In an interview last week with editors and reporters of USA Today, Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal presented a Saudi perspective on a number of regional and global issues, including oil prices, Iran, Iraq, and Israel-Palestine.
On what accounts for the high price of oil, Prince Turki noted that “the political dimension has overtaken the economic and business dimensions,” thus adding $15-20 to the price of a barrel. He noted in this regard instability in Nigeria, as well as tensions between the US and Venezuela. Prince Turki felt that a price of between $40-45 a barrel would be equitable for both producers and consumers.
As for Iran and its nuclear program, Prince Turki espoused the concept of a nuclear weapons-free Middle East, but noted that the UN is the proper venue for a discussion of this issue. He was adamant that force should not be applied.
On domestic issues, Prince Turki elaborated on the evolutionary process that Saudi Arabia is undergoing. He explained, “I would say that Saudi Arabia started from a very low point in its attitude toward social issues. We came from a society that was more like 17th- or 18th-century practices than 20th- or 21st-century practices. But in the past 70 years, we’ve moved forward. More women graduate from universities than men. More women are joining the workforce. If you’d looked at Saudi Arabia 25 years ago, a household would be perhaps composed of a father, mother and six or seven kids. The father would have felt that it would be shameful to allow his wife or any female family member to seek a job. Today, the most prized woman is a woman with a job. It’s that kind of evolutionary process that we’re going through.” Prince Turki fully expects women to participate in the next municipal elections, as both voters and candidates.
Prince Turki thereupon looked at the reasons for the closeness in relations between the Kingdom and China. He observed, “It’s a confluence of many interests. When we established relations with them, it was on a footing of one to one. They don’t throw their weight around. They’re very careful in what they engage in, and they’ve been supporters of the Arab position, for example, in terms of the peace process in the Middle East -- Palestinian rights and so on. They also buy a lot of oil from us, but it is not just an issue of oil. There is a sense of empathy between the two countries.” Asked whether China is a better friend to Saudi Arabia than the US is, Prince Turki responded that China is “a less complicated friend,” and that the Kingdom was only following the US lead in courting China.
Prince Turki expressed hope that a successful solution can be found in Iraq. He said that this can only come in the form of a strong central government with the ability to impose its authority on society. The Saudi ambassador felt that Sen. Joseph Biden’s (D-Delaware) call for a decentralization of authority is “an awful idea because it creates more problems than it solves…To divide Iraq into territorial entities would create a mess. Neighbors would try to interfere with that process. All the contiguous countries to Iraq, without exception, want a unified Iraq.” Prince Turki noted that Saudis who went to fight in Iraq went there ostensibly not to join al-Qaeda, but to fight “the invader,” but once there, inevitable al-Qaeda brainwashing took place.
On the stalled Israeli-Palestinian process, Prince Turki called on the US to act as honest broker. He explained, “Since the recent elections, Palestinians urged the new government to talk with the Israelis, and the Israeli people urged the new government to talk with Hamas. So you’ve got an expression of public will to move the peace process forward. How do you translate that into political action? Obviously, Hamas on one side and Olmert and his coalition on the other have baggage and even political impediments to adhering to the will of their people. This is where the US should come in and be the honest broker that it has always promised to be. Something has to be done.”
Questioned about his view on the Dubai Ports deal, Prince Turki cited it as another example of double standards in US policy, even though he acknowledged the fact that US officials and political analysts explained to him that this was an example of grandstanding and demagoguery during an election season.
Prince Turki concluded by noting that student exchanges provide the best medium for promoting both the image of the US in Saudi Arabia as well as the Saudi image in the US.