2003 Transcript

Prince Saud Al-Faisal, Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs interviewed by ms. Katie Couric of NBC's 'Today'

KATIE COURIC: At perhaps no other time in history has Saudi Arabia's place in the world been under greater scrutiny, especially in the United States. Earlier this morning I had a chance to talk with Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the minister of foreign affairs. And we began by talking about what Saudi Arabia has done to stop money flowing from so-called charities to groups that may be supporting terrorism.

PRINCE SAUD: We have laws. Accountability is there. Everybody has to file statements to the government where the money is coming from, where it is going to.

MS. COURIC: It can't go outside of Saudi Arabia --

PRINCE SAUD: Absolutely, without --

MS. COURIC: -- without permission from the government?

PRINCE SAUD: Without permission and without knowledge that it is going to a correct place doing good service and not abused.

MS. COURIC: Your Highness, what are you doing to tone down anti- western and inflammatory rhetoric that's preached by clerics in mosques in Saudi Arabia?

PRINCE SAUD: You have heard the statements of the Crown Prince on many occasions in meeting the clerics, now the Ministry of Religious Affairs. And he is asking everybody that they should not do this. They should stop. They should work for understanding, as is called for by our religion.

MS. COURIC: In fact, they will be disciplined. How so?

PRINCE SAUD: They will be disciplined. They will be prevented from speaking in mosques. And there will be a check on what anybody can say in this regard. We need no inflammatory zealots who will add to the problems of the world of today.

MS. COURIC: Saudi Arabia has been accused of not assisting U.S. investigators enough in their search for information regarding these 15 hijackers and other potential terrorists.

PRINCE SAUD: I refute it completely. And not only that; I refer you to the American officials who are working with us on doing that, who have refuted that themselves. And this is -- the only way we can get out of this quandary of this accusation and counter-accusation is to establish a commission. My goodness, you establish a commission on everything. You establish a commission for the deterioration of the environment for owls in a certain forest and --

MS. COURIC: I get the idea. (Laughs.)

PRINCE SAUD: Why don't we establish a commission, a joint commission, to study the relationship between each other?

MS. COURIC: Is that something you've suggested to the U.S. administration?

PRINCE SAUD: Are we enemies or friends? I'm suggesting to you now.

MS. COURIC: Let me read this line from a sixth-grade history book.

PRINCE SAUD: I hope the same thing happens on the other side, too.

MS. COURIC: Let me read this line from a sixth-grade history book used here in Saudi Arabia. Quote: "Arabs and Muslims will succeed, God willing, in beating the Jews and their allies." You hear that and think, "Well, no wonder hate is being cultivated in Saudi Arabia."

PRINCE SAUD: (Inaudible.)

MS. COURIC: Why is that kind of rhetoric permitted in books read by school children?

PRINCE SAUD: Going back to scriptures -- and I don't want to be confrontational -- there was a time where there was conflict. But we are now preventing these from coming into the school curriculum. And the Ministry of Education is working assiduously on that. But we hope also, on the other side, we do the same thing.

MS. COURIC: Let me talk quickly about reform. I know that all women in Saudi Arabia have been issued ID cards, which many believe is a precursor to giving them driver's licenses. There's also talk about phasing out gradually the muttawa, the religious police; even talk of possible democratic elections sometime in the future. How difficult will it be to institute some of the changes that I've just described?

PRINCE SAUD: Well, one can never diminish the difficulties of bringing about reforms. But they are necessary reforms. We believe that they are necessary reforms and that they have to come.

For women, you probably will meet many women or you have met many women. Probably the driving license is the least of their worries. They want jobs. They want to be able to compete equally in the job market. They want to have their rights in that. Driving is a side issue on that. If a woman is working and earning her income, driving is the least of her problems, to get authorization for that in Saudi Arabia.

We are moving. We are moving on every level. But we are moving with one constraint; that whatever we do in terms of reforms will not break the social fabric in the country. I can assure you, knowing from personal experience in my home, that --

MS. COURIC: You have three daughters.

PRINCE SAUD: (Laughs.) And a wife. (Laughs.) The women are going to take their rights whether we like it or not. And that is for sure.

MS. COURIC: Finally, the war. One Saudi official told me, when it comes to war, your country will give the United States what it needs, not what it wants, and what it needs being permission to fly over Saudi territory, command-and-control operations, search-and- rescue missions. What it wants, perhaps, and what you will not okay: Offensive missions launched from Saudi soil, U.S. ground troops.

If there is evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and if the U.N. Security Council authorizes force -- two significant "ifs," admittedly -- will you support military action against Iraq, even if public opinion in your country is against it?

PRINCE SAUD: Well, look, what we are working for is the prevention of use of military force. Why? Because military force is going to create more problems than it makes for solutions. Now, if the United Nations finds there is material breach and that military action is viable and feasible, we are asking, "Give us a chance."

MS. COURIC: But how difficult will it (be to) achieve these results peacefully? It's not as if Saddam Hussein will say, "Hey, guilty. See ya later."

PRINCE SAUD: No, but there is -- Iraq is not Saddam Hussein alone. And it is a mistake to think of Iraq as Saddam Hussein alone. Iraq is a country that's been there for at least 5,000 years. What you are -- if you tell the Iraqis that war is coming, regardless of any conditions that apply, they will support Saddam Hussein.

If you tell them, "No, we want your established order to remain until we create the transition period that brings multifaceted democratic institutions -- (and look who's talking in this?) -- multilateral democratic institutions into being," where is his support if he wants to (do it?)?"

MS. COURIC: So you believe if there is evidence of weapons of mass destruction, that the end of Saddam Hussein's regime can be worked out peacefully and will have the support of the Iraqi people?

PRINCE SAUD: At least give us a chance. What would be (lost?) in that? If, in the final analysis, we don't succeed, those who are working for war can have their war as they please, but which is going to be a catastrophe for the region.

MS. COURIC: Your Highness, Prince Saud al-Faisal, minister of foreign affairs here in Saudi Arabia, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it so much.

PRINCE SAUD: Thank you so much. But I hope next time you bring Matt and Al with you.

MS. COURIC: (Laughs.) You said Al would have no trouble forecasting the weather here in Saudi Arabia.

PRINCE SAUD: May I encourage Matt on his bravery on his haircut, too.

MS. COURIC: You may want to send him one of your head pieces.

PRINCE SAUD: I have done the same as he did. The only people who appreciated that are my daughters. My wife hates it.

MS. COURIC: (Laughs.) Your Highness, thank you again.

PRINCE SAUD: Thank you very much.