WOLF BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition." Will Saudi Arabia play more of a role to try to bring stability to Iraq? To discuss that and more, I'm joined by Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Ambassador, welcome back to "Late Edition."
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Nice to be back, Wolf.
BLITZER: The vice president just went, a few days ago, to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Abdullah and other officials. Here's how The Washington Post reported this story.
"Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats." The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil- rich Arab ally."
Did your government summon the vice president to Saudi Arabia out of concern over Iraq?
PRINCE TURKI: Governments don't summon vice presidents to come to see them. King Abdullah has been in constant contact and cooperation with both President Bush and Vice President Cheney since they came into office.
And the vice president's visit was in line with the continuous cooperation and discussions that the king has had with American leaders.
BLITZER: How concerned are you, though, about what's happening in Iraq and the spillover in the region?
PRINCE TURKI: We have mutual concerns about Iraq, about Palestine, about all of the things that operate in the area, terrorism, instability, et cetera. And Iraq, obviously, is one of the top concerns that we have. And we share our views with your leadership on a continuous basis.
BLITZER: Whose idea was it for Cheney to go to Saudi Arabia, a Saudi idea or a U.S. idea?
PRINCE TURKI: It was an invitation by King Abdullah, extended to Vice President Cheney to come and discuss matters, because they hadn't met for some time. The vice president was, last year -- or was it January? -- a long time ago, in Saudi Arabia.
BLITZER: So the Saudis invited him to come to discuss these issues. Here's what Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, wrote earlier, in a November 8 memo that was leaked, this week, to the New York Times.
To the president, he wrote this. "Direct your cabinet to begin an intensive press on Saudi Arabia to play a leadership role on Iraq, connecting this role with other areas in which Saudi Arabia wants to see U.S. action."
You saw this memo?
PRINCE TURKI: I saw this memo, and, frankly, we've been working with your government continuously to try to bring peace and stability in Iraq. There is no need to press Saudi Arabia to advance the prospects for peace.
BLITZER: Because what the U.S. would like to see you do, Mr. Ambassador, is use Saudi influence with Iraqi Sunnis to stop the sectarian violence.
PRINCE TURKI: We've been using Saudi influence with all parties in Iraq. We are friends with everybody in Iraq. And if you saw the list of people who have visited Saudi Arabia from Iraq, it includes all parties, Sunni, Shia, Kurd, Christian. You name it, we've had it in Saudi Arabia.
BLITZER: Because there's a lot of people who think that Saudi Arabia, especially, is concerned that a Shiite-dominated Iraq, aligned with Iran, which is Shiite-led, of course, could represent a significant threat to Saudi Arabia.
PRINCE TURKI: The Iraqi people will decide who leads them and who governs them, not the Saudi people. And so the Saudi Arabians' role is to come together with the Iraqi people and simply arrange for mutual respect and mutual acceptance.
We are neighbors of Iraq. And anything that happens in Iraq affects us. Iraq has had a long history of sectarian and ethnic tolerance and living together.
You know, the tribal confederations in Iraq -- and Iraq is a very tribal society. You were just discussing this earlier. In the North, in the Kurdish North...
BLITZER: Should it be partitioned, do you think?
PRINCE TURKI: I don't think so. In the North, the Kurds have Sunni, Shia and even Christian Kurds there. In the Arabic part of Iraq, Sunni and Shia live side by side. They live in the same families. You have a Shia husband and...
BLITZER: So this notion of dividing up Iraq into three separate semi-autonomous zones -- you don't think that's a good idea?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I think it's going to lead to ethnic and sectarian cleansing on a massive scale.
BLITZER: Here's what Nawaf Obaid, who's described as an advisor to the Saudi government, wrote in The Washington Post this week: "The Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex- Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance -- funding, arms and logistical support -- that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years."
Is he right?
PRINCE TURKI: Absolutely not. And there has been a statement that came out from my government negating these views of Mr. Obaid. Mr. Obaid did some consultancy work for the embassy. And in order to, as he explained in his article, that he was expressing his views on these issues and to make sure that nobody misunderstands where Saudi Arabia and the embassy stand on that issue, we terminated our consultancy work with him.
BLITZER: So he's no longer advising your government?
PRINCE TURKI: So that his independence, as he expressed it the article, will remain 100 percent.
BLITZER: So there's no notion of Saudi Arabia doing in Iraq with the Sunnis what Iran is doing in Iraq with the Shia?
PRINCE TURKI: We have called consistently for all of the contiguous states of Iraq to cooperate together to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq and stability and security in Iraq. And there have been consistent meetings between the contiguous countries of Iraq, led by Saudi Arabia, for that purpose.
So it would be contradictory to think in terms of Sunni and Shia. And as I told you, we have received in Saudi Arabia all of the factions in Iraq. Most recently during the holy month of Ramadan, we hosted a conference between Sunni and Shia religious leaders to get them to agree together on what to do in Iraq.
BLITZER: Is it time for a big international conference, including all of the neighbors of Iraq, including Iran and Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, other countries, to get involved, to meet with the U.S., other members of the international community, to try to ease this crisis?
PRINCE TURKI: If there is going to be a conference, it will have to be predicated on very specific targets. You simply can't just have a conference for the sake of having a conference.
There are three basic issues in Iraq today -- there's the militia issues. There is brigandage and disruption of daily life. And there is lack of provision of services by the government. The Maliki government is trying very hard to overcome all of these challenges. It is incumbent on us and other neighbors of Iraq and the world community to support the Maliki government in challenging these tremendous obstacles that they have in Iraq.
BLITZER: One final question before I let you go because you represent Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, at least exporter to much of the world. How's the price per barrel looking right now? Is it going to go up? Is it going to go down? What's your assessment?
PRINCE TURKI: If I knew that, Wolf, I'd be making a lot of money. But I think the price of oil -- we're working for a stable and acceptable price of oil that will not only please the producers but be affordable to the consumer. And one point people tend to forget when they talk about the price of oil, they always mention what it means to America, what it means to Europe, what it means to Japan, what it means to the big countries.
Our added concern in Saudi Arabia is for the poor countries who cannot afford $70 a barrel for oil. Those are the countries that we would like to see benefit from price stability and an acceptable price range.
BLITZER: Ambassador, thanks very much for coming in.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you, sir.
BLITZER: We'll have you back soon.