of energy, and while protecting its interests, will not involve the world in any turmoil arising from oil problems. The Kingdom's wise oil policy, he noted, had yielded positive results.