Speaking to reporters at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington Thursday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal discussed a wide range of issues, including the worsening situation in Iraq, Iran’s role in the region, and America’s public diplomacy efforts in the Arab world.
Prince Saud warned that the situation in Iraq is very dangerous and could lead to disintegration if things continue as they are. “There seems to be no dynamic now that is pulling the country together. All the dynamics there are pushing the people away from each other,” he said.
The greatest threat to Iraqi unity is not the Kurdish demand for an autonomous region, Prince Saud said, but efforts to divide Iraq’s Arab population into Sunnis and Shiites.
“Unless something is done to bring the people of Iraq together, a constitution alone or an election alone won’t do it. And this is what we are suggesting, that the Arabs of Iraq should be urged to unite, that the Shiites of Iraq should open channels and bring their brethren the Sunnis away from the resistance groups and into the political process that is going on,” Prince Saud said. “Guns don’t speak, they just kill.”
Saudi Arabia fears that a disintegration of Iraq would draw neighboring countries into conflict, Prince Saud said. In the event of a split, the country would divide into three parts – Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite – which would fight over Iraq’s natural resources. Iran would help the Shiites, while Turkey has made it clear it will not allow a Kurdish state on its border. “I don’t see how the Arab countries are going to be left out of the conflict in one way or another,” he said. “I think this is what is going to happen if things continue as they are.”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Prince Saud said he does not think Iraq has crossed the threshold into civil war. “Not yet. I think it can be retrieved,” he stated.
Prince Saud pointed out that both the United States and Saudi Arabia have the same objective vis-à-vis Iraq. “We agree on the objective, and that is important. We all want a free Iraq, we all want a prosperous Iraq and a united Iraq,” he said.
As for Iran’s role in Iraq, Prince Saud warned that Iranian efforts to interfere in Iraq would be “very dangerous.”
Asked if he feared a U.S.-Iranian conflict, Prince Saud replied, “I don’t see one looming.”
He said that Saudi Arabia has a “very frank” relationship with Iran, and that Iran and Saudi Arabia had always agreed upon a policy of a Gulf region free of weapons of mass destruction. “So when we worry it is a worry that emanates from previous discussion that we have and in which there were assurances that we are pursuing the same policy for the region,” he said. “We will continue to have dialogue with them, we will mention these worries that we have to them, and we are sure that we can reach an accommodation in which all the interests of the countries of the region are taken in a collective manner.”
Turning to America’s public diplomacy efforts in the Arab world, Prince Saud remarked that the Arab view of America is basically a healthy one under a surface of anger at a perceived double-standard in the U.S. handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“They [Arabs] still remember that America is the land of self-determination, the land that dealt with the world on principle father than on the interests of its business community like the continental powers of Europe. This basic healthy background is just below the surface and can emerge if the Palestinian question is justly settled,” he said.
Prince Saud recounted that, according to U.S. officials, after Hurricane Katrina, ordinary Saudis flooded the U.S. Embassy’s telephone lines asking what they could do to help. “Now that, under any circumstances, could not be considered an inimical feeling on the part of the Saudis for the American people,” he commented.
Remarking on the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri, Prince Saud said, “Let the cards fall where they may and let the guilty come out whoever they are. That can only be a healthy thing for the future of the region and for the future of Lebanon.”Transcript of interview