Deputy Prime Minister and Commander of the National Guard Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz granted an interview with U.K.'s 'Financial Times' during his stay in Casablanca, Morocco. Excerpts from the wide-ranging questions follow.
On the Kingdom's concern over the deteriorating situation in the Palestinian territories and instability in the region as a whole, Crown Prince Abdullah said that it is in the interest of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to be in a region in which peace, security and justice prevail and where its peoples have equal rights. He added that as long as Israel thinks of itself as a superpower dominating the region and dictating its will on its peoples, stability will not be achieved in the region. He noted that Al-Quds [Jerusalem] is an integral part of the conscience of all Muslims and the only Muslim who will abandon his interest in it is one who has lost that conscience.
In reply to a question on the deteriorating situation and the actions of [Israeli Premier] Ariel Sharon since he assumed power in Israel last March, Crown Prince Abdullah noted that it is a great mistake to leave dangerous international issues such as the Palestinian issue to the mercy of local elections, adding: "We do not care who rules Israel but we care that Israel respects its obligations and agreements." He referred to approval by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell of the report by Mitchell's committee and the appointment of a new American envoy to the region as good and positive steps, and indicated that Secretary Powell, having fought for the security of the region during the liberation of Kuwait, knew very well the effect of Israeli violence on this security and on stability in the region.
To a question on requests that the U.S. administration mount pressure on Israel, the Crown Prince remarked that the United States of America proclaims its call for human rights and the rights of all peoples, and its eagerness for the new world order; therefore, "We look forward to America's effective and just role." The success of the United States in convincing Israel to stop its expansionist and oppressive policies and go along with the will of the international community and the resolutions of the United Nations, is in the interest of global peace as well as that of the United States, and if achieved, will have a positive impact on the overall situation in the region. Concerning the fact that he has declined to visit the United States, he gave assurances that relations between the two countries are long-standing and strong, based on mutual interests, and not easy to harm. "The visit that is not paid today", he declared, "can be done tomorrow. What is important is not the date but the atmosphere for the success of the visit."
On the European role in the peace process, he said the Europe has a moral and political responsibility towards the region, noting the cultural, economic and historical links between them.
On relations with Iran and U.S. press reports alleging Iran as being involved in the Al-Khobar bombing, Crown Prince Abdullah said policy is not formulated on press reports, but on protection of interests for the service of the people, adding: "We see that it is in the interest of stability and development in the region that there should be rapprochement with Iran''. To a question on the security agreement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, he said that was concluded according to the desire of the two countries to fight terrorism, drug smuggling, money-laundering and other violations that harm the interests of the two peoples. He said the matter of lifting the U.S. embargo on Iran is for the two countries concerned, but that greater stability in the region could result from an American-Iranian dialogue.
On a question on the smart sanctions against Iraq that the U.S. administration is trying to develop, Crown Prince Abdullah referred to an announcement three years ago of a Saudi initiative aimed at eliminating the sufferings of the Iraqi people; the responsibility, he said, now rests with the Iraqi leadership, which has obstructed every movement to alleviate these sufferings. Sanctions, he said, do not target the Iraqi people but are a means to an end, which is protection of the region from new ventures by the Iraqi regime. As to whether Arab governments should continue their efforts for reconciliation between Iraq and Kuwait, he said the problem is not just between these two countries, but between Iraq on the one hand and on the other, its neighbors, the Arab world and the United Nations.
On the possibility of using Saudi oil as a means of pressure in the peace issue as happened in the 1970s, Crown Prince Abdullah explained that oil is an economic and strategic material on which depends the welfare of industrial and developing countries alike, and expressed concern that the Kingdom's oil policy be logical and effect a balance between the interests of producers and those of consumers. It is therefore not useful, he stated, to speak about oil outside of this framework.
To a question on the U.S. administration's policy on oil, the Crown Prince referred to a series of oil policies that had been suggested, one of them emphasizing the importance of dialogue between producers and consumers. That approach, he said, is what the Kingdom has always called for. As for pressures on OPEC, he expressed his belief that everyone now knows that OPEC is not alone responsible for market stability; producers outside OPEC and the governments of consumer countries have no less important roles. Referring to OPEC's next meeting on July 4, Crown Prince Abdullah said production will be increased if it is felt that there is real need for that increase in order to maintain stability in the market. Concerning his proposal to set up in the Kingdom a secretariat-general for the International Energy Forum, he explained that it is important to coordinate among all parties to maintain an equilibrium that protects the interests of both producers and consumers. He added that such a forum will ensure price stability and maintain balance between supply and demand.
On the Kingdom's domestic reforms, the Crown Prince said that economic reforms are running according to the planned program and at an appropriate speed. Regarding the decision to ban foreign companies from investment in the production of oil, he said that since Saudi Aramco is one of the largest companies in the world and has the technical ability to produce and market oil, there is no need for other companies to compete in this sector. He added that Saudi Arabia's capacity for oil production exceeds 10 million barrels per day; this can be increased if it is deemed necessary. Concerning the refining and petrochemical industries and secondary industries that depend on gas or oil, these are all open for foreign investment, he declared. Referring to the companies who have won contracts for the development of natural gas, Crown Prince Abdullah said that certain large companies were asked to invest in this sector and provide gas for industries producing electricity, desalinated water, and petrochemicals. He estimated the amount of investment in the three gas projects to stand at over U.S. $ 20 billion in the next few years, more than doubling in the following years. This, he said, will lead to job opportunities for thousands of citizens as well as an increase in the growth rate of the Saudi economy.
In reply to a question that foreign companies investing in gas will also be concerned with electricity and that the Saudi government subsidizes electricity prices, the Crown Prince explained that the power sector is being restructured, and new charges have been issued in which the government subsidy is greatly decreased. He noted that any project for generating electricity will be preceded by comprehensive negotiation between the government and the concerned company.
On unemployment in the Kingdom, Crown Prince Abdullah said that in the past citizens depended almost completely on the state to provide job opportunities, but today the natural area for job seekers is the private sector. He indicated that the state gives priority to the issue of unemployment and deals with it by enabling the private sector to provide new job opportunities, and by finding new areas of investment for national and international capital. In response to a question on how to attract Saudi capital from overseas, he said the Saudi government has embarked on several reforms to convince Saudi capitalists that investment in their own country is safer and more profitable for them, adding: "However, we cannot prevent any Saudi from running his money the way he likes".
Asked whether the Saudi government was planning to allow the Shura Council to discuss state budgets, Crown Prince Abdullah said the Council already discusses the five-year plans on which the budgets depend. The recent increase in the number of the Shura Council members, he remarked, evidences the fact that it has been granted greater responsibility and authority. On the legality of the fact that the government selects the Shura Council members, he said: "This question is irrelevant to our society, since the government chooses Shura members according to their qualifications and contributions in the public life rather than through any other consideration."
Casting light on the main characteristics of the Saudi economy, the Crown Prince cited its openness, ever since the early days of King Abdulaziz. The main changes it has experienced have been the recruitment of young Saudis, the introduction of new industries and technologies, the upgrading of the performance of certain industries and services in both the public and the private sectors, and modernization of society to comply with the information era and advanced technology, all without contradiction to shari'ah [Islamic Law] and Islamic values. To this effect, he cited the setting up of the Higher Economic Council, the Supreme Council for Petroleum and Minerals, and the Saudi Telecommunications Company as influential mechanisms to create a better atmosphere for the economy to grow. Saudi decision-makers, he said, are currently considering a package of economic studies and visions that he described as bringing about greater prosperity for all categories of the Saudi people. Referring to the fact that the government is also considering the possibility of setting up a number of centers for economic, petroleum and water desalination studies, he declared: "We are determined to continue taking whatever action is needed to create an appropriate environment for investment in the Kingdom, enhance the role of the private sector, and pave the way for our economy to join the World Trade Organization." The projected strategic perspective of the Saudi economy, he said, is based on utilization of the potential of young Saudis, diversification of sources of income, development of the investment climate, formulation of Saudi expertise in various economic fields and effective action concerning globalization and its ramifications.