2006 Transcript

Prince Turki interview with CNN's Miles O'Brien
Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki Al-Faisal interview with CNN's Miles O'Brien, aired October 31, 2006

MILES O'BRIEN: When the history books are written on the Iraq war, this October may be remembered as a tipping point, when the level of violence prompted a permanent change in course. The question now is which direction are we headed? It is a big question all throughout the Middle East, of course, and particularly vexing for Iraq's immediate neighbors, worried that that country may disintegrate and create ever more instability. Prince Turki Al-Faisal is Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. He joins us from Washington to talk a little bit more about this.

Mr. Ambassador, good to have you with us. You gave an important speech yesterday in Washington. And you said this, this really struck me, you said since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave Iraq uninvited. What do you mean by that?

PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: First of all, Happy Halloween to you.

O'BRIEN: Same to you. Same to you.

PRINCE TURKI: America, as I said, came in uninvited. When it is going to leave Iraq, it should leave with the full cooperation and understanding and working out the plans with the Iraqi people and Iraqi government. It should not cut and run, as it were, but also engage in talks and the parameters and wherewithal of that withdrawal, when it comes, should be decided by both sides and not unilaterally.

O'BRIEN: Do you have a sense that that could happen, that sort of unilateral withdrawal?

PRINCE TURKI: I don't have that sense, but there is talk in your media and in -- well, this election campaign you have here is fascinating for someone who is learning, really, the election process from you, that so many proposals are on the table here, that somebody may decide at one time or another to take some action. And I think the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government deserve the kind of cooperation that they have been getting from your government so far.

O'BRIEN: Now, the president, the other day, reached out to moderate Arab states, asked for help in trying to stabilize Iraq. How will Saudi Arabia respond to that request?

PRINCE TURKI: We responded immediately. And even before the president asked, we've been extending our hands to our Iraqi brothers, not only in providing aid and support, but also in engaging with them on what is in their interest and asking them what they want from us. The prime minister has been to the Kingdom. Other political figures have visited the Kingdom. We've hosted a conference of religious leaders from the Shia and the Sunni in the holy city of Makkah just last week, which came out with a very important declaration for cooperation and the removal of any irritants between Shia and Sunni in Iraq. So the Kingdom has been in the forefront of trying to bring peace to Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Well, a lot of people would say maybe it's time, perhaps, to do even more. I know a couple years ago the Kingdom suggested there be some sort of pan-Arab force to try and stabilize Iraq. How would your country feel about that now, about that notion?

PRINCE TURKI: Well, it is something that has to be talked about. Two years ago it may have been the right time to do it, and it would have perhaps been easier to do then than it is now.

O'BRIEN: Why is that, sir? Why would it be -- is it -- would it be impossible to do it now or is it still possible?

PRINCE TURKI: No, I was going to say that it is something that will still have to be looked at from both -- from all sides. The kingdom has been cooperating with the contiguous states and with Iraq for the last three years in providing aid and support to Iraq. I think the United States and the contiguous countries should discuss these issues together.

O'BRIEN: Do you think that in some way having a pan-Arab force, would that be a better way toward sort of tamping down and stabilizing and causing that Sunni/Shia divide to go away, or would it make matters worse?

PRINCE TURKI: I think it would be up to the Iraqi people to decide on that, if they want to have a pan-Arab or Arab and Muslim forces to come in, then I'm sure Muslim and Arab countries would be ready to go forward on that. But it's a decision that the Iraqi people have to decide for themselves.

O'BRIEN: Well, it might be difficult for the Iraqi people to come to a consensus on something this. They are having a difficult time agreeing on much of anything.

PRINCE TURKI: They have a government and they have a parliament and they have chosen a political process where they discuss things and reach consensus. So, it would not be too difficult to envision that they would reach consensus on this issue.

O'BRIEN: All right, I want to shift gears before we lose our time here. Osama bin Laden, I know you have a lot of familiarity with him over the years in your previous role as an intelligence chief in Saudi Arabia. Where is he right now? Where is Osama bin Laden and will he ever be caught?

PRINCE TURKI: I don't know where he is. I suspect that he's in the area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which is a very rugged and very intractable geographic location. Whether he's going to be caught or not depends on what assets are deployed to catch him. At the moment, there just seems to be not enough assets on the field to do that.

O'BRIEN: So, what are you suggesting? Should the U.S. do more? Should the Pakistanis do more?

PRINCE TURKI: I think all of us should do more. I think there should be cooperation on a worldwide scale because bin Laden and his cohorts affect all of us with their terrorist activity. And so more of an international effort to get him should be deployed at the present time.

O'BRIEN: Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi ambassador to the United States, thank you for your time sir.

PRINCE TURKI: Thank you.