2003 Transcript

Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Saudi minister of Foreign Affairs in NBC 'Today' interview after White House visit

transcript)KATIE COURIC:  Can war be averted at this point?  One of the most influential voices actively seeking a political solution is Saudi Arabia.  Saudi leaders have been in discussions with a number of countries.  Some non-military possibilities include granting Saddam Hussein and his top officials asylum in an undisclosed country. Sources say progressive military action squeezing the Iraqi military and -- (inaudible) -- them to surrender is another.

But it's unclear how much support there is from the UN or U.S. for either option.  On Thursday, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, met with President Bush at the White House.  I talked with him shortly after and I asked him about the purpose of his visit.

(Begin videotape.)

PRINCE SAUD:  I had a message that I carried from the King and from the Crown Prince, and it dealt with the situation with Iraq in the Middle East.  We had a wonderful discussion today, and I came out very pleased with the results of it.

MS. COURIC:  Can you give us a little bit more information, Your Royal Highness, about the nature of your conversation, about the ideas you put forth to President Bush?

PRINCE SAUD:  Well, we talked about Iraq.  And I was struck by the patience that he's showing in dealing with this intricate and difficult question.

MS. COURIC:  Can you describe President Bush's frame of mind at this point in time?  Does he seem to be willing to allow UN inspectors to have more time to complete their job?  And, if so, how much more time?

PRINCE SAUD:  Well, he seemed very calm.  He seemed very resolute, that I must say he was.  But he also seemed to look at the issue of conflict as a last resort.

MS. COURIC:  I understand a proposal being put forth by Saudi Arabia involves a UN Security Council resolution of amnesty for Saddam Hussein, coupled with a resolution authorizing military action against Iraq.  There would be a brief window of opportunity during which Saddam could be presented with both proposals and basically given a chance to leave the country before hostilities begin.  Is that an accurate description of the Saudi proposal?

PRINCE SAUD:  Well, not really (putting?) a Saudi proposal so much as eliciting proposals from the members themselves.  We are urging them on some issues, like the territorial integrity, the unity of Iraq, not to allow the country to fall into chaos.  These are the ideas we are putting forward to them, and we are hoping that they'll come with the ideas for resolution by themselves.

MS. COURIC:  Is one way of maintaining civil order, though, is that offering Saddam Hussein, his family, and perhaps top Iraqi officials, amnesty in another country?  Was that a point of discussion when you met with representatives, permanent members of the Security Council?

PRINCE SAUD:  No, we didn't talk about the personality of Saddam Hussein.  We talked about civil order in Iraq -- the police, the people who make the trains run, the sewages work, the security forces that make law and order.  If you remove those and they go away, what happens to the country?  It falls into chaos.

And (we urge them?) again with an idea that we had, that even when they reach a Security Council decision, even if the decision is conflict, is war, to allow for a grace period for the Arab countries to try to intervene, to prevent that war from happening.

MS. COURIC:  Can you confirm for me one of the political solutions would be offering Saddam amnesty in a yet-to-be-named country?

PRINCE SAUD:  No, we haven't talked about that.

MS. COURIC:  No discussion whatsoever about that?

PRINCE SAUD:  No, we haven't talked about that.  We haven't talked about that.

MS. COURIC:  Have other countries suggested that to you?

PRINCE SAUD:  They may have talked about it with each other, but not with us.

MS. COURIC:  What do you make of President Bush's statement that it would be a matter of weeks, not months, before military action?  In your judgment, does that square with statements coming from the White House today that the president is serious about diplomacy and wants to give it time to work?  What is your sense?

PRINCE SAUD:  He is consulting, that's for sure.  He is taking the counsel that is being offered.  And he is not precipitously moving into an action that could result in a bad result.

MS. COURIC:  What would you and other Saudi officials like to hear from Secretary of State Powell next week?  What will convince you that military action is warranted in the perhaps very-near future?

PRINCE SAUD:  We want to avoid conflict completely.  That is our hope.  But the thing is not in our hands.  It's in the hands of the Security Council.

MS. COURIC:  Given Hans Blix's report, though, earlier this week about the lack of cooperation by the Iraqis, coupled with the president's State of the Union address, do you believe a peaceful resolution is possible? 

PRINCE SAUD:  We think if Iraq comes clean, we think if Iraq shows what it has, there's still time.

MS. COURIC:  If Iraq fails to come clean -- and the ball is in their court -- what will the ramifications be?

PRINCE SAUD:  I hate to think what will happen to the people of Iraq if another conflict (breaks down?).

MS. COURIC:  Crown Prince Abdullah, when I spoke with him in Saudi Arabia, said, quote: "I have a strange sense that it may not come to war, in spite of the momentum of movement and buildup in that direction.  I can't explain it, but that's my sense."  The sense in this country, Your Highness, is that war is inevitable. What is your sense?

PRINCE SAUD:  I hope he's right.  I hope he's right, for that's the best solution.