In an hour-long interview, Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki Al-Faisal spoke on a number of issues with PBS’s Charlie Rose, including Saudi-US relations, oil policy, the war on terrorism and democratization in the region.
Prince Turki said that Saudi-US relations “have never been better” on the official level since then-Crown Prince Abdullah met with President Bush last April in Crawford, Texas.
He pointed out that more work on improving relations since 9/11 has to be undertaken with the people of the US as well as with Congress: “My brief from my government is to approach those two entities – the Congress and the American people – as much as I can, and help and try to explain what Saudi Arabia is, where it comes from, and where it is going.”
Commenting on President Bush’s remark in the State of the Union address on the need to end America’s “addiction to oil” and cutting consumption of Middle Eastern oil by 75% by 2025, Prince Turki reiterated that he was caught by surprise by the statement, and that he had followed it up immediately by contacting National Security Council Adviser Hadley. He noted the consistency and stability of Saudi Arabia as a supplier of oil to the whole world.
When Rose pointed out King Abdullah’s visit to China and a perception that Saudi Arabia was seeking to counterbalance its relations with the US, Prince Turki responded that there was no need for a counterbalance, noting that “oil is an international market; it is a fungible market.”
On the issue of oil prices, Prince Turki cited his oil minister as saying an ideal price under current markets conditions would be between $40-50 a barrel, and that is why Saudi Arabia is expanding production and refining capacity to meet the growing global demand in order to reduce the current price of around $60 a barrel.
Turning to the subject of Iraq and the US invasion, Prince Turki spoke of his days as head of intelligence in the 1990s, when Saudi Arabia proposed the extension of the no-fly zones to the whole country, but the US never responded to the proposal while Prince Turki headed national intelligence. The ambassador said he believes that had this proposal been heeded, there would have a successful change of regime within Iraq, “undertaken by Iraqis from within Iraq.”
Prince Turki said he had no concern about a Sunni-Shiite schism resulting from a Shiite-led government in Iraq. He said, “I think that is basically a scenario devised in American think tanks. If I can respectfully say, the dynamics of the fact are that on the ground, people whether they are in Saudi Arabia or in Iraq or in Iran...or wherever they may be, their basic desire is to have a good life.”
Turning to the war on terrorism, Prince Turki reiterated that Saudi Arabia has terrorists within the Kingdom on the run, as evidenced by the fact that there has been no terrorist incident in the Kingdom for a year now. On the issue of terrorist financing, he said that the transfer of money from Saudis through assets in the Kingdom to charities abroad has been completely eliminated for a year now.
Prince Turki also commented on the recent Palestinian legislative elections. Asked what led to a Hamas victory, Prince Turki cited the inefficiency of the previous government, infighting among Fatah factions, and the impact of occupation on the Palestinian people. In addition, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas received nothing from either the Israelis or the world community to show the Palestinian people that he could do something for them.
Prince Turki noted that King Abdullah has called upon Hamas to take into consideration that the Palestinian people have espoused certain international covenants, such as the Oslo accords, the King Abdullah plan, and the road map, that have as their outcome a two-state solution.
Asked for his take on President Bush’s freedom agenda for the Middle East, Prince Turki said Bush’s conviction for a system that has served his people well is laudable.
“What we would ask from our American friends is that they would allow us a chance to develop our own system of government, call it a democracy or call it whatever it is,” Prince Turki said. “We have our own traditions and our own history and our own practices that we would like to move forward with.”
Transcript of interview