Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan was interviewed on April 26, 2004 by Chris Matthows on MSNBC’s 'Hardball', covering issues of criticism of Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Saudi relations, bin Laden, 9-11, Iraq, and gas prices.
CHRIS MATTHEWS: To kick it off, yesterday I interviewed Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan in Washington. I began by asking him why many hawks in the Bush administration consider Saudi Arabia the bad guys.
MATTHEWS: Why are so many people around this administration and supportive of the war with Iraq targeting your country now for assault?
PRINCE BANDAR BIN SULTAN, SAUDI ARABIAN AMBASSADOR: I know the president isn't. And the vice president isn't. And senior cabinet officers are not.
The rest is mystifying for me. There's no reason why people would be anti-Saudi Arabia, particularly if they're in the government, because they're...
MATTHEWS: You know what I'm talking about? Criticism's coming from the civilians in the Defense Department, people who support the war in Iraq, what we call the neo conservative crowd.
The ideologues behind this war have targeted your country, not just Iraq. What's that about?
PRINCE BANDAR: Now that you specified it, I can assure you, all of those people, when I meet them, they're very friendly and nice with me. So I don't know why.
MATTHEWS: But the pen is mightier than the sword. And they keep nailing your country. They say you're the bad guys.
PRINCE BANDAR: Well, obviously, it's not working.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about that division.
You have a great dynastic, almost, relationship among the Bush family and the Saudi royal family. Friendship for generations, going back to probably the oil days of the late '40s when you had Zapata Oil over there.
Why is that -- again, why is that not shared by those in the administration who seriously, and their supporters of the press, they just don't like Saudi Arabia. I mean, it keeps coming up.
You must get the clippings every morning.
PRINCE BANDAR: I do.
MATTHEWS: It's always bad about Saudi Arabia. It's never good.
PRINCE BANDAR: That is true. But that's the bad news.
The good news is every time people predict that, they get eggs on their face. Because Saudi Arabia has had a consistent solid relationship from the time my grandfather met with Roosevelt until today.
You talk about very good relationship between our family and the Bush family. We had good relationship with Clinton family. I went and saw a movie with him in the White House.
We had good family relationship with Reagan. I go to the family quarters with the President Reagan and his family. Carter. All of them. We know them well.
Why nobody says the Saudi family and the Clinton family or the Carter family? It is -- it is strange, what's happening in this town. But I can understand after 9/11.
MATTHEWS: Is someone running a public relations campaign against your government in this country?
PRINCE BANDAR: I believe so. And...
MATTHEWS: Can you tell me who you think it is? Or do you have to be diplomatic?
PRINCE BANDAR: I think I'd better be diplomatic. But I think it's not a mystery who. Your audience know. But what I wanted to say is...
MATTHEWS: Is it because of your country's perceived antipathy towards Israel?
PRINCE BANDAR: That is one, one part. I find, to be very honest with you, some of the hard -- some of the very conservative Christian religious people are more aggressive against my country than some of the Jewish organizations.
MATTHEWS: What's that about?
PRINCE BANDAR: That is the mystery that I still cannot figure out. There's no reason why that should be the case.
But I can understand. Part of it is after 9/11, with 15 Saudis being out of the 19. But as I said before, on your show and other shows, that this shows you that 9/11 planners were targeting not just America but the Saudi-American relationship.
Why? Saudi Arabia is the flagship for one million Muslims, with the holy lands being with us.
MATTHEWS: Your government has protected the holy land.
PRINCE BANDAR: And we've protected and served the holy land. Saudi Arabia has the largest oil reserve in the world.
All these things means that bin Laden and his ilk will never control the Islamic world if they don't control that part of the Islamic world. And...
MATTHEWS: Why do they choose to go in our direction? They hit us, they hit your relationship with us.
PRINCE BANDAR: Because that is very, very important relationship. And the history tells that we always stood up with you when it counted.
PRINCE BANDAR: And when it was not popular. And you always stood up with us when it counted, also.
Think about it. In 1990, America sent half a million soldiers to help us, vis-a-vis the invasion of Kuwait. That was not done in Bosnia.
So those people realize that if they can destroy the Saudi American relationship, then they have a chance to win there. They almost succeeded after 9/11.
And unfortunately, there are some people who are misguided in the body politic in this country and in Arabia, who still don't want to take yes for an answer. They still talk about the people I smuggled from this country.
Why, the 9/11 commission just came out and that, there was nothing there. They still talk about the charity.
MATTHEWS: You know the power in this country of, especially people who live in New York. I know a lot of people who live in New York. They still, to them, everything changed after 9/11. They're terrified still to this day. Women and men both.
And they're terrified because they see 15 young Saudis give their lives. And not just give their lives to get us. And these are people that just came here.
But were shrieking in ecstasy as those planes hit the building. They were thinking that they were going to heaven, to nirvana. Absolutely convinced of their goodness.
We can call them evil ones. You can call them evil ones. But as long as young Saudis think they're good when they do this -- can you explain it? Is it nationalism? Is it generational? Or is it religious?
And the reason I say it is nationalistic is bin Laden says, there's a reason why these young people kill themselves. In 1921, 80 years ago, Europe carved up that part of the world, your part of the world.
And they said there will be an Israel, basically. There will be a Saudi. We'll be Heshimites. You guys knocked out the Heshimites. But basically, the Brits and the French put your part of the world together.
Is that what the anger is about? Explain to me why bin Laden hates us. And why do those kids hate us?
PRINCE BANDAR: Bin Laden...
MATTHEWS: They did before they committed suicide.
PRINCE BANDAR: Right. Bin Laden started with good intentions and went off the reservation somewhere in the middle of that and became a cult. And now he doesn't hate you. He hates all of us.
You should have heard the sermons this week of our al-Imam, religious leaders after the bombing that took -- that was done to my country, in our capital three days ago.
Bin Laden, the first time I met bin Laden, he came to see me with his brother in Saudi Arabia to thank me for the effort we're doing to get the Americans to help the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan.
So our relationship with America has always been cashed in to support Arab and Muslim causes. And...
MATTHEWS: But that's so interesting to Americans. We were on your side.
PRINCE BANDAR: So were we.
MATTHEWS: And we were on the side of Mujahedeen, because we wanted to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan.
PRINCE BANDAR: Correct.
MATTHEWS: And yet that impulse, that nationalistic impulse to throw out the foreigner, is it any different than their impulse to throw us out of Saudi Arabia? Is that the same impulse?
PRINCE BANDAR: You see, there's a perception made that everybody in Saudi Arabia is a bin Laden. Or everybody sympathizes. Not you. I'm saying, I hear that every day in the media here.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me ask you how we could have avoided 9/11.
If we had not had our 10,000 troops in Saudi Arabia all these years since the war, the Gulf War, would that have prevented those young men from wanting to come out and suicide?
PRINCE BANDAR: No.
MATTHEWS: Was it the insult on the land, on the holy land? What was the motive?
PRINCE BANDAR: Well, I'm telling you. The motive became that they considered anyone who is not a believer in what they think is an infidel.
People here think infidel means they are Muslim. Those people think Saudis who are not with them are infidels. Some of those people, Chris, they would not shake hands with their parents because they watch TV. I mean, it is really far out.
MATTHEWS: Because their parents watch TV?
PRINCE BANDAR: Or they will not eat from the same plate. So this is not even a fringe, not extreme. This is a cult.
MATTHEWS: But we understand there's two main groups of Muslims. There's the Sunni.
PRINCE BANDAR: Yes.
MATTHEWS: And the Shia.
PRINCE BANDAR: Shia.
MATTHEWS: Which -- what are these -- Where are the bin Laden people fitting in here?
PRINCE BANDAR: They're Sunnis. They're Sunnis, yes.
MATTHEWS: All right. Well, what do they have against other Sunnis? Your government, for example.
PRINCE BANDAR: First, they are against Shia total. They think they should be killed.
PRINCE BANDAR: Shia. And that is preposterous, because they're Muslims, too.
And they're against anything to do with modernization. They want us to go back to the Seventh Century, basically.
And if you're Amish, you call them. If you want to stay before -- they're still -- yes, as long as it's people. But those people feel they are driven. That everybody who is not with them is an atheist, is an infidel. That includes the religious leaders, et cetera.
But let me...
MATTHEWS: Do you fear them?
PRINCE BANDAR: I really don't fear them.
MATTHEWS: I mean, you have a bodyguard. Is that because of your fear of bin Laden or is it just political protection?
PRINCE BANDAR: I think if you are in Washington and you are a Dallas Cowboy fan, you should fear from the Redskin fans. I don't fear them per se.
MATTHEWS: That's a lighthearted...
PRINCE BANDAR: That's the reason I have a bodyguard.
MATTHEWS: Is your government targeted by bin Laden as well as our government?
PRINCE BANDAR: Absolutely. Our government and our people now. And this is -- this is the big mistake they made when they began to hurt Arab Muslim Saudis and blow them to pieces. That's when the Saudi people began to consolidate.
But let me tell but the Saudi attitudes you asked me about, anti-Americanism. This is a poll from John Zogby. This is an American poll. Not Saudi. These statistics.
Ninety-one percent of Saudis say the people of Saudi Arabia have no quarrel with the people of the United States of America. Ninety-five percent of the Saudi people believe that bin Laden's claim -- actions are not consistent with their values. Ninety-four percent of Saudis feel bin Laden's actions have harmed both the kingdom and the people of Saudi Arabia.
Then "The New York Times" comes with an article that says people have bin Laden's picture on their T-shirts. Well, how many people did they see? Ten? A 100? This is 12 million people there.
Second, people talk about...
MATTHEWS: That doesn't mean -- In this country, you see a lot of young kids on liberal college campuses with Che Guevara. They think it's no different than Bob Marley.
PRINCE BANDAR: Exactly.
MATTHEWS: But what does it mean to have a bin Laden T-shirt on in your country? Is that an act of war? It's legal, obviously.
PRINCE BANDAR: It is not legal.
MATTHEWS: It's not legal?
PRINCE BANDAR: No. Because now, No. 1. Everybody talks about bin Laden and Saudis. We have stripped his nationality in 1995.
Chris, at the time when we were calling some of those people terrorists, your government and the west are calling them dissidents.
And when we were told, if you let them just speak their mind, freedom of speech, it would be OK. Guess what? You heard what the speech was, and now you understand why we didn't like it.
MATTHEWS: I could say the same thing to President Mubarak, too.
PRINCE BANDAR: Exactly. They killed -- they want to kill Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and now we know they want to kill Muslims who don't agree with them.
MATTHEWS: We're coming back with Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the U.S. When we return, why young Saudis are heading off to Iraq to fight and kill Americans.
And later, I'll ask Prince Bandar what Saudi Arabia plans to do about America's skyrocketing gasoline prices.
You're watching HARDBALL's seventh anniversary week on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, Prince Bandar, Saudi Arabia's ambassador of the United States on why young Saudis are leaving home to fight Americans in Iraq, when HARDBALL's seventh anniversary week continues.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL's seventh anniversary. More now with my interview with Prince Bandar, the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States.
I asked Prince Bandar about reports this weekend in "The New York Times" that young Saudis are leaving Saudi Arabia to fight and kill Americans in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: "The New York Times" reported this past several days, that a lot of people from your country, it's not just that, the 15 people were part of the attack on Iraq.
PRINCE BANDAR: Right.
MATTHEWS: But a lot of young people in your country are getting, they're saying goodbye to their parents, their girlfriends, their wives, whatever. They're packing up and they're heading across country into Iraq to fight us.
Explain why they're giving up their lives, their whole being to go get killed fighting us. Why are they doing that?
PRINCE BANDAR: If -- If this is true, Chris, this would be a major development in my country. But with all due respect, just because "The New York Times" said it, it doesn't have to be right.
MATTHEWS: You know, you're talking to somebody who disagrees with you. I don't think "The New York Times" makes up stories.
PRINCE BANDAR: No, I don't think they make up stories, but I think they met 10 people and they said that.
MATTHEWS: Explain the 10.
PRINCE BANDAR: Why the 10?
MATTHEWS: Why does anybody -- if this country had any Americans, young Americans. I have to tell you something, going anywhere besides fighting the war we're fighting, off on their own like they did back in Spain in the 1930s and went to war and got themselves killed, we would consider it quite interesting. We'd want to know why. You're not interested, are you?
PRINCE BANDAR: No. We are interested. We don't see that as "The New York Times" described it. Our borders with Iraq is very important to us so that no one flow either in or out of it.
And we're not seeing that kind of movement, to be very honest with you.
MATTHEWS: So there's no recruitment -- There's no recruitment either by al Qaeda or by any other organizations of young Saudis to go into Iraq and fight our coalition?
PRINCE BANDAR: There may be attempts.
MATTHEWS: Why are they doing it?
PRINCE BANDAR: They're doing it because...
MATTHEWS: You've got a poll there saying we're all popular in your country.
PRINCE BANDAR: Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Well, who are these people that don't think we're so popular, and they're going into Iraq to fight us?
PRINCE BANDAR: If you're going to make the judgment on Saudi Arabia as a culture, as a country, based on those few people. Can you imagine what we would think about your culture if we judged everybody who is blond and blue eyes, have to watch out because he's going to blow up another Oklahoma like McVeigh did?
MATTHEWS: Yes. But that was disturbing to our country. We have been very conscious of the fact we have some young kids in this country, and high school age, who are very alienated by cliques and the jocks and that whole thing. We're all trying to figure that stuff out.
PRINCE BANDAR: Same here. Why are we different?
MATTHEWS: I'm more interested than you are. Are you interested in the fact that you've people who grow up the way you did, under similar circumstances...
PRINCE BANDAR: Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: And they're giving up everything to go kill Americans?
PRINCE BANDAR: Or kill Saudis. The thing is much more sophisticated than just kill Americans. They're killing Saudis right now.
And we are not going after them just with force, Chris. We are using force and an actual dialogue.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you. You're very careful as a diplomat, but maybe I'll try one more time.
If you were an American, and you spent most of your life here, actually. But if you've grown up here and you're a native American and you cared more about this country than Saudi Arabia.
Would you salute the president's very aggressive hawkish tendency, preemption, prevention, go to Iraq, in addition to fighting al Qaeda. Would you be that hawkish if you were an American, as this president?
PRINCE BANDAR: Before 9/11, no. After 9/11, yes.
MATTHEWS: Would you continue this hunt for terrorists? Would you go into Iran? Would you go into -- would you get tougher even with Syria?
PRINCE BANDAR: I would that pick up a fight just for the sake of picking a fight.
MATTHEWS: What about Syria?
PRINCE BANDAR: Same thing. Because remember, each situation is different.
Libya has given up all its, without even a fight. North Korea is now trying to look for an agreement. Iran, they signed an agreement.
So people have to understand. The Iraq and Afghanistan were unique.
It didn't start in 2001 when this president took over. This the second war we have with this guy. This is 13 years with him.
I said when I left that meeting with Cheney and -- Vice President Cheney and Secretary Rumsfeld and General Meyers, "If Saddam had any brains, he will accept the deal they're giving him diplomatically through the U.N. Because there's going to be war, and he's finished."
But he didn't listen. He didn't learn.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, I'll ask Prince Bandar what Saudi Arabia is doing about the rising cost of gasoline in this country and whether there's a deal to lower prices just before the election.
You're watching HARDBALL's seventh anniversary week on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL's seventh anniversary week.
In his new book, "Plan of Attack," Bob Woodward writes about a secret deal to lower gasoline prices in this country just before election day. I asked Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., about it.
MATTHEWS: Are we going to have cheaper oil prices in November? Are you going to make good on your deal?
PRINCE BANDAR: I think...
MATTHEWS: Are you going to make good on this deal?
PRINCE BANDAR: No. 1, Chris, there was no deal.
MATTHEWS: So we're not going to...
PRINCE BANDAR: No. 2.
MATTHEWS: Are you going to give us higher priced oil just to prove there's no deal? Is the average consumer going to get screwed so you can prove we didn't have a deal?
PRINCE BANDAR: Damned if I do, damned if I don't.
MATTHEWS: Well, how about you come in with -- Why don't you make a deal with me now? Why don't you -- Can you deliver cheaper prices? Can you get it down to $25? What is it now?
PRINCE BANDAR: We're trying our best. We believe that an oil price should be between $22 and $28. Anything more than that is bad for your economy and bad for us. And we just...
MATTHEWS: Would you like to see Bush reelected?
PRINCE BANDAR: I said once when somebody asked me, I like to see every president I work with to get reelected. But that decision is the American people's decision. Not mine.
MATTHEWS: Would you like to see cheaper oil that would help Bush get reelected?
PRINCE BANDAR: I like to see cheaper oil that will help the American economy and the American people.
MATTHEWS: Have you met with John Kerry yet?
PRINCE BANDAR: I know John -- Senator Kerry for a long time. And - but I haven't met him recently.
MATTHEWS: Would he be a good friend of Saudi Arabia?
PRINCE BANDAR: I have no reason to think otherwise, because if the president is anything to go by, we were friends with all presidents of the United States of America.
But remember, Chris, you guys are going through your tribal warfare now. And any common sense talk is not worth discussing until you finish this tribal warfare. And then I think we can be more rational.
MATTHEWS: That's what you call elections here, right?
PRINCE BANDAR: That's what we call your elections, because we know what tribal warfare means.
MATTHEWS: Actually, elections are better.
But anyway, thank you very much, your highness, Prince Bandar bin Sultan. Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon and changing your plans.
PRINCE BANDAR: Chris, thank you very much and congratulations for your anniversary.
MATTHEWS: Thank you.
It's a very Middle Eastern number, too. Seven. Very interesting number.
PRINCE BANDAR: Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: A very Arabic number.
PRINCE BANDAR: It will be a lucky number.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much.
PRINCE BANDAR: Thank you, Chris.