MS. COKIE ROBERTS: U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia have taken center stage in Washington. Last month, an influential defense council heard from an expert that, quote, “Saudi Arabia supports our enemies and attacks our allies,” unquote. The Bush administration quickly disavowed those remarks, but the call for radical change in the US relationship with Saudi Arabia is getting louder, particularly in the conservative political community.
We’re happy to have join us now from Jeddah to discuss all of this the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal.
Prince Saud, we had reports earlier today that you said that Iran had turned over sixteen al-Qaeda fighters to Saudi Arabia. What’s happened to those people? Are they in jail?
FOREIGN MINISTER PRINCE SAUD AL-FAISAL: Hello, Cokie. And it’s a pleasure to be with you, and welcome to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
MS. ROBERTS: Thank you.
PRINCE SAUD: Yes, we have been handed these 16 members and they are being interrogated now.
MS. ROBERTS: So they’re in incarceration being interrogated?
PRINCE SAUD: Until the end of the interrogation, that is correct.
MS. ROBERTS: And then do you know what you will do with them? Will they stay there? Will they be expelled from Saudi Arabia? What will happen to them?
PRINCE SAUD: No, I think -- no, the innocent ones will be let go and the guilty ones will be incarcerated and brought to trial.
MS. ROBERTS: Okay. You made a point that Iran had cooperated with Saudi Arabia and with the United States in handing over these fighters. What’s the point you’re trying to make here about Iran’s cooperation?
PRINCE SAUD: I’m not trying to make any point. I am just explaining the facts that exist here, that Iran cooperated with us in handing these prisoners -- this was a question asked by a reporter and I answered it honestly.
MS. ROBERTS: But do you see that as some sort of softening in the relationships between the United States and Iran, which, of course, the United States has termed an “axis of evil?”
PRINCE SAUD: Well, this depends on the United States completely, and Iran, the bilateral relations. It’s certainly not an issue that I would delve in myself. But it seems to me their cooperation with us has been very important and very significant in fighting this terrorism.
MS. ROBERTS: And in talking about cooperation with Saudi Arabia, of course one of the areas that is foremost in the minds of many Americans is the question of attacking Iraq. And you have been quoted as saying that you don’t want US troops using Saudi soil to stage their attacks on Iraq. Is that the case?
PRINCE SAUD: Well, what we have said after the experiences that we’ve had with Iraq and you know, the country that was the most threatened by Iraq was Saudi Arabia, perhaps second only to Kuwait. But we see that there is movement on the diplomatic front on this issue. And we think it is just only wise to give this diplomatic solution a chance before going to war and that is what we are asking the United States to do.
MS. ROBERTS: But aside from the diplomatic solution, if, in fact, the United States goes to war, can this country put troops on your soil?
PRINCE SAUD: Well, under the present circumstances, and with no proof that there is a threat imminent from Iraq, I don’t think Saudi Arabia will join in --
MS. ROBERTS: You don’t think Saudi Arabia will join?
PRINCE SAUD: -- in the war. No, I don’t.
MS. ROBERTS: And you know now that the United States has troops in smaller Gulf states that are amassing because they feel they can’t be on Saudi soil. Is that something that you think is useful for the Saudi-US relationship?
PRINCE SAUD: No, the troops that are here are here for a purpose. They are for the no-fly zone in southern Iraq and they will remain in serving that purpose, of course.
MS. ROBERTS: Now, Prince Saud, we did report earlier that there was this briefing that has gotten much attention in the United States by a member of the Rand Corporation who says that the Saudis, and I’m quoting here, are “active at every level of the terror chain, from planners to financiers, from cadre to foot soldier, from ideologue to cheerleader.” And he is urging a radical change in the relationship with Saudi Arabia. The administration, as we say, disavowed him, but there are lots of voices being raised now saying that Saudis are our enemies, not our friends.
PRINCE SAUD: Well, this is a report made by somebody who is considered outlandish even to Mr. LaRouche. So I don’t assume that what he said will be taken seriously. The only interesting fact is that is was brought to the attention of so high a committee as the Advisory Committee for the Department of Defense. That is the only curious thing about the affair.
MS. ROBERTS: But beyond this particular briefing, there have been others. There have been columns in conservative magazines, statements from people from conservative think tanks talking about the Islamic schools and mosque that exist in Saudi Arabia, saying that Saudi Arabia gives humanitarian aid to suicide bombers, that there was a telethon that the Saudi Committee for the Support of the Intifadah al-Quds, raised 109.5 million dollars for suicide bombers in a Jerry Lewis-style telethon. All of this seems to be saying that Saudi Arabia is not supporting the United States’ goals in the region.
PRINCE SAUD: Isn’t it curious that these facts, presumed facts, come from study groups and think tanks, rather than from the administration? I think if there is anything that the president has shown himself adamantly against was these criminals who are terrorizing the international community, including Saudi Arabia. How come the administration is not accusing Saudi Arabia of these things?
Here it reminds me of a story of Sherlock Holmes where, and the story -- and I don’t remember the name of the story. He was constantly asking, Sherlock Holmes, the dog didn’t bark? The dog didn’t bark? And people were curious because they said people usually ask why is the dog barking or not barking?
Well, Mr. Laurent, I don’t know what his second name is, has barked about these things. What is worrying us is those dogs that haven’t barked. And the interest in the story of Sherlock Holmes is of course the dog didn’t bark because the perpetrator of the crime was inside the house, not outside the house.
MS. ROBERTS: And does that -- what does that mean? Does that mean the perpetrator of the crime is inside the White House? Inside the Saudi establishment? What does that mean?
PRINCE SAUD: We’re asking what Mr. Laurent has said, has been giving to the committee, which was the largest advisory committee to the Department of Defense. But we only heard one voice from that committee, which was Dr. Kissinger, who came out against this study, proving again that he is a true statesman. But we haven’t heard from the rest.
MS. ROBERTS: So does that worry you, are you concerned --
PRINCE SAUD: Is this something that is believable to the committee and suddenly Saudi Arabia that was considered a staunch ally ten years ago and even four years ago, suddenly turned into the kernel of evil that spreads evil all over the place? This is the question to ask?
MS. ROBERTS: And what is --
PRINCE SAUD: For us, we know that we are fighting communism, we are fighting terrorism, we are working assiduously with the United States in this regard. We have a committee on which we share information. We have a committee that also deals with the freezing of the assets of anybody who finances this terror. And in spite of all these things, we’re still accused of aiding the terrorism that is against Saudi Arabia.
MS. ROBERTS: And are you worried that the people in this administration now believe that and are ready to change the policy toward Saudi Arabia?
PRINCE SAUD: In the administration, no. Because we are very gratified by the statements of, first the spokesman of the president, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, who so kindly called me immediately after the report came out and said that it reflects nothing of the policy of the United States. So we are gratified on the part of the administration for this. But we believe that this story, spread, will divert attention from the true facts, what is facing the United States is that it should be looking for allies to fight terrorism, not creating enemies out of allies.
MS. ROBERTS: Okay. Thank you so much. Thank you very much for being with us this morning. We appreciate your joining us.