CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: I’m Chris Matthews. Let’s play HARDBALL.
The big story tonight, the Saudi foreign minister acknowledges that the terror attacks on three foreign compounds were carried out by 15 Saudis. Meanwhile, the American ambassador to Saudi Arabia charged that the government of the kingdom did not provide the additional security that the Americans requested. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the long time Saudi ambassador to the U.S., will be here on HARDBALL to discuss the nation’s response-his nation’s response to the al Qaeda threat.
We begin with the latest on the terror attacks in Riyadh. The bombings have exposed tensions between the American and Saudi governments in the fight against terrorism.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan is the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States. Thank you, your highness, for joining us. I want to refer you to a televised address on Saudi TV last night. Crown Prince Abdullah said, quote: “We warn in particular anyone who might try to find our noble religion a justification for these horrid crimes. Anyone who does so becomes a partner to the murderers and must meet the same fate they do.” The same fate. Who are you warning there, your highness?
PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI ARABIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.S.:We’re warning some misguided people who claim to be religious scholars, and we -particularly three of them who issued a religious edict, making it acceptable to spill innocent blood. And we were chasing those people, particularly those three before the war against Iraq and they have - we believe they have escaped into northern Iraq and we are pursuing them now.
MATTHEWS: Are you getting tougher on these clerics who argue for a very severe form of Islam? A terrorist supporting Islam? Are you warning them to change their tune?
PRINCE BANDAR: Not warning them. We are declaring war on anybody who will use Islam for evil purposes. And we think those people who support violence against Arabs, Saudis, Muslims, Christians, or any other national people, and now we have gone public to declare war against them. However, that doesn’t mean we have not been after the bad guys since even before 9/11. We have. You and us, have been victims from the same group of people. Their target was our relationship with you. And we must not give them the pleasure of arguing between us when the enemy is there that needs to be gone after.
MATTHEWS: The American ambassador to your country, Robert Jordan, you know him, I’m sure. He has said that the Americans asked for added security to bolster up the defenses of that particular compound which was hit this week and that that request was rejected. There was no action taken by your government to protect our people. Why didn’t that happen? Wasn’t there enough time?
PRINCE BANDAR: Number one, Ambassador Jordan, my colleague, is a decent man. He is very clever, and I think Americans should be proud that he represents them here. He did ask for increased security to this compound. And I think the problem here is that he didn’t get any feedback. It doesn’t mean we didn’t do something about it. The concerned agency, in this case, the Air Force, checked the security measures themselves. They were adequate. The proof that they were adequate, that this specific compound had physical security barriers that the only casualties we had in that compound are the two guards outside. One Saudi Air Force guard, one civilian. Chris, I go through the same thing in America. I sometimes ask for more security for different Saudi institutions and facilities. And I get sometimes physical reaction. Sometimes I don’t see a reaction. But it doesn’t mean American security agencies did not take measures and .…..
MATTHEWS: Did you ever have - is there any history of an American terrorist attacking a Saudi in the United States?
PRINCE BANDAR: Thank God, not yet.
MATTHEWS: Well, then maybe the conditions, your highness, are more serious in Saudi Arabia and Americans need more protection. Let me ask you, whose responsibility is to it protect Americans working in Saudi Arabia? Your government’s or do we have to look out for ourselves?
PRINCE BANDAR: No. Absolutely. Anyone living in our country would not be living here if we were not friendly, and we want them to be there. And therefore it is my government’s responsibility to protect them in our country. That said, however, there is no one hundred percent protection. You’ve seen what happened in Oklahoma. You’ve seen what happened in New York and the Pentagon. We can have one hundred percent efforts …… you know, Chris, attempts to fight activities, to fight terrorism, when it succeeds, nobody knows about that. And we had plenty of that. But when it fails, it’s bad. And then we have loss of life. That’s always sad and regretful and painful.
MATTHEWS: You know .…..
PRINCE BANDAR: But this is the nature of the beast. We need to be - go - ahead.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about your country and the way Americans look at your country. We often, over the years, have been very happy with our relationship with Saudi Arabia. We get oil from your country on a steady flow at a reasonable price sometimes. And your government gets some military support from our government. We are a very friendly union. However, beginning on 9/11, the American people have begun to wonder. We had tradition back in the beginning of our country’s history. They called Tennessee the Volunteer State. The reason we called Tennessee the Volunteer State is because all the volunteers came from that state whenever we fought British or fought the Mexicans or anyone. It seems to me that the terrorists now come from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has become the volunteer state for terrorism. Why, 15 of the 19 guys who blew themselves up at the World Trade Center, and at the Pentagon, were Saudi. The people who blew up these buildings the other day, three buildings in a simultaneous attack were Saudi. Why are the Saudis the volunteer state of terrorism?
PRINCE BANDAR: I think that is an excellent question, Chris, simply because it proves my point. The Saudi-American relationship for 70 years has been solid and vital during certain times, during this history. We were even friends in the ’50s and ’60s when it was not fashionable to be your friend in this region. We stood together through thick and thin, and we arrived together until we survived the Cold War and here we are now. Now, our mutual enemy has understood the importance of this relationship, strategically. Hence, the attack on us - and a new order on what binds us together. If you noticed 15 out of the 19 terrorists on 9/11 were Saudis: now, al-Qaeda had a lot of people, hundreds from every kind of country in the world. Why did they choose just Saudis? Because that is the target. That is the target. Now, it is our choice. Either we allow the terrorists to win and prevail or we bind together, fight them, and make sure we will. But we are not going to win if we get distracted and allow the enemy to attack us and then start blaming each other.
MATTHEWS: Your highness, when we come back, I’d like to ask you two questions …… when we come back. They deal with the United States relationship with Saudi Arabia. It looks to me like there’s a new level of cooperation as of the last couple months. I want to talk to you about that. We’ll be right back with Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia ambassador to the United States. We’ll have the usual question, why do they keep beheading the suspects and thereby cover up this terrorism connection?
MATTHEWS: We’re back with Prince Bandar, who is coming to us from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He’s the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States. Prince Bandar, I have to ask you the question. The statement the other day, I think it was your statement, that the perpetrators of this attack against the American interests or facility over there that killed so many people, you said the terrorists are going to face swift and severe punishment. Will we see a situation again where your government captures the desperadoes, cuts their heads off so fast that nobody in our country ever gets to talk to them and tracks down the roots of this terrorist operation?
PRINCE BANDAR: We are in a situation where damned if I do, damned if I don’t. If we capture the criminals and we punish them severely as they deserve, we are accused of not wanting to share what they have. When we don’t - when we capture them and do nothing, we’re accused of being easy on them. The fact is, that was eight years ago or so. Different circumstances, specific group. Now we’re facing a cancer that is international. We are working together, both internationally, but specifically with the United States of America. So we have access to people you have - you are holding. You have access to people we are holding. And we are coordinating our efforts to achieve the final, put the final death nail in this cancer. But definitely, once we both are satisfied that we get all the information we need, I promise you, Chris, there will be just and swift and harsh punishment because that is the only thing those people deserve.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you the bigger political question. I have agreed with those who have said that keeping American troops based in Saudi Arabia, your holy land, has been an aggravation that neither country needs; and it’s smart to get the Air Force out of your country because it bothers so many religious people who have no interest in terrorism. It just bothers them religiously. Will the removal of U.S. forces from your country alleviate terrorism coming from your country?
PRINCE BANDAR: I think that is a very important element. The Americans did not come to my country as invaders. The Americans did not have any presence here, in the military sense, before Saddam Hussein, who’s an Arab brother, invaded another Arab brother country and occupying it. So when we asked for help, 500,000 Americans came to help us with 1,000 airplanes. Once the mission was finished, they left. They left behind 5,000 people with a few aircraft to implement the United Nations resolutions. Bin Laden, other crazies like him, other terrorists, were using that as a fig leaf. We did not compromise with terrorists and we did not, for 12 years, we did not accept to move those people, this presence from here because we believed in the mission. Which is - southern, the protection of Iraq, just like the United Nations resolutions. Once that mission was over, once Saddam’s state collapsed, we mutually came to the conclusion, and we were grateful in fact, we came to the conclusion that there’s no need for them to be here. What is the bottom line here? The people who say that the United States of America is in Iraq to stay forever should learn the lesson from American presence in Saudi Arabia that what ended with mutual consent, with friendship, when the mission is accomplished. So I think this helps us both domestically in a political way. But also, it enhances American credibility in the world, in our part of the world, that America is not a colonizer and America is a friend who comes to help. And when the mission is over, they go home. And we continue our friendship. So I think that’s a very positive development whichever way you want to look at it.
MATTHEWS: O.K. We’re with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, who’s in Riyadh. We’ll be right back with him for a few more thoughts. You’re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: We’re back with Prince Bandar, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States, just for one more question. Mr. Ambassador, a lot of Americans are looking at Saudi Arabia wondering what now is going to be different in the future. They want this relationship to make it. There are a lot of criticisms in the world, of your country. Do you believe that there are people in the country today, in this country, my country, who are out there running a negative public relations campaign against Saudi Arabia, trying to destroy the U.S.-Saudi relationship?
PRINCE BANDAR: Yes, I do. And I think it is a misguided effort. And I believe they will not succeed, simply because our relationship is based on a very solid basis. Mutual interest, underline that, mutual respect. It is not only an emotional relationship. It is not because I like you, you like me or I think - I know - I like Americans. And I think they like us. They like me. But it is based on mutual interests. And when the chips are down, we came through for each other. We have, my people have absolutely no problems with the United States of America. And terrorism is not an issue that splits us. What splits us sometimes is the issue of Palestinian-Israeli conflict. And we believe strongly if the United States of America pursues President Bush’s vision for two states, and just peace for the Israelis and the Palestinians, with security for the Israelis and dignity for the Palestinians, and their rights, America will be the most popular nation in my region. However, sometimes the perception in my part of the world, and in Saudi Arabia for sure, is that the United States of America, is too much, too biased toward Israel. That may be just a perception. But that hurts us much more than what bin Laden or al Qaeda are doing. And we are now determined, like His Royal Highness Prince Abdullah and President Bush talked the other day .…..
PRINCE BANDAR: .….. leaders and other leaders in the region are determined to make peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
PRINCE BANDAR: There will never be security for Israel unless the Palestinians get their rights and justice.
PRINCE BANDAR: And there will never be justice for the Palestinians until the Israelis get their security. Now your job and our job, because we are influential in this issue of respect, is to put those two people together to achieve it together.
MATTHEWS: O.K. Prince Bandar, we can’t do it tonight. But I appreciate very much the time you’ve given us. We’ve run out of time. It’s an honor to have you on the show. Prince Bandar bin Sultan