Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal said yesterday that Saudi Arabia decided to attend today’s peace conference in Annapolis because it was confident in the US commitment to the peace process and because there was an Arab consensus to do so.
Prince Saud made the remarks in an interview with US media at the Saudi Embassy in Washington yesterday.
“We are here for several reasons,” Prince Saud said of the Annapolis conference. “First of all, that this will be a meeting for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East, and not just a settlement of the Palestinian issue because this is part of the Arab peace plan. We are here because peace is necessary in the Middle East and we have worked assiduously for that peace.”
Another factor in Saudi Arabia’s decision to attend was President Bush’s assurance that the United States would use its “full influence” to bring about an agreement, and that the US would bring its own ideas to the table as well, Prince Saud said.
He also noted that the United States and the Quartet have given peace talks a one-year deadline, coinciding with the end of President Bush’s second term.
Turning to Syria, the Saudi Foreign Minister welcomed its presence at the conference as a sign Damascus is willing to talk.
“We expect that the peace will be total peace in the region, comprehensive peace that includes Syria,” he said. “Their presence there certainly indicates their willingness to negotiate and their desire to do so. I hope it is taken up and that not much time will pass before we see the Syrian-Israeli track on the road to solution.”
Commenting on a proposal by the Bush administration to follow up the Annapolis conference with a donor’s meeting in Paris for the Palestinians, Prince Saud said that Saudi Arabia would make a large contribution at the event, and urged the international community to do the same.
“We will contribute and I assure you it will be one of the largest contributed, as usual,” he said. “We have always contributed to the Palestinians because we see what kind of lives they are leading. They are leading an awful life.”
Asked if he would shake Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s hand at the conference, Prince Saud said that the Kingdom is not there for theater. “We are here for the serious business of making peace,” he said. “It’s not a sporting competition, where you shake hands and may the best man win. It is a serious business and we are here to follow it seriously.”
The prince was also asked about the case of a Saudi woman who was a victim of kidnapping and rape and sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison. He replied that bad judgments occur in independent legal systems, and that the entire Saudi government and people should not be vilified for the actions of a few judges.
“Judgments, bad judgments to my consideration, occur in legal systems. The legal system is an independent legal system in Saudi Arabia. The thing that is disturbing is that this judgment, although made by individuals, has been used to vilify the Saudi people and the government of Saudi Arabia although they are not responsible for the judgment,” he said.
Prince Saud added that the case was still under review by the Saudi judicial system.Transcript of the interview