Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki Al-Faisal discussed a range of issues with reporters at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia yesterday, including Iraq, terrorism, reform in Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the recent Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) summit. Prince Turki’s meeting with US reporters yesterday was his second of the week.
Commenting on Iraq, Prince Turki that he is an optimist, and that he sees good things taking place there despite the difficult situation. He cited the recent reconciliation conference among the various Iraqi factions that took place in Cairo and the upcoming elections, which will be indicative of the coming together of Iraqi factions and will give the Iraqi government the legitimacy it needs to move forward. Prince Turki pointed out that Saudi Arabia does not support any single Iraqi group, but will deal with any of them.
The ambassador added that he was surprised that no weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq following Saddam Hussein’s ouster. Saudi Arabia believed Saddam had WMD, although there was no specific information, he said. Prince Turki served as the Director General of the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), the Kingdom’s main foreign intelligence service, from 1977 to 2001.
Addressing the insurgency in Iraq, Prince Turki commented that terrorists are using political actions by the US for their own purposes. “Terrorists use whatever excuse is offered to them,” he commented. The prince said that while the US invasion of Iraq may have accelerated global terrorism, he believes terrorism would have continued on a global scale with or without the invasion because terrorism is a disease that is ideologically motivated.
Prince Turki stressed that terrorism is a global threat, not country-specific, and requires a global response. “Response [to terrorism] should be on a global scale,” he said, noting that an international counterterrorism center – as recommended by the Riyadh Declaration – would be one way to enhance global cooperation in fighting terrorism. He pointed out that the Kingdom’s successes in terrorism are due to better intelligence, improved technical know-how and an exchange of information with other countries.
Turning to Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network, Prince Turki speculated that bin Laden is likely still alive. If the terrorist had been killed there would be indicators such as messages on jihadist Web sites or social signs including mourning among his relatives and supporters, the prince said.
However, Prince Turki questioned bin Laden’s leadership of Al Qaeda, pointing out that there appears to have been a shift towards Al Qaeda No. 2 Ayman Al-Zawahiri, who has “done all the talking” lately.
Whoever the leader might be, the Al Qaeda network is still a threat, Prince Turki warned. It exists as a cult with a leadership and a philosophy, and remains able to recruit adherents and give them orders. While Saudi Arabia remains Al Qaeda’s No. 1 target, everyone is a target, the prince said.
On Iran, Prince Turki remarked that Saudi Arabia has good relations with the Islamic Republic and, that those relations have reached a level in which they can discuss any subject.
He noted that Iraqis have complained about increased Iranian interference in Iraq, such as taking over village councils and intimidation in the election process, but said that there are no specifics.
Commenting briefly on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Prince Turki said that Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was a “remarkable achievement” on the part of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He also had praise for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who must be supported. “There couldn’t be a man better tailored to lead the Palestinians through peace than Mahmoud Abbas,” the prince said.
Prince Turki said he believes reform will progress in Saudi Arabia, but stressed that it will take time and that it must come from within without being imposed by the government. “Society sets the pace for reform,” he said. “If it takes a long time, so be it, but rather have it take a long time and be on sure footing.” He said he believes women will be elected to the Consultative Council (Majlis al-Shura) and regional councils.
Prince Turki drew attention to the third extraordinary Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, which concluded today in Makkah. He noted Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s speech at the summit, which emphasized moderation, the importance of Islamic cooperation, and devotion of resources to disaster relief, poverty and disease in the Muslim world. He also remarked that King Abdullah has proposed changing the name of the OIC to Organization of Islamic Countries in order to give it an identity.