2003 Transcript

Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal interviewed by CNN

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The Saudi foreign minister says U.S. investigators are welcome to question a Saudi subject who has ties to two of the 9/11 hijackers. But as for the Saudi requests that the secret portions of the 9/11 intelligence report be declassified, the answer is no. President Bush says doing so would compromise national security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It makes no sense to declassify when we've got an ongoing investigation. That could jeopardize that investigation. And it makes no sense to declassify if -- during the war on terror, because it would help the enemy. (END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, says his country has nothing to hide and that the 9/11 report indicts his country by insinuation. He joins us from McLean, Virginia this morning. Good morning, sir. Thanks for joining us.


O'BRIEN: As you've just heard from President Bush, that short clip there, he says, as it's a matter of national security, he will not release the 28-page portion of the report. Senator Shelby, who is very familiar with the report, says that he thinks 95 percent of the report actually could be released. Before your meeting even, President Bush said no. So what were your expectations going into the meeting with him?

AL-FAISAL: Well, we had hoped that it would be released. We heard the logic of the president for not releasing it. Our logic is we want the truth out. We are being used by a ghost 28 pages, with insinuation and aspersion - that we want to defend ourselves. And unfortunately those who have seen the report are saying things about Saudi Arabia that are not true and that cannot be responded to, because it is not published. That's why we want it published. Let the truth come out.

O'BRIEN: Have you seen the 28 pages? Do you know what's in the 28 pages of the report?

AL-FAISAL: No, we haven't seen them. That's the problem.

O'BRIEN: So if ...

AL-FAISAL: We want to see them and we want to see them for two reasons. If there are accusations against Saudi Arabia, we want to respond to them because we know we are clear of any accusations. But if there are any - also information about possible supporters of terrorists, we want to know about them to take care of the situation.

O'BRIEN: One of those possible supporters of terror, of course, is Omar Al-Bayoumi. He is said to have had a significant role in helping at least two of the 9/11 hijackers. Will U.S. investigators be allowed to sit down with him and meet with him on their own, without Saudi officials?

AL-FAISAL: The United States had him. They questioned him. They let him go for lack of evidence. They questioned him again with the British authorities and they let him go for lack of evidence. We questioned him. We let him go for lack of evidence. If they want to question him again, they're welcome to it.

O'BRIEN: They're welcome ...

AL-FAISAL: We have a task force in Saudi Arabia for that, where Americans are there already on the spot - and had they asked for that, we would have given them permission to question him.

O'BRIEN: So you're saying that U.S. officials in this task force could sit down with Al-Bayoumi and interrogate him without any Saudi officials present? Is that what you're saying?

AL-FAISAL: Why are Saudi officials not allowed to be present? I mean this is a task force between two peoples. What is there to -- we questioned him before. If he's a terrorist or he has support for terrorism, we want to catch these people as much as the Americans do …

O'BRIEN: Well, obviously there are ...

AL-FAISAL: … and we are doing that.

O'BRIEN: Obviously there are many questions that Americans have and U.S. officials have about the Kingdom's role in any funding of terror. So you can understand, perhaps, why they would want to sit down with Al-Bayoumi and interrogate him without any representatives from the government present. Therefore, back to my original question ... 

AL-FAISAL: We are just as interested ...

O'BRIEN: Um-hmm? 

AL-FAISAL: We are just as interested as the American officials if Bayoumi has connections. If there are supporters, wherever they are in Saudi Arabia, for terrorists, we want to catch them. These people are killing us.

O'BRIEN: But it sounds ...

AL-FAISAL: They are attacking us.

O'BRIEN: It sounds to me like you're saying ...

AL-FAISAL: It would seem -- it sounds morbid to say that we would protect those who will kill us. 

O'BRIEN: It sounds to me, though, that you're saying that you will not allow an interview to go on without a Saudi government official present. Is that what you're saying? Or are you saying that U.S. officials could interrogate ...

AL-FAISAL: Absolutely not. We would allow them to question him. I don't see what the presence of Saudis in the questioning would do to prevent getting to the truth.

O'BRIEN: Why not extradite him? You've said you will not. Will you change your mind on that. Why not extradite Al-Bayoumi?

AL-FAISAL: If there is any proof -- remember, for all the time since 9/11 until now, we had no request for Al-Bayoumi, except what we heard yesterday from Dr. Rice. And we told her that they are welcome to question him in Saudi Arabia and that if he is indicted, then if there is a request for extradition, we can look at it.

O'BRIEN: You had a 40-minute meeting with President Bush and afterwards there are published reports that say the president congratulated you on Saudi Arabia's role in fighting terrorism. Can you be more specific and tell me what exactly he said?

AL-FAISAL: He said exactly what I said he said - because Saudi Arabia has been very active and may I - even if I say so myself, very effective in its fight on terrorism in Saudi Arabia. We have questioned thousands, literally, and we have arrested 500, and we have stopped attacks before they occurred in Saudi Arabia. And we have provided information that stopped an attack before it occurred in the United States, also. So we have been working very closely and very effectively together in this.

O'BRIEN: That congratulations, though, seems to completely contradict the 9/11 report, which people familiar with the contents of the report say that actually Saudi Arabia seems to have stood in the way of any kind of information gathering. How do you explain that contradiction between what the president's told you and what the 9/11 report purports to say?

AL-FAISAL: Well, this is the unfairness, the inherent unfairness of the situation. Only those people who have seen it are allowed to talk and, which they are not supposed to be doing, but they are not only doing that, they are casting aspersions against my country. We have not read the report. We don't know what's in it. Is that justice? Is that what is going to bring the truth out? Is that what's going to make the American public safe, that the report is going to find the truth? To hide accusations against people just so that they cannot respond to these accusations, I don't think this is the American way.

O'BRIEN: Saudi Foreign Minster Prince Saud Al-Faisal, thank you for joining us. We appreciate your time this morning.

AL-FAISAL: Thank you.