BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia, if President Bush were to ask you to come to the Oval Office and make suggestions on how to solve the problems in the Middle East, what is the first thing you’d tell him?
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Well, first of all, good morning, sir. And it’s a pleasure to be on C-SPAN.
I would not presume to tell President Bush anything on these subjects. But my government has been in touch with your own government at the highest level, and the king has been in constant correspondence, and sending emissaries and even meeting with your president since 2002. And even when your president was first elected, in 2001.
And by August of that year, then Crown Prince Abdullah sent a letter to President Bush, telling him that the Middle East problem was not getting enough attention from the American government, and that this may be a time when we should get together to see we’re at the crossroads and can either go forward together or go forward separately. But let us at least get together and discuss these issues.
And immediately, the president responding by saying that we should do that. And discussions were held between Secretary Powell at the time and our then-ambassador here, Prince Bandar bin Sultan – intensive discussions that ended with September 11th intervening. And any propositions that were to come out of those meetings were taken over by the events of September 11.
But they did manage to get across to the administration the importance that King Abdullah has, not only in his mind, but in his politics, of resolving the Palestinian issue.
And since that time, the king met with the president twice in Crawford, Texas, where he again stressed the issue of finding a solution for the Palestinian problem. And even after the Iraq invasion, when King Abdullah met with the president in 2005, again he stressed finding a solution to the Palestinian problem.
Since I have become ambassador, I have been part of many meetings that Saudi officials have had with your president. Our foreign minister met with your president twice. Your secretary of state visited the Kingdom several times. Vice President Cheney visited the Kingdom last January.
And during all those meetings that were held, the king stressed the need for a solution to the Palestinian problem. So, I would say that a lot of the work that Saudi Arabia has undertaken with your government and with your leadership has been to resolve the Palestinian issue.
That does not mean that we don’t want to resolve other issues. Iraq, for example, has taken a lot of our time, as well.
And there has been agreement between the king and the president that a solution to Iraq must come from within Iraq, and the Iraqi people must be given the chance to resolve their disputes within an Iraqi – how can I put it – an Iraqi identity and an Iraqi sense of mission and an Iraqi policy towards the future.
We would be willing to help in any of these efforts. And as a matter of fact, we did. Last November, November of last year, we were instrumental in getting all of the Iraqi factions to meet in Cairo, to find some kind of resolution to their differences.
And at least at that time, that meeting was successful in preparing for the elections that were held in December in Iraq, which were representative of all of the factions in Iraq.
And subsequently, the Kingdom has offered its political, economic and other support for Iraq within, for example, the meetings that were held at the United Nations, or the Iraq compact group, that is supposed to provide economic and financial aid to Iraq. We were in the forefront of that, and we will continue to be like that.
But the solutions must come from within Iraq. And the Iraqi people and the Iraqi leadership are the ones that should be bringing forward what these solutions are.
LAMB: What would your reaction be, do you think, in your country and in the Kingdom, if the Iraq democracy succeeded? I mean, it would be the only democracy in that whole region. Does that make you nervous?
PRINCE TURKI: Not at all. From the very beginning, when the issue of democracy was broached in 2002-2003 for Iraq, our foreign minister expressed it in this way: We would rather be bombarded with Jeffersonian principles than by Saddam Hussein’s Scud missiles. And we have no inhibitions about the Iraqis choosing a form of government that would suit them.
What we do take exception to is if anybody tries to impose on us a form of government that is not of our own choosing. We prefer for our own development to come from within Saudi Arabia, rather than to come from without.
LAMB: What was your reaction when the king asked you to be the ambassador to the United States?
PRINCE TURKI: I think – you know, there’s a funny story there, because I was then ambassador to the U.K. And I was attending the queen’s tea party in July, when she invites people from all walks of life – including diplomats …
LAMB: In 2005.
PRINCE TURKI: … 2005, in July of 2005.
And in the middle of the tea party, as the queen was approaching the diplomats’ stand, I got a call on my cell phone from the foreign minister. And that’s when he told me that the king had decided to name me as ambassador to the United States.
And I said, ”But, Your Highness, can I get back to you, because this is an official function.” And he said, ”But no, no. I just wanted you to know.”
And I said, ”Well, please, don’t announce it until we talk about it.”
And sure enough, within a couple of days, the announcement came out. And it’s a great privilege to be representing the Kingdom in the United States.
Washington is the capital of the world. And the U.S. is the number one power in the world. And to be engaged with this situation as a representative of the King of Saudi Arabia is a privilege, I think, that anybody would be not just willing, but quite, without question, accept and look forward to.
LAMB: How difficult was it to replace a man who had been here 22 years?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, Prince Bandar definitely left a big footprint in America, and it’s difficult to fill his shoes. Nor would I attempt to do that. He left many friends for Saudi Arabia, on which I have taken advantage of that, and hopefully will go forward to develop more friends.
But the Kingdom has had a 70-year relationship with your country. And it’s been a fruitful and a mutually beneficial relationship. And I hope that by the time I leave, that it will be in a better state than when I came here.
LAMB: You probably read ”State of Denial,” by Bob Woodward. It’s right in the first chapter, almost the first line, that George Herbert Walker Bush called Prince Bandar in 1997 and asked him to go talk to George W. Bush, his son, about running for president.
Is that the role that an ambassador should play from another country here in this country, in our politics?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I did not read Bob Woodward’s book yet, but I’ve heard press reports of it and read some reviews of it.
An ambassador will do what is required of him and asked of him by the leadership of the host country. He is here to represent his government and his leadership with the host country and the host leadership.
And if President Bush today were to ask me to do something for him, I would not hesitate to do that. So, it is a very flexible position, I think, that all ambassadors hold when they represent their leadership in another country.
LAMB: When was the first time you came to the United States?
PRINCE TURKI: 1957.
PRINCE TURKI: I came with my late father, who was coming on a medical trip. He had to undergo an operation.
LAMB: Was he king then?
PRINCE TURKI: No, he was crown prince.
PRINCE TURKI: Yes. And he came to New York City and had an operation in a New York hospital. And we stayed something like four months, from July to October, in New York.
A year after that, the October after that, I came back as a student in a prep school in New Jersey, and continued to come here until I finished university in Georgetown.
LAMB: Now, when you were in Lawrenceville, in New Jersey, at prep school, how did the rest of the Americans there treat you? I mean, you were a – you’re a prince.
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I think this is one of the things that makes America so inviting, is that there is a broad and a very, very open attitude towards individuals for what they are rather than for what titles they may hold.
I remember the first day that I came into school, very nervous and very lonely and a bit frightened, actually. And a boy slapped me on the back and said, ”Hi, my name is Tom Langhorne. What’s your name?” And I said, ”My name is Prince Turki al-Faisal.”
And he looked at me. ”Is that like a Thanksgiving turkey?” And I didn’t know then what a Thanksgiving turkey was, so I just didn’t say anything.
But it went on from there. I mean, the directness and the simplicity was what attracted me to be in America.
And I think as a young boy, as a teenager, developing friendships was important.
LAMB: Are you still friends with some of the people you went to school here with?
PRINCE TURKI: Very much so. Not only in prep school, but in university.
LAMB: And you went to Princeton and Georgetown.
PRINCE TURKI: I did.
LAMB: Why did you decide to stay here and go to college?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, because I went to prep school here. I think America – and still – is a country where most people want to come and acquire their academic careers and develop potential for their future careers.
LAMB: There’s another famous person from your part of the world who came to school here in the 1940s by the name of Qutb. And he was an Egyptian.
PRINCE TURKI: Yes.
LAMB: And as you know, he wrote a book called ”Milestones,” which a lot of the jihadists follow.
His experience was a lot different from yours, I guess. He came over here and didn’t like anything he saw. Didn’t like our way of life, and all that. And went back and was mad, and was eventually killed in the ’60s – hung by the Egyptians, because he was against the government.
What role has he played? Are you aware of him? And do you read him?
PRINCE TURKI: I have read some of his books. And he is the most influential thinker who influenced the thinking of, as you said, the jihadis and the jihadist movement in the Arab and Muslim world, and his books definitely. Although it was named ”Milestones,” they were milestones, in fact, in that thinking and that, if you like, deviation from the mainstream, orthodox Sunni theology and interpretation of Islam.
And if you go to any training camp, if you like, for many of these jihadi groups and terrorist groups, you will find Sayyid Qutb’s books in there as their – to say it in quotation marks – as their ”Bible,” and even to the extent of many of them choosing to believe what is in Sayyid Qutb’s interpretation of Islam over what is said in the holy book, the Qur’an. It has that kind of place in the jihadis’ thinking and the jihadis’ practice.
LAMB: In your country, I read that the Qur’an is the constitution.
PRINCE TURKI: It is.
LAMB: Explain how that works.
PRINCE TURKI: The Qur’an is a revelation from God to the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – very much like the Bible was to Moses or to Abraham or to – although the Bible came down after Abraham, but other books preceded the Bible that came down – and the New Testament to Jesus Christ.
And there are verses in the Qur’an that legislate for life and practice and relationship between people, and not just religious edicts, but even commercial instructions and how to treat each other as human beings and as members of the family of man, with each other as Muslims and with others who are not Muslims.
And it is upon these revelations of the Qur’an that we base our constitution in Saudi Arabia.
LAMB: What is your relationship to the current king, Abdullah?
PRINCE TURKI: He is my uncle.
LAMB: How does that work in – I mean, are you a descendent of the original king?
PRINCE TURKI: In 1902, a Saudi emir, a prince called Abdulaziz bin Abdulrahman, who was a descendent of a long line of rulers in central Arabia going back to the 1740s, came back to recapture what was the capital city of his family in the center of Arabia called Riyadh, and from there began expanding his influence and his dominion until most of Arabia was united under his leadership.
And in 1932, he was proclaimed king of Saudi Arabia – modern-day Saudi Arabia. He was my grandfather.
He had many sons that make up the succession line of the Saudi monarchy. And any descendent of King Abdulaziz is considered to be in the succession for rule in the Kingdom.
LAMB: So, what would be the chances that you would be king one day?
PRINCE TURKI: Absolutely minimal.
PRINCE TURKI: Well, first of all, because there are many sons of King Abdel Aziz that are still alive, who would presumably succeed each other.
And there are also many grandsons of King Abdel Aziz, who are alive, who would at a much, much later date – by the time when I would either be senile or dead – would become kings, as well.
LAMB: Back in the past there’s a – one of the things that worries Americans is something called Wahhabism.
There was, you know – one of the, I guess one of the founders of Saudi Arabia was named Wahhab, back in the old days. Is that right?
PRINCE TURKI: Yes.
LAMB: So, explain to us so that we can understand, is Wahhabism – tell us what it is in the first place, and do we have anything to worry about?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, let me start by saying that in your media, in the so-called opinion of experts on Arabia and Islam – and about Saudi Arabia, particularly – there is a tendency to be very simplistic in explaining things. To recite the history that goes back 300 and some odd years in a newspaper article would be much too long. And I don’t think any editor will accept that from any writer.
But in 1740 – and I hope I get my dates right – the emir of Diriyah, ruler of a town in the center part of Arabia called Diriyah, whose name was Muhammad ibn Saud, allied himself with a religious reformer, whose name was Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahab.
And this religious reformer was preaching and instructing a unitarian interpretation of Islam that concentrated on ridding the practices of Islam in those days from many superstitions and agglomerations of conduct that had come over the years in the practice of Islam, and preaching a return to the original teachings of Islam as expressed by the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him.
And he was driven out of many towns in the central part of Arabia, and he took refuge with Muhammad ibn Saud, the ruler of Diriyah. And they formed an alliance whereby Muhammad ibn Saud would support Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahab and his teachings.
And they waged, if you like, a preaching campaign in the center of Arabia that united in 20 years’ time all of Arabia under the rule of Muhammad ibn Saud and his descendents.
And Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahab is the one Wahhabism is ascribed to as his teachings.
Now, he never claimed to have brought a new religion to the fore. On the contrary, he stressed the fact that he was merely someone who followed strict, orthodox Sunni interpretation of Islam, as practiced by one of the four main Sunni teachers of Islam, ibn Hanbal.
And his teachings spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula. And, as I said, it was united.
But by 1810, 1815, the Ottoman Turks became very worried about that and sent an army, using their Egyptian ally, Muhammad Ali Pasha, to overcome this new unitarian state that had arisen in the Arabian Peninsula.
And the Sauds and the Wahhabs were defeated by the armies of Muhammad Ali. But the idea remained.
And the two resurrections of the Saud Kingdom – the first one in the mid-1800s and, of course, the latest one in the 1930s. And the teachings of Shaikh Muhammad Abdul-Wahab stand in the forefront of the interpretation of Islam that the government of Saudi Arabia follows.
And there is a wonderful book by a lady – an American lady – on Wahhabism. I hope – maybe I will send you a copy of that. But it goes into explaining how the teachings of Shaikh Muhammad Abdul-Wahab did the following.
First of all, they identified the practices of Islam as having been corrupted over the years, and tried to rid those practices of that corruption.
And secondly, they spread the education as a means of convincing people of the true practices of the Prophet Muhammad, whether it is in reading or writing or other means of education.
And thirdly, they looked upon the establishment of a unifying government in Arabia as a means to pacify the warring tribes in the Arabian Peninsula, which had not been pacified or united since the days of the Prophet Muhammad.
And for those who want to ascribe to Wahhabism the practices and the teachings of a man like, for example, Osama bin Laden, I think is an injustice to the teachings of Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahab, because he never taught anything in any way that could lead to the killing of innocents or the destruction of property, or even the waging of war, because in order to wage war in Islam, you have to have certain conditions, which is a unified people, a leadership that is accepted by the people, and you have to have been attacked by somebody else so you can wage war to defend yourself.
And in all these three aspects, bin Laden definitely differs from the teachings of Shaikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahab.
LAMB: What years were you head of intelligence for Saudi Arabia?
PRINCE TURKI: 1977 to 2001.
LAMB: And during that time, how well did you know Osama bin Laden and, of course, the bin Laden family?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, the bin Laden family is a well known family in the Kingdom. The father, Muhammad bin Laden, came to the Kingdom in the ’20s as a laborer. And he, by his native wit, because he didn’t read or write, he became one of the foremost contractors – not just in the Kingdom, but in the Middle East – and built many roads and infrastructure projects in the Kingdom.
And his sons have inherited that frame of work …
LAMB: Did they build the mosques in Mecca and Medina?
PRINCE TURKI: They’ve expanded the mosques in Mecca and Medina. But also in the ’60s, they were honored by getting the contract to renovate and expand the mosque in Jerusalem. So, their reach was beyond Saudi Arabia as a contracting company.
My meetings with Osama bin Laden took place in the ’80s, when the jihad against the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan was in full swing. And he at the time was a volunteer who dedicated himself and his personal wealth to helping the Afghan mujahideen repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
And at that time, I was director of the intelligence service and would frequently go to Pakistan to meet with Afghan leaders and Pakistani leaders. And I met him three times, I think, or four times in Pakistan and in various countries – receptions and things like that.
LAMB: What’s he want?
PRINCE TURKI: Now? I mean, now he wants to rule the world.
LAMB: Could you tell that when you knew him?
PRINCE TURKI: No. In the ’80s, he was pretty much a dedicated do-gooder, who wanted to help, as I said, the Afghans get rid of Soviet rule. And he collected money for them. He …
LAMB: Did he have money himself?
PRINCE TURKI: He did.
LAMB: A lot?
PRINCE TURKI: In Afghan terms, quite a lot. In Saudi terms, medium lot. And in American terms, absolutely infinitesimal. Several million dollars I think he may have had, $30 or $40 million fortune at that time.
And I may be off the mark, but your intelligence services would know better.
But he dedicated much of that wealth to the mujahideen by bringing drilling equipment to drill for wells, building bunkers for the mujahideen. And as I said, contributing money, but collecting money, also, from other wealthy individuals throughout the Arab and Muslim world for them.
And this continued, of course, until the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. And at that time, I think probably as has had happened – and we’ve seen historical precedence of this – those people dedicated to a cause, when the cause comes to an end, they begin to look for other causes. And I think that’s what happened to bin Laden.
LAMB: What happened to the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia after 15 of the 19 hijackers came out of Saudi Arabia?
PRINCE TURKI: The relationship went into a period of strain – officially, but more importantly in the unofficial sphere.
The two governments continue to work with each other, because each of us recognize that if we don’t work with other, we would be letting the terrorists succeed in their objective.
Because when bin Laden, if you will remember, the confessions of one of his master plotters for September 11th, I think it was either Hashib (ph) or Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who said that when they set up the team to do the September 11th deeds, that at the very end and before they took off, bin Laden came and told them, ”I have another team for you.” And it was here when he put maybe 15 Saudis into the team.
In my view, and as greater confessions have shown, there were two reasons for that. One was because Saudis would get visas to the United States more easily at that time than other nationalities. But the other reason is to drive a wedge between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
So the two governments, after September 11th, I think quite wisely recognized that, if they did not come together and cooperate in eradicating this ideology and this philosophy that was propagated by bin Laden, that bin Laden would succeed.
On the unofficial aspect of it, the media here and so-called, as I said, ”experts” on the Kingdom really took us to task – quite unfairly, in my view – accused Saudi Arabia of instigating and causing September 11th, and so on.
But I think now things have come to be realized. And I think the September 11th Commission Report went a long way to mitigate and to correct the impressions that people had developed from September 11th to the time that the report came out a year-and-a-half ago.
And two factors that are equally important that the report made. One is that the report says quite clearly that no Saudi government official had anything to do with the September 11th attacks in any way whatsoever. And secondly, that – you remember the stories about flying out Saudi officials and others from this country and letting them go without questioning and things like that.
Well, the report quite clearly states that no Saudi was allowed to leave the country without the FBI having a go at them and following proper procedure. And no exceptions were made for anybody to fly out prior to the opening up of the airplanes here in the U.S.
And I think also since then, the meetings between King Abdullah and President Bush in 2002 and 2005, set the course of government-to-government in the right way. And it has become a very closely cooperating relationship that we’ve had with your government, whether it is on terrorism, terrorism financing, eradicating terrorist activity, exchange of information, standing committees in the Kingdom on all of these issues with U.S. officials.
All of that has come about in the last five years, and it’s been working very wonderfully.
LAMB: How many people – how many Saudis are there? Not – I know you have five or six million people from other countries that come in and do a lot of the labor. How many Saudis are there?
PRINCE TURKI: About 22 million now.
LAMB: How many princes are there?
PRINCE TURKI: I really don’t know. I think we have several thousand.
LAMB: I’ve seen a number of 5,000 and I’ve seen a number of 35,000.
PRINCE TURKI: It’s closer to the 5,000, rather than the 35,000. I don’t know the exact figures. I haven’t counted them. But I’m sure there is someone there who is keeping tabs on that.
LAMB: And in your case, how many brothers and sisters have you got?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, we are a family of 17. When my father was growing up as a young man, his first marriage was when he was 14 years old. That didn’t produce any offspring.
But his first son was born to him when he was 16. And my elder brother, Abdullah, he’s still alive. He’s 83 or 84 now.
And followed from there 16 other siblings, both brothers and sisters.
LAMB: And in your own case, are you married?
PRINCE TURKI: I am married. I have seven kids.
LAMB: Have you been – how many times have you been married?
PRINCE TURKI: Twice.
LAMB: How many – what’s the law now about how many marriages you can have at any given time?
PRINCE TURKI: The law is the religious law. The law as put down by God in Qur’an and practiced by the Prophet Muhammad – peace be upon him – Muslims can have four wives at the same time.
But I think in all Muslim countries, the realities of life and the impingement of daily routines on people’s lives and incomes and economic situations are restricting that practice.
I know – I’ll give you an example. I was married when I was 23 years old, and my wife was younger – I won’t say how much younger. And my son was married when he was, what, nearly 28 years old. There is a five year older age there. And now he has one son, and he is in his mid-30s or so.
I don’t think – although you never know what will happen – that he will have as many children as I have. Nor do I think that he will marry more than one time, simply because life has changed and the pace of life has changed and the requirements on people have changed.
So, my younger children, I think, will probably follow their brother’s example, rather than my example, and marry later and have fewer kids. And that’s happening not just in the Kingdom, but it’s almost a universal phenomenon, I think, as societies develop and people acquire more responsibilities and the economic standing becomes important, that people have smaller family units than previously.
LAMB: How does the money work for the royal family? I mean, let me give you some figures, and you can tell me what’s right and wrong.
That we, Americans, buy about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day from Saudi Arabia. That Saudi Arabia has roughly 25 percent of the oil reserves in the world.
PRINCE TURKI: Right.
LAMB: That 30 to 40 percent of the money that you collect goes to the royal family.
PRINCE TURKI: Not at all.
LAMB: Not at all.
PRINCE TURKI: Not at all. All the money that comes from all government activity in the Kingdom goes to the central bank. And it is allocated through a budget, as you have here, for various ministries and various departments that take care of the people.
Part of the money is then allocated for expenditure on the royal family. But the oil money is not the family’s money. It is the government’s money. And all natural resources in the Kingdom, by law, are owned by the government.
LAMB: Who determines how much money the royal family members get?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, it goes through a budgetary exercise …
LAMB: But I mean if you’re …
PRINCE TURKI: … between the king and the cabinet. And the cabinet is composed, I think now, of 22 ministers, including the minister of finance and other ministers, who go over the budget and see the outlays of the budget where they go.
LAMB: Well, let me just ask you. Say I was in your shoes. Can I put up my hand and say, you’re not giving me enough money?
PRINCE TURKI: Anybody can go to the king and say, ”Your Majesty, I would like more money. I would like a piece of land here. I would like to be able to send my kids to university in America. I want my daughter to go to university in U.K.”
And because the king holds the public majlis – I think now it is twice a week – where anybody from the citizenry can go to his majlis, which is an audience, and sit face-to-face with the king, like this, and tell the king whatever is on his mind.
LAMB: He’s all powerful.
PRINCE TURKI: The king?
PRINCE TURKI: Of course. He is – but when you say ”all powerful,” there are rules and regulations that determine how that power is exercised within the framework, as I said, of a cabinet.
We have now Majlis as-Shura, which is the consultative assembly, where all legislation goes there to be studied, and they can even initiate legislation that comes to the king. And the king then would refer it to the cabinet. And then the cabinet will sit together with the Majlis as-Shura until something comes out and it gets the approval of the king.
So, it is not simply, do this and it is done. Everything has upon him regulations and laws that he has to follow.
LAMB: Can you do anything you want to with your money?
PRINCE TURKI: With my money? Of course.
LAMB: Yes, but does it all belong to you and you can spend it any way you want to and …
PRINCE TURKI: Any individual in the Kingdom can do that. They can keep it in the country. They can take it out. They can do whatever it is.
LAMB: Read over the weekend that we now have something like 11,000 Saudi Arabian youngsters in this country going to college.
PRINCE TURKI: Yes.
LAMB: And it had gone down to 3,000 after 9/11. How do we get back to this number? And what was – do you remember what the highest number ever was?
PRINCE TURKI: The highest was probably in the late ’70s, mid ’80s, probably somewhere around 20,000.
When I was a student here in the ’60s, it must have been around 11,000, 12,000 at that time. Then it increased.
And, of course, in the late ’70s and ’80s and ’90s, the Kingdom expanded its educational system. And many universities were built in the Kingdom, and so on. So, there was no need to send so many students abroad at that time.
When the king met with your president last year in Crawford, Texas, and they reviewed the fact that there were only at that time just over 2,000 Saudi students in the U.S., and both of them agreed that there was a need to increase that number.
And so, your government initiated a program of fast-tracking, if you like, the process of visa acquisition by our students. Instead of six months to get a visa – sometimes even longer – it became six weeks.
And that allowed many of our students to be able to take their visas and come in time to register here at universities and follow a course.
LAMB: Well, let me go back – but you went to school here.
And as we said, Qutb did years ago out in Colorado. But so did Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who went to school down in North Carolina. And they come to this country and they go to school here, and they seem to then hate us for our life style.
What was your reaction to our life style?
PRINCE TURKI: I had a wonderful time, as did, I would say 99.9 percent of Saudis who came to school here.
LAMB: But I mean, is there any danger that living – you know, we had 15 of 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. These young kids come in here and turn on us, and then go back and become jihadists.
PRINCE TURKI: Well, you know, those 15 never came to the United States, nor did Osama bin Laden.
And I think one of the advantages of having people go abroad to study is that, first of all, it opens their minds completely. It gives them a wider perspective on themselves and on others. And it engages them with people that they would not otherwise engage with.
I remember during my years in prep school and then in university, being invited to the homes of my fellow students, whether in the Washington area when I was at the university here, or going as far away as Arizona and perhaps in New Jersey and other places, where I visited in those homes. And it was a wonderful experience.
And from what I hear, now since I’ve been ambassador here and touring your country and visiting with many of our students in various places, they have had a wonderful reception from Americans – very hospitable, very open and engaging.
And I tell them, I tell them, ”Remember, you’re the true ambassador of Saudi Arabia in this country, not us. We are confined to Washington and to the diplomatic niceties and the restrictions.
”But you are the ones who are going to engage with Americans on a daily basis and in every kind of endeavor. So, be true to yourselves, but also remember that you are guests. And you must learn and live with your guests on their terms, not your terms.”
There will be the exceptions. And one cannot deny human nature, and things like that. But your security forces and our security forces are exchanging information on an hourly basis and in real time through these committees that are in the Kingdom.
And if there is any hint of any problem anywhere, whether it is here or in any part of the world, that knowledge would be shared immediately.
LAMB: One of the things that supposedly grilled (ph) Osama bin Laden was American troops on Saudi soil.
PRINCE TURKI: Yes.
LAMB: Are there any troops left?
PRINCE TURKI: There is a training mission.
But you know, bin Laden used these things for his political purposes. He justifies his actions by referring to things like that. He uses the misery of what is happening to the Palestinians in the occupied territories for his own purposes.
Now he’s using Iraq as a means of recruiting and acquiring support, and so on, as he used Chechnya, for example, or Kashmir. All of the grievances and tragedies of people he uses to justify his, in my view, not just illegitimate, but quite criminal interpretation of Islam.
LAMB: Back to what we were talking about earlier about Wahhabism. There is a thought in American media that the Saudi Arabian government funds through the mosques in this country the Wahhabist way of life, and all that.
What would you say to that?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I would say, ask American Muslims. And I have indicated to some people here who do calling (ph), that they should go to American Muslims and ask them what it is that they follow in their practice of Islam.
If any community of Muslims were to say that we practice Wahhabism, I would tell them that they are misinterpreting Islam, because, as I told you, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab never claimed for himself any religion or any sect. He was a follower of one of the premier Sunni teachers, Sheikh Muhammad ibn Hanbal.
And all of the Sunni followers follow one of these four teachers of Sunni Islam – ibn Hanbal, Abu Hanifa, Malik and – unfortunately, now you made me forget. All of these four teachers are accepted by Sunni adherents of Islam as interpreting the religion in the way that they would follow them.
Shafi’i is the fourth one.
And Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab never claimed for himself, nor did followers claim for him, that he has a fifth sect that could be identified as a Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
Those who may use that for their own purposes do it for their purposes, not because they follow Sheikh Muhammad ibn Abdul-Wahhab teaching.
LAMB: When you look at our way of life versus almost all of the Arab countries – and help me on this – no alcohol is allowed in Saudi Arabia?
PRINCE TURKI: No alcohol.
LAMB: Women and men are not allowed to be together in public?
PRINCE TURKI: Not true. If you go to the markets and the restaurants and so on, you will see men and women mixing. But there are restrictions on certain public events that men and women are not allowed to be together.
LAMB: Women can’t vote.
PRINCE TURKI: They cannot yet vote, yes.
LAMB: Any chance that any of these things will change, that alcohol would be left in the country?
What about dancing? Are you allowed to dance?
PRINCE TURKI: You’re allowed to dance in your own home. There are no public dance halls.
PRINCE TURKI: You can smoke, even in public, believe it or not. Although even now, in your country it’s difficult to smoke in public.
But, look. All of these things are subject – except for alcohol – are subject to social practice. The mixing of men and women, the dancing or otherwise, the smoking, women driving, et cetera.
LAMB: Women can’t drive.
PRINCE TURKI: They cannot drive. One woman can, and I’ll tell you her story now. And these will change as social customs, and I’ll give you an example.
The most prized woman today in Saudi Arabia is a woman with a job. She is encouraged by her parents to go and find a job, because she brings in income and they don’t have to spend money on her. Her siblings look up to her and want to do like her.
An equally important thing, she is sought after by suitors, someone who wants to marry a woman – perceived to marry a woman who has a job.
This was not the case 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, the head of a household – you or me or someone else – would have thought it shameful for his relatives, the women, to go out and seek a job, that it would be a diminution of his own integrity not to be able to provide them with the financial means for a good life.
But that has changed. And it has changed not because of religious fatwa or government decree, but because life has changed. And education has expanded for men and for women.
So, as women acquired more skills through their education, they could go out and seek jobs and bring extra income in. And I think this is what is going to happen to women driving, to people going to common events together, because social change is what will drive these factors.
The prohibition on alcohol is based on the religious law that prohibits the sale and the consumption of alcohol. And therefore, I don’t think that will change, especially in a country like Saudi Arabia where the two holy mosques of Islam are based and where Muslims – 1.2 billion Muslims – turn five times a day to prayers. Many millions of pilgrims come every year to these holy places.
LAMB: There’s a book out by the name of ”The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11” by Lawrence Wright. And you’re one of the four subjects in the book.
I want to ask you, because we haven’t been able to get into a lot of the things that’s in the book. Number one, have you read it? Number two, is it accurate?
PRINCE TURKI: I read the parts about me. And I’ve written to Mr. Wright on some of these things that in my view were wrong, and other things that I did not find that they were wrong.
So, and he has very kindly replied to me. And he was very generous in saying that where he saw that, that he accepted my corrections for his statements, that he would rectify.
LAMB: One of the things that he says in there that you said, is that during the – after 9/11 – that the FBI would come over and visit and come back and praise the Saudis to your face, and then come back and complain to the American press from unnamed sources, and that you suggested that a lot of these folks were speaking with forked tongue.
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I think that that did happen. And I’m not saying that the FBI did it.
But I’m saying that there were people in the United States who were leaking issues like lack of cooperation or Saudi Arabia not doing anything and lack of cohesion, et cetera, et cetera, at a time when they were coming to us and sitting down with our people and going over by detail whatever it was that they were pursuing.
So I think there were people who were trying to push the agenda of ascribing to Saudi Arabia negative actions or lack of actions more than the positive ones.
LAMB: We only have one minute, and I should have asked you this a lot earlier.
Will the Arab-Israeli problem ever be solved?
PRINCE TURKI: We live in hope. And, you know, as I told you, the king has been concentrating with your president on finding a solution to the Palestine issue.
Yesterday, the Arab League met in Cairo and came up with a proposal for a conference on finding peace in the Middle East that will include all parties, including Israel and the five members of the Security Council.
Our problem as Arabs is that there have been so many solutions proposed for the Arab-Israeli dispute since 1948. Not one of them has been implemented, the last one being the president’s road map – President Bush’s road map – and King Abdullah’s peace proposal, which coincided, by the way, in the same year, 2002.
And all it needs is implementation. No problem has been dissected and studied and torn apart and brought together, and somehow configured one way or another, more than the Arab-Israeli dispute.
Everybody knows what the solution is. It’s a problem of territorial disagreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And it has to be resolved along the ’67 lines – with compromises on both sides. And this is what the Abdullah peace plan proposes. If only the road map could be used to implement that.
So, I think there is no miracle required or divine intervention to come from the heavens, but simply the goodwill of people like President Bush, Secretary Rice, Prime Minister Olmert, Mahmoud Abbas, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, President Mubarak of Egypt, President Assad of Syria.
All of them know exactly what has to be done. It just requires implementation.
LAMB: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you. It’s been great for me.