2005 Transcript

Prince Turki Al-Faisal's CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer
Prince Turki Al-Faisal, currently Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, and nominated to be Ambassador to the United States, was interviewed on July 24 by Wolf Blitzer on CNN's 'Late Edition'
  Prince Turki Al-Faisal, nominated as Ambassador to the United States

BLITZER: Two and a half years ago, before the start of the Iraq war, I visited the Persian Gulf region. One of my stops, Saudi Arabia. During that visit, I had the chance to speak with the country’s former chief of intelligence, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, at his sprawling ranch outside Riyadh. He was preparing to become Saudi Arabia’s ambassador at the time to Britain. Here’s what he told me then about the war on terror and Osama bin Laden.

PRINCE TURKI: I think we have to put a closure on bin Laden. As a world community. He has to be captured or eliminated in order to put an end to this – almost now mystical aura he has of being invincible, unfindable, and unpunishable.

BLITZER: And joining us now from London is Prince Turki Al-Faisal. He’s designated to be Saudi Arabia’s next ambassador to the United States, replacing the retiring and very influential Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who has been here for more than two decades and has become almost a venerable Washington institution. Prince Turki, thanks very much. Welcome back to Late Edition. You’ll have a tough act to follow when you come into Washington, you realize that, don’t you?

PRINCE TURKI: Good evening, Wolf. Of course I do, and I look forward to learning from what my predecessor Prince Bandar has done in Washington, and to build on what he did.

BLITZER: You told me when we met at your ranch, and we played that sound bite just now, that this war on terror really requires the killing, the elimination of Osama bin Laden. That has not yet happened. What’s the problem, from your perspective?

PRINCE TURKI: I think probably it’s a question of assets and deployment of more resources in the search for bin Laden. We know that he is in an area that is very difficult to pursue him in, and, therefore, more assets and people and equipment are required.

BLITZER: Is it a lack of desire, in other words? Is the US simply not anxious enough to kill him, that’s why there’s a lack of resources?

PRINCE TURKI: I cannot believe that, because as you know, President Bush said that he is going to get bin Laden, and I think all of us would like to see that day happen. I really don’t know. You’ll have to ask our American friends for an answer to that question.

BLITZER: You’re one of the few leaders in the world that’s actually spent some time with Osama bin Laden. You met him before 9/11, is that right?

PRINCE TURKI: I met him in the ‘80s, long before he became the monster that he did after that.

BLITZER: What made him become a monster? Just reflect a moment on that.

PRINCE TURKI: Well, I’m not a psychiatrist nor a psychologist, but I think he -- during the jihad against the Soviets, he played a supporting role, and came probably to believe that he himself had a hand in liberating Afghanistan. And when that war ended, I think he probably started looking for causes, and as such, he built the al Qaeda group, starting from the late ‘80s, probably early ‘90s, and went on from there. But you’ll have to ask a psychiatrist for a definitive examination of bin Laden.

BLITZER: You co-authored an article that appears today in the Sunday Telegraph in London, with Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury. Among other things you write this:

“The Islamic world needs to acknowledge the cancer within its own community and to root it out. Muslim scholars must come out loudly and strongly against suicidal bombing regardless of where, when, and why they have happened.”

Why are Muslim scholars and other Muslim leaders, so far the impression we get around the world, reluctant to do so, to issue a fatwa, for example, against these killers?

PRINCE TURKI: Well, I don’t think it’s a matter of reluctance in as much as making yourself heard. Every chance that a Muslim leader has, he denounces these things, but it is not being resonated enough in the world media and in the various audiences and fora that they may have. I think there should be more of that. As far as fatwas are concerned, many fatwas have come out from Muslim scholars and religious leaders against suicide bombings and against the killings that have taken on, but they’re just not getting enough resonance in the public media and the public audiences that should be where these statements are directed. And that’s what I and Lord Carey are calling for, that there should be even more than what has happened already.

BLITZER: As you know, Prince Turki, there’s criticism, especially here in Washington from the US Congress, that Saudi Arabia, your government itself, is not doing enough to stop the money flow, to stop the education, to stop the creation, if you will, of these terrorists. What do you say to that criticism?

PRINCE TURKI: Well, I think it’s a misplaced criticism. I know if they consult with their federal government, from the president down on, they would see that Saudi Arabia is really in the forefront of the fight against terrorism, and has been for many years. There are -- I know of three committees that are working together, one on the intelligence matters, one on the money matters, and the other one that was established after Crown Prince Abdullah’s visit to Crawford a few months ago, headed by our two foreign ministers. So it’s not for lack of doing on the part of Saudi Arabia, but, perhaps, more of these congressmen should come to Saudi Arabia and see for themselves what we are doing.

BLITZER: Because the argument is that many of these madrasas, these Muslim religious schools, whether in Pakistan or elsewhere are being funded with Saudi money, and that it is in those schools where this hatred, this ideology is created. Have you stopped funding these madrasas where so much of what the critics say is the root cause of these al Qaeda operatives comes from?

PRINCE TURKI: I spent some time with a senator from your Senate in February 2002, soon after 2001, in which he made this claim. And I told him, Senator, we don’t finance these religious schools, but if you have information, would you mind giving me the names of these madrasas so we can trace who is behind them and who is funding them? And if there is any Saudi money going to it, we will stop it. He said, all right, and he turned to his aide and told him, “Furnish him with the names.” As we were leaving, I asked the aide if he could do that, and he said, I’m sorry, it’s classified.

So if we’re being accused of something, we have to have the information. We need specific names, specific addresses, specific things like that to be able to trace and pursue these matters. And we’re doing everything we can. As I told you, we have a joint committee with your government dealing with these financial issues, and they’re sitting in Saudi Arabia in place there all the time, reviewing of what goes out of Saudi Arabia, and if anything goes to these religious schools or any other places. So it is unfair to make the claim, without providing the information.

BLITZER: Here’s a criticism that Freedom House, a group in the United States that promotes democracy around the world, made against Saudi Arabia, and many of these books that are circulated at mosques here in the United States and elsewhere. They said that these publications of hate, in their words, “propaganda reflecting a totalitarian ideology of hatred that could incite to violence, and the fact that it is being mainstreamed within our borders through the efforts of a foreign government, namely Saudi Arabia, demands our urgent attention.” Have you looked through these publications to see if they promote hatred of Christians hatred of Jews, hatred of infidels, if you will?

PRINCE TURKI: I have not personally. I’m picking up my post in the fall, probably, and I will look into these allegations. If there’s any such truth to them, of course we will take action on them. As you know, Islam is a religion of peace and harmony, and understanding, and, therefore, if there is anybody who is misusing Islam for any purpose whatsoever, we cannot accept that. And we do not accept that.

And the Kingdom, as I told you, is in the forefront of the fight against terrorism, having eliminated so many people from al Qaeda that have been operating in the Kingdom itself, and working closely with your government and other governments to eliminate this hatred and this viciousness that characterizes the works of al Qaeda.

BLITZER: You’ll have a major challenge when you arrive in Washington as the point person for your government in dealing with the Senate and House of Representatives. Earlier this year, more than a dozen US senators, Democrats and Republicans, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, among other things they said this:

“Saudi Arabia, a nation that professes to be an ally in this war, continues to openly support religious extremism throughout the world. Saudi Arabia’s efforts to export militant Wahhabi ideology throughout the world inflame the type of anti-American sentiments that lie behind the potential of terrorist attacks that continue to be the greatest threat to our national security. Therefore, it is essential that Saudi Arabia be accountable for its support of radical Islamic ideology.”

You recognize the challenge you’ll have to convince them that you’re doing that when you get here to Washington?

PRINCE TURKI: Well, I hope to be able to meet with each and every senator and congressman who wishes to see me. And we will discuss these issues thoroughly. I’m there to represent my government and my people, and I hope to be able to answer any questions or any issues of that nature that they may bring up. I’m open to any such discussions, and I hope when I get there, I’ll be able to sit down and discuss them with these people.

BLITZER: When I interviewed the Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, on Late Edition on June 26th, he suggested that much more could be done in securing the borders of Iraq so that insurgents couldn’t cross those borders into Iraq, and suggested, it wasn’t just Syria that was a problem, the Saudi border was a problem as well. Listen to what he said.

Voice of translator: There are bases in other countries, outside our borders, that are feeding these terrorist networks. They are training them, giving them money.

What do you say to the Iraqi government?

PRINCE TURKI: Well, we have already told our Iraqi brothers that we have a 900 kilometer border with Iraq. It is fully manned on our side of the border, but it is not manned at all on the Iraqi side of the border, and that’s one of the problems that is not faced, not just on the border with Saudi Arabia, but with other borders, with Iran, Turkey, Syria, and with Jordan. We have asked our Iraqi brothers to deploy frontier troops to the border. We’ve had for two years a border post on our side with Iraq that has been fully manned on our side to be able to communicate with Iraq and let goods and services go through that border. And it has not opened because there are no Iraqi officials on the other side. So if there is blame to be put, it is a blame on everybody, really, for not doing enough.

And I would ask our Iraqi brothers to deploy more troops on those borders, and the -- the allied forces, of course,  have a responsibility there. I think there should be more troops on the Iraqi side of the Saudi border, as well as on other borders. We’re willing to work with our Iraqi brothers to eliminate any problems of that kind.

BLITZER: When is Saudi Arabia going to send an ambassador to Baghdad?

PRINCE TURKI: I think the ambassador is under full discussion. You’ve seen what happened to ambassadors and others who have gone to Baghdad. It would be reckless, I think, for anybody to endanger the life of their representatives in Baghdad, but that is not for me to decide. I think it is for both sides to get together and so on. And I hope, also, that our Iraqi brothers will find a way to put an Iraqi ambassador in Riyadh, which has not happened yet.

BLITZER: We look forward to your arrival here in Washington, Mr. Ambassador. As I said earlier, you have a tough act to follow, but you’re highly qualified, and I’m sure you’ll represent your country well here in the United States. Thanks very much for joining me.

PRINCE TURKI: Thanks very much, Wolf.