Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal gave a wide-ranging interview to US print journalists at the Saudi Embassy in Washington today. He discussed Saudi detainees at Guantanamo, the US-Iranian standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, the situation in Iraq, the new Palestinian government and US relations with Libya.
Prince Saud said that 16 Saudis currently detained at Guantanamo Bay will be returned to the Kingdom in the next few days. Upon their return to Saudi Arabia, the 16 will be jailed, and the proof against them examined. They will then either be put on trial or released. For those found guilty at trial, punishments will be determined by the courts, he noted.
On the US-Iranian standoff over Iran’s nuclear program, Prince Saud said that Saudi Arabia continues to hope for a diplomatic solution. To that end, the Gulf Cooperation Council is sending the Omani foreign minister to Iran in the next few days to discuss the situation, he stated.
“Hopefully they [Iran] will join us in keeping the Middle East free of atomic weapons,” Prince Saud said. “It would be foolish to allow the situation to deteriorate without doing much about it.”
Turning to the Palestinians, Prince Saud said that Saudi Arabia believes it is the wrong policy to block funding to them, because doing so will only increase radicalism. “If you don’t help the people, you’re taking away the real supporters of the peace movement,” he said. “You’re adding radicalism.”
The Quartet for Middle East peace reached a formula at its meeting in Brussels to allow for funds to reach the Palestinians, Prince Saud said. “We don’t know the details of it, I am only hoping that it is an efficient and timely one to allow for the free flow of money to where it is needed in the Palestinian areas,” he remarked.
The Foreign Minister also stressed the importance of continuing dialogue with the new Palestinian government. “If we don’t talk to them, how should we convince them they should change their attitude towards peace?” he asked.
“I think we have a possibility of a fresh start,” he said, noting that dialogue with the new Palestinian government should begin before it has a fixed position. “Only through inclusion can you change the position of Hamas.”
Prince Saud added that the Palestinian government has said that it is willing to have an extended period of cease-fire as long as negotiations continue.
Prince Saud also expressed concern with the Israeli convergence plan to withdraw from some settlements in the West Bank. The plan diverts attention away from the road map and the Arab Peace Initiative proposed by then- Crown Prince now King Abdullah at Beirut in 2002, he contended.
On other issues, Prince Saud said that he hoped Iran’s role in Iraq would be a positive one that supports unity in Iraq. He also said that Saudi Arabia has no inhibitions about the US resuming relations with Libya, and called for the establishment of an international counterterrorism center.
Transcript of the interview