2007 Transcript

Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal's interview with US reporters
Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal interview with US reporters at the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, Washington, DC, November 26, 2007

PRINCE SAUD AL-FAISAL: It’s nice of you to all be here, and since I’m going to be called in about 40 minutes, why don’t I save time and just request your questions so we can get the information that you want to get instead of me making a statement. 

QUESTION: You’ve said before to us that you didn’t want to come for a photo op, and you’ve said that you expected the Israelis to freeze settlements, you put an emphasis on that. So my question is on what basis of understanding do you have the meeting that is going to be tomorrow. Why are you here and what do you expect it to achieve?

PRINCE SAUD: We are here for several reasons. 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. We are here because in the letter of invitation there was very specific mention of tackling issues on the final status and issues on the ground to make the issues of the final status possible. On the ground, like settlements, stopping of the building of the wall, removal of any restrictions on the Palestinians, and so forth.

So it is for these reasons plus the assurance that the United States will use its full influence in the negotiations for final status to bring about an agreement. This has always been the question mark behind every effort in the past. We have an experience of 60 years of failed peace process because they were that: peace processes, rather than working for peace.

QUESTION: What does full influence mean?

PRINCE SAUD: That means that it will be interested in the final status negotiation and it will not let the issue die. And if the two sides don’t come with enough ideas to settle these issues, we assume that the United States will come with its own ideas. And of course the other element is the commitment of the president which he announced himself that he will be fully backing the conference.

Independently for Saudi Arabia, we came because we had an Arab consensus to come to this peace conference.

QUESTION: What would you like to see the president do specifically? Do you want him to influence the two sides, specifically Israel, in some way on the issue of settlements or the other final status issues?

PRINCE SAUD: Well, there are issues on the ground like settlements that have to be settled in order to open the way for final status issues to be seriously and meaningfully discussed. It would be ridiculous for the Palestinians and Israelis to sit down negotiating about ending the occupation and returning the land of the Palestinians while at the same time acquiring more land and building more settlements. That’s one issue in which the United States has used its influence. When there is something as outrageous as that situation, we expect the mediator to say so and to come through with changing the attitude on those issues.

QUESTION: Have you been told who the mediator will be?

PRINCE SAUD: Other than the US?


PRINCE SAUD: The Quartet.

QUESTION: Is there any individual who has been named to be a monitor, to be a special envoy to make sure that these negotiations don’t peter out?

PRINCE SAUD: No. There is an envoy for the Quartet, Mr. Blair, but he is working on the economic side of rebuilding the infrastructure of the Palestinians.

QUESTION: Can I ask a two part question? First of all, to what degree are all the parties in Annapolis because of a common fear of Iran, and secondly, how can any comprehensive peace take place without factoring in Hamas and the realities on the ground?

PRINCE SAUD: Well, we have to worry about Israel first and finish with it before we look at Iran. It’s enough to look at the Israeli question on its own merits. We have to finish and bring peace whether Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction, or whether it is interfering in Iraq or not. One thing is not the cause for the other, although we do live in a dangerous neighborhood and I wish we could change some of our neighbors. But we can’t. So we have to worry about one country at a time.

QUESTION: And what about the issue of Hamas and the realities on the ground?

PRINCE SAUD: We worked on that reality, that the Palestinians need to be united. One man cannot make peace. Not even half a people can make peace. There must be some consensus towards peace amongst the Palestinians if this will go smoothly. In Makkah, we had Hamas agree to the Arab peace plan, which in essence was what we all wanted from them. They also agreed to the 1967 border, they agreed although not to renounce violence because they said according to the United Nations charter, any country that has occupied lands has a right to liberate its land. But they agreed to a cease-fire that would continue as long as negotiations are going. And they formed a government of national unity.

Unfortunately, the international community’s response to that government of national unity was not the proper one. We thought they should have supported it, because the Palestinians themselves were celebrating the formation of that government both in Gaza and in the West Bank.

As a matter of fact, when I watched the celebrations I thought war had broken out. The northern countries of the Arab peninsula have a habit of when they’re happy, they fire their guns in the air and everything was going off at the same time. I wonder how many people were injured by the falling bullets and that. But they were very happy and unfortunately the action of the European countries, the United States, they decided not to recognize the government, although they recognized ministers in the government. These ministers were the Fatah ministers and not the Hamas ministers.

Recognition is not a process of punishment or reward. You don’t recognize somebody to reward him and punish him by not recognizing him. If you are working for peace, you see what are the elements that make peace, and then you work out the details of what you have to do towards that end. And undoubtedly a government of national unity for the Palestinians was one of the essential elements for peace that should have been recognized and should have been brought into the process of negotiations rather than left in the hinterland.

Since that happened, it was considered since they were not recognized and people started talking that Hamas should not be given any returns for not having the right policy, but should be isolated. That carried forward into the feeling in Hamas that there was a conspiracy against them. Then we saw what happened: fighting between Hamas and Fatah that is still not resolved. I hope that one of the consequences of this conference will be an appreciation of the fact that the Palestinians have to unite in order to make peace possible and that the Arab countries will continue to work to bring all the Palestinians in the fold of peace negotiations.

QUESTION: Could you talk a little bit about how you would like to see this document that the Israelis and Palestinians are working on come out, and do you think the Arabs need to endorse this type of document? How much involvement do you think the Arab states will have in terms of final peace negotiations because as you know the Palestinians are highly unlikely to sign onto anything that doesn’t have Arab blessing?

PRINCE SAUD: We would like to see this written document come out. There has been a lot of talk about it and much little action. We know they have not succeeded so far, that many versions have been written on this issue and all the versions have more brackets than words. So nothing has been done in this, nothing has been achieved in this.

We hope these are issues that they have to agree on on the ground, and we hope that by the time they come to the conference they will have had something, and if not, as a result of the conference they will have a paper that will put on it the responsibilities of both sides and that some sort of monetary commitment of either side be established.

QUESTION: In terms of what eventually comes out, do you think the Arab states need to ….

PRINCE SAUD: We will not negotiate on the part of the Palestinians or the Syrians or the Lebanese. We are here to support the peace process. We are here to encourage those who are working for peace. The commitment of the Arab countries to come on this level and in this number, I think is an indication of the commitment of the Arab countries to the peace.

QUESTION: You spoke just a moment ago about the need for Palestinian reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, but you didn’t talk about how you foresee that actually happening, Annapolis or no Annapolis. High-ranking Israeli officials that I have spoken with tell me privately that they are resigned to several years of control of Gaza by Hamas. How do you see Hamas and Fatah reconciling exactly, and then a follow up if I may.

PRINCE SAUD: The way they would recognize is that Gaza would return to what it was before the last events.

QUESTION: What was that? I’m sorry.

PRINCE SAUD: Return to the situation it was in before the last event. That means that all the headquarters and the buildings belonging to Fatah would be returned to them, and then discussions would start. There is an Arab League committee that is appointed in order to have the two sides meet and go through the list of issues that divide both sides and try to resolve them.

QUESTION: That committee’s work is ongoing now?

PRINCE SAUD: It is ongoing now.

QUESTION: The other question I had was about one of the events that the Bush administration has suggested would be important as a follow-up to Annapolis is this donor’s meeting in Paris. Tell us if you would what Saudi Arabia is prepared to do and contribute, basically in dollar figures if you would sir, at Paris.

PRINCE SAUD: We will contribute and I assure you it will be one of the largest contributed, as usual. We have always contributed to the Palestinians because we see what kind of lives they are leading. They are leading an awful life.

Remember these are not primitive people; the Palestinians are the most educated Arab people in the Middle East, and they are living this miserable life where a father and a mother don’t know what will be the future of their children, where they have no medical care, women are giving birth in the street sometime, where they cannot go from one place to the other without hassle. They spend hours just traveling from village to village. The daily humiliation that they face is unimaginable.

We are sensitive to all that, and we will help as much as we can. We hope the international community will contribute also.

QUESTION: Has that figure already been arrived at?

PRINCE SAUD: In Saudi Arabia?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

PRINCE SAUD: We don’t know what the whole requirement is yet. The conference will indicate what size of commitment is needed, and we will accordingly decide.

QUESTION: What steps are Saudi Arabia prepared to take now towards normalization with Israel that would give Prime Minister Olmert backing and support in order to proceed with the peace process? And then I wanted to clarify something else that you said.

PRINCE SAUD: None. The Arab peace plan says that normalization will come after peace is established, and peace is established when full withdrawal is fulfilled. That is the proposal that we put on the table, and that is the proposal we hold to.

The issue of normalization before peace, we have seen in the past after the Madrid conference and the multilaterals were supposed to be in the same direction, this will make Israel more amenable to peace in the Middle East. But all we saw resulting from those multilaterals was that there was recognition by some countries of Israel, and yet Israel hasn’t moved one iota in any of the positions that it has taken in the peace process.

QUESTION: Just to clarify something. When you said you got the letter of invitation and there was very specific mention of things, then you went on to say things about settlements and stopping the building of the wall, was there mention in this letter of invitation from the Americans about the wall and settlements?

PRINCE SAUD: Not in the letter. The letter talked about final status, about issues on the ground, settlements, but not very specific about the wall.

QUESTION: That was just your understanding somehow?

PRINCE SAUD: The understanding is that the conference will work on the issues on the ground as well as begin to identify the process of negotiation and final status. So I assume they will have a paper about what both sides have to do in terms of on-the-ground issues, like security and what happens to the settlements, and things of that sort. On the final status issues, there will probably be committees established to talk about the issues of final status like Jerusalem, 1967 borders, return of the Palestinians. These would continue because remember, this is a one-day conference. It is not going to negotiate a peace treaty tomorrow. It is going to begin to negotiate it, will identify the issues that will be negotiated and establish the process and procedure for negotiation.

QUESTION:  You said you were confident about the Bush administration’s commitment to this process. Are you confident about the president’s personal commitment to this process? Is that important, and did the King get a personal communication from the president that gives you confidence? Can you tell us anything about that?

PRINCE SAUD: When the president said I am fully backing this effort, I will use every resource that we have to achieve success, how can you not be confident of what he is going to do? Our coming here means that not only Saudi Arabia but all the other Arab countries were convinced of this commitment, and convinced of the seriousness of intent behind it. Hopefully we will see the breakthrough that everybody is hoping for in the Middle East.

QUESTION: How important will his words be tomorrow, to you and to the process?

PRINCE SAUD: Very important for everybody, not just for me. It is important for the peace process as a whole. Without the full commitment of the United States in this regard, I don’t think things will move.

QUESTION: So what will you look for that will give you a different sign than things he’s said in the past?

PRINCE SAUD: There is this commitment that they will put every ounce of effort that they have into bringing the two sides together on the issues of final status. In the past the discussion was on peripheral issues, talking about security before talking about anything else. That was at the insistence of Israel, that they want to finalize security and then talk about peace. This is putting the cart in front of the horse. You can’t have security without peace. You achieve peace, and then you hold security.

This time the situation is different. We have not heard the issue of security mentioned in all the communications that we have had. We have heard the issue of peace, and we have heard of the issue of tacking final status issues. All these elements are what make for the confidence that people feel in coming to Annapolis tomorrow. I hope that none of us will be disappointed.

QUESTION: Do you think a peace agreement can be reached before President Bush leaves office?

PRINCE SAUD: This is the timeframe that they have promised, the United States and the Quartet, and it certainly can be done.

Every man, woman and child, whether in Israel or in the Arab world, knows what the peace is going to be like. Your prognosticators have said this many times. Generally the settlement is known, where it’s going to be at. But the problem is getting there, getting everybody to agree to the same thing at the same time.

QUESTION: Will you shake Prime Minister Olmert’s hand?


QUESTION: Why not?

PRINCE SAUD: Because we are not here for theater. We are here for the serious business of making peace. We are not here to give an impression that everything is normal and topsy-turvy, and that we shake hands. 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. We will not do anything that will divert from the seriousness of the occasion.

Shaking hands is to give an impression of something that is not there. There are no good relations between Israel and the Arab world. What do we shake hands about? Let’s make peace, and then shake hands.

QUESTION: Isn’t it a matter of basic civility?

PRINCE SAUD: Civility?

QUESTION: Diplomatic civility?

PRINCE SAUD:  We are interested in peace and not civility.

QUESTION: Couldn’t a discussion be fostered by a handshake? Couldn’t it go a little better?

PRINCE SAUD: I don’t think so. In the past it was misused. The issue of normalization of relations took precedence over the issues of peace. We have a handshake, and we have then an attack on the Palestinian area. Where do you stop the handshake, or where do you stop the attack on Palestinians? I said in an interview that a hand that is given to you, if it is a fist you don’t shake it. Let it open and you don’t shake it. Let peace open the hand and then you shake that hand.

QUESTION: Prince Saud, how worried are you about the possibility of groups trying to spoil this through terrorist acts, and why not invite Iran to a conference like this since Iran supports the groups that are likely to be the spoilers.

PRINCE SAUD: We will invite Iran to a conference that deals with Iranian issues. I don’t think that they can contribute much to this conference. We hope that they will play a positive role, but from their media they have been attacking this conference and declaring anybody who attends this conference a traitor. So I don’t think they are looking for an invitation to come.

QUESTION: What do you think the role of Syria is? How significant is it that Syria is participating, and what do you expect?

PRINCE SAUD: We expect that the peace will be total peace in the region, comprehensive peace that includes Syria. There is a famous saying in the Arab world that you can’t make war without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria. 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.

I think the solution in the Syrian-Israeli track is rather a simple one compared to the Palestinian-Israeli one. The Golan Heights is known that it is Syrian, that most of it is international border like between Egypt and Israel. I don’t think that any negotiation will take away from that reality that it is the water issue that is the complicating factor in that. So it is simple to resolve, and we hope it will be resolved.

QUESTION: Do you expect that President Bush and Secretary Rice will offer specific solutions to make the Israeli-Syrian track come alive?

PRINCE SAUD: I don’t think the Israelis refuse to negotiate with Syria. As a matter of fact, if I am not mistaken they have announced that they will be willing to negotiate with Syria. I don’t think there is opposition on that part. I think it is timely to start the negotiations as quickly as possible. After all, any settlement in the Middle East will help the other. It’s not the reverse, if you settle the Palestinian issue, you will complicate the Syrian issue, or if you settle the Syrian issue you will complicate the Palestinian issue. On the contrary. Confidence will be built, and I think it will be better for the whole region once peace starts to fall in place.

QUESTION: I’m going to go back to President Bush’s speech tomorrow because you said you don’t want to be disappointed. Stephen Hadley seemed to suggest that he wasn’t going to set out any more specifics about these bridging ideas, or anything specific, that it’s just going to be a very broad speech.

PRINCE SAUD: I can understand Mr. Hadley’s playing down the expectations on the conference, but the expectations are high regardless of what is said. I hope that everybody who comes to the conference will be aware of the high expectation and will act accordingly.

QUESTION: I’m slightly confused, sir, if I might, by your vision of peace.

PRINCE SAUD: We have one vision and that’s enough for us: a vision of two states.

QUESTION: In the process, sir, do you believe that President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad can on their own come to a peace agreement with Israel, or is a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah necessary before that can happen?

PRINCE SAUD: Any agreement that they will sign they will carry to their parliament, and their parliament must come to agreement about that. This is why we continuously say you must get Hamas in there. You almost forced an election that nobody wanted, and Hamas won the election, so it has the parliament. What do you do? You have to go to the parliament once the settlement is there, and the parliament has to agree. So in the meantime, unless you bring Hamas in tune with what is happening in the peace side, you are really not fulfilling a basic requirement.

QUESTION:  Can Saudi Arabia deliver Abbas, if Abbas and Fayyad get a deal with Israel?

PRINCE SAUD: Saudi Arabia deliver Hamas? We tried to bring them together, Hamas and Fatah, and we were soundly reprimanded for that. Sure, we will play our role in bringing the two sides together. The Arab League, as I said, has a standing committee in which Saudi Arabia is a member as the country where the agreement was signed. Bringing them together is having them recommit themselves to the agreement of Makkah and work again to establish a government of national unity, but this time with more clarity on the security aspect of it.

QUESTION: How is that coming along?

PRINCE SAUD: Both sides have to give up their militias, and that there be an army for the state but no militias.

QUESTION: Sir, another subject. The case of the Saudi woman who was the victim of rape and received a punishment of 200 lashes has received a lot of attention here. I just have two questions: Do you think it’s a just punishment, and do you expect the sentence to be carried out?

PRINCE SAUD: Unfortunately, these things happen. 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. This is only a few judges who are responsible.

Issues like that, bad judgments by the courts, happen everywhere, even in the United States. I have been told of many cases in the United States where the judgment was wrong by the judges, but nobody vilifies the American people or the American government. This is the aspect that we are worried about. By the way, it is a process that is still going on. It is being reviewed by our legal process and we hope that it will be changed.

QUESTION:  Sir, can I ask you about Pakistan your thoughts about the situation unfolding there, particularly the return of Nawaz Sharif and the Saudi role in that?

PRINCE SAUD: As you know, Nawaz Sharif was put in prison and had a sentence over his head. Saudi Arabia played a role in freeing him, and he was freed with an agreement between him and Mr. Musharraf to remain out of Pakistan for several years.

Now there are elections to be run and he was very much interested in running in the elections. Since President Musharraf allowed for other politicians to return to had legal restrictions against them, we urged him to let Nawaz Sharif go back because this would be the normal thing to do, if you allow one person to come back there is really not a very good reason not to allow the other main political figure to come back. And they agreed. So he’s back, and he is going to enter the election, and we think that’s a good result. After all, we didn’t take him out of prison to put him in prison in Saudi Arabia.

QUESTION: Mr. Minister, can I clarify one thing you said about the expectations after Annapolis? You said that the United States has promised it will intervene if the two sides cannot. Have you a promise in writing from the Bush administration that they’ll put forward some sort of plan of their own, or original ideas of their own, or is this something that you’ve only been told orally?

PRINCE SAUD: We are not the arbiters of this thing. We don’t ask the United States to commit on paper every word that it says to us. The main things that need to be said have been sent in the letter of invitation. Have you seen the letter of invitation?

QUESTION: No, we’d very much like a copy. Do you have it in your pocket? We can make 20 copies or something.

PRINCE SAUD: We can show you the elements of it.

QUESTION: Is there a promise of some sort that they will come forward with their own ideas?

PRINCE SAUD: You will see the letter.

QUESTION: One question on Iraq. First of all, do you plan to hold talks with the secretary of state or the president on other issues while you’re here, and on Iraq, we’re halfway through the surge. Do you have confidence, given the change of heart and some of the actions by the Sunni community, that reconciliation is possible in Iraq in a timely fashion, before the US withdraws?

PRINCE SAUD: We will be very happy with discussions with the United States any time, but I think during this busy period for the president and the secretary we are not going to impose on them to have talks. We have all our lives ahead of us and it doesn’t need to be at the time of a conference that we need to do that.

Your other question was?

QUESTION: About Iraq and the Sunni community.

PRINCE SAUD: We wish that the surge in Iraq was complemented by a surge on the political side. What is lacking in Iraq is not just the issue of the Iraqis standing together to fight terrorism, but the Iraqis standing together to remain one country. That can only happen with national reconciliation, and national reconciliation can only happen if there is a government that will move heaven and earth to get this reconciliation going on, and not a government who needs to be prodded in order to work for national reconciliation.

We believe this aspect of it has been left without giving the necessary importance that it needs, and we hope that changes quickly because no matter how much the military surge can accomplish, it will not in the final, accomplish what is needed for it to accomplish, and that is a united country.

QUESTION: One question about the categorization of the countries attending the conference tomorrow in Annapolis. A senior State Department official today called those coming “ground floor investors” in the process. I want to know if you object to that, if you agree with that, or take issue with it.

PRINCE SAUD: We have a different capitalist system in Saudi Arabia. We don’t see things in terms of investors and non-investors. We are here because we are fully committed to peace, and we hope that everybody that comes here is fully committed to peace. That means they are not just investors in peace, that they have put all their fortune on the results of peace in the Middle East.

Look at the gains, for God’s sake, from peace in the Middle East. It is astounding to me that people don’t look at this issue from a human side but from a purely political maneuvering side. Look at the price that has been paid over 60 years in terms of bloodshed and sacrifice on both sides – the Israelis and the Arabs. Look at the lost opportunities in the economic sphere that has tackled this region. Egypt in the time of the Khidewi had the same national income as France, per capita national income. Since the war with Israel, there is poverty now in Egypt, chronic poverty at that.

Look at the sacrifice that was done by all the Arab countries, all the resources that were spent in vain on wars and armaments and defense expenditure that could have been spent on education and bettering peoples’ lives. Look at the result that happened in expanding terrorist activity in the region because of that issue, and the price that has cost the whole region. Look at the expense that we are paying for the extremism that is surrounding the whole region and threatening everybody in the region. The cost is so exorbitant, so exorbitant, that it gives us sometimes a feeling of injustice that it is only this area where the issue is allowed to continue and continue unabated with nobody caring for what happens.
Something happens in Darfur, you have all your movie stars making collections, making songs and making films about it. But yet here, this tragic incident, this tragic war goes for 60 years without anybody doing anything to stop it. Isn’t that sad? This region can be one of the most stable regions and the most prosperous regions in the world. It could be a region that helps in sub-Saharan Africa as well as Asia, not only in the Middle East.

And yet its energies are dissipated, and on what purpose? We don’t know. We said we accept Israel in our midst. We said we are willing to go to peace with Israel. We said the peace we will have with Israel will be a peace more than just an end of hostility, it will be a peace of normalization, it will be a peace of open border, it will be a peace. And what is the price? Just returning the land of other people. Not the land of Israel to the Arabs, just giving the Palestinians their own land, the Syrians their own land, the Lebanese their own land. What more can we do in order to achieve peace?

QUESTION: Israel has been looking for an endorsement of the idea of acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state…

PRINCE SAUD: There you go. I mean here is an issue where people not from Palestine come to Palestine, occupy land in Palestine that happens to have people living in it, and now they want to consider these people illegal in a purely Jewish homeland. Why? If you come to a neighborhood by your choice, it is a choice you have made to live in the neighborhood with the people in the neighborhood. You can’t come to a neighborhood and expect to live with Americans, and you’re in the Middle East. It is the Palestinians you have to live with. And this idea, a Jewish homeland purely for Jewish people, what do you do with the Palestinians inside? You kick them out?

QUESTION: Do I take it that would mean the Arab League would not accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state?

PRINCE SAUD: It is the Palestinian right to accept more than the Arab League, and the Arab League supports the position of the Palestinians.

They are really getting after me now to leave.

QUESTION: Can we get the letter of invitation.

PRINCE SAUD: I will give you elements of the letter of invitation, I won’t give you a copy of it.

QUESTION: Your Highness, one of those who couldn’t be with us asked us to give you this. [Hands over the book The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy by Washington Post correspondent Glenn Kessler]

PRINCE SAUD: Thank you very much. It is signed. Thank you all for coming.