2003 Transcript

Adel Al-Jubeir, Foreign Policy Advisor to Crown Prince Abdullah on NBC's 'Meet the Press'

MR. RUSSERT: But, first, shortly after one a.m. this morning, the Saudis informed us that Prince Bandar was unable to meet his commitment this morning. Instead we are joined by the foreign policy adviser to the crown prince, Mr. Adel al-Jubeir. Good morning.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Good morning, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: Where's Prince Bandar?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: His duties required he back out of this commitment to you. And I think when he returns he needs to sit down and explain to you what happened and what the circumstances were. I can't get into the actual mission that he was asked to conduct.

MR. RUSSERT: Is there concern in your government as to what one observer described as the increasingly erratic behavior of Prince Bandar?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: I think it looks erratic to people here, because he has broad responsibilities. He's oftentimes asked to go visit other heads of state. He's asked to engage in shuttle diplomacy, which takes him out of Washington, and it creates the impression that he is not here or that the behavior is erratic.

MR. RUSSERT: Is he dealing with, or should he be dealing with health issues?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: No. I think his health is fine. He's had back surgery several times. When his stress levels go up, his back suffers, and he needs to relax for a few days and get back into shape.

MR. RUSSERT: What accounts for his frequent absences from Washington, which is where he is supposed to be the ambassador to?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: It's as I mentioned earlier. He has -- he was responsible for resolving the Lockerbie standoff between Libya and the U.S. and Great Britain. He was responsible for creating our strategic relationship with South Africa. He has been sent on numerous missions regarding the peace process. And so that all takes him out of Washington.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to last Monday night in Riyadh: eight Americans killed. Do we know who did it?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: We are almost certain, yes, it was an al Qaeda operation.

MR. RUSSERT: Al Qaeda operation?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: That's what it looks like, we are almost certain.

MR. RUSSERT: Now, Prince Nayef, the minister of your interior department, said recently that al Qaeda was weak and almost not existent. He was wrong, wasn't he?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: I think a lot of other officials, including senior officials in your government, had very similar views with regard to al Qaeda and bin Laden. People thought he was on the run. People thought the organization was a shadow of itself. It turns out that it's not. It was able to conduct an operation in Saudi Arabia that was spectacular in how horrific it was; and a few days later the same thing in Morocco. We need to take a look at this. Does this mean the organization has reinvented itself and reinvigorated itself? Or is this a desperate attempt by an organization to call for sort of one last hurrah, so to speak? And I don't know what side of the equation I would come down on this time.

MR. RUSSERT: There seems to be a real disagreement between your government and our government over just what preparations were taken to protect Americans in Saudi Arabia. On May 1st, the State Department issued this travel warning: "The Department of State warns U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to Saudi Arabia. Information indicates that terrorist groups may be in the final phases of planning attacks against U.S. interests in Saudi Arabia."

And then this: In the months before Monday's bombings in Riyadh, the United States asked Saudi Arabia on at least five separate occasions to deploy armed, uniformed, government guards around all Western targets of a possible terrorist attack, Bush administration officials said. Why didn't Saudi Arabia respond to our requests five different times?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Well, Tim, keep in mind when people say "Western targets", almost one third of the population of Saudi Arabia is non- Saudi. We have over 100,000 Westerners living in Saudi Arabia. And when they talk about compounds, it leaves the impression that these are garrisons. They are not. They are gated communities. We have beefed up security at most of the compounds. When you have a threat assessment or a threat indication, you look at it, you assess it, you decide what needs to be done and then you do it. Yes, we received indications from the U.S. Yes, we received a letter from the American ambassador three days before the attack suggesting that the compound, one of the compounds that was hit, was a target. Yes, we took action on it. The compound already had more security than anything else. So, yeah, we put it in place. But what we are engaging in right now is the blame game and Monday-morning quarterbacking. Could things have been done September 11th with regards to airline security? Yes, it could. But it wasn't. Could there have been better coordination between various agencies in your government? Probably. Why wasn't there? The objective here is to learn what happened, find out where mistakes were, and make sure they don't happen again. And we are committed to doing that.

MR. RUSSERT: But that directly contradicts what our ambassador said. This is what Robert Jordan had to say -- and I'll show you and our viewers. He asserted that the Saudi government failed to respond quickly to the U.S. request, even after evidence accumulated that a major attack was imminent. Quote, "They did not, as of the time of this particular tragic event, provide the security that we had requested." And President Bush dispatched the deputy secretary -- national security advisor -- to your country and said, This is coming -- the ambassador pleading to protect Americans, and you didn't do it.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: I think there's a lot of -- well, with all due respect to Ambassador Jordan -- he's a great American, and he's a great advocate of the U.S.-Saudi relationship. But the day after that quote was made he came out and said on the record if the Saudis had responded the way we had asked them to, it would not have made a difference. The guards would not have made a difference, because this operation was so well planned and the fire power was so vast it would not have made a difference.

With regards to the visit by the deputy national security advisor, Mr. Hadley, I was there. And Mr. Hadley did not come to Saudi Arabia with a target list. Mr. Hadley came to Saudi Arabia with ideas on how we can further broaden and strengthen and deepen our counter-terrorism effort. He was supposed to, or he was going to leave those ideas behind for us to contemplate. We accepted them on the spot -- on the spot. The crown prince said absolutely.

And we added further suggestions on how to do even more. He went back to Washington, and he indicated that, yes, the U.S. government at the highest levels was willing to work with us on the idea that we had put forth, so that we can ensure that cooperation between us on counter-terrorism is as effective as it could possibly be.

MR. RUSSERT: Mr. al-Jubeir, there's growing anger against Saudi Arabia across this country and in Congress. This is what Joe Biden, the ranking Democrat in the Foreign Relations Committee, had to say:

SEN. BIDEN (from videotape): I don't think the Saudi royal family engineered this. But I think the Saudi royal family has demonstrated their unwillingness to take the kind of risk they have to take in cracking down on that breeding ground.

MR. RUSSERT: Unwilling to take the risk to crack down on the "breeding ground." And the suggestion is the Saudis are playing a double game, that in order to avoid attacks on themselves, the kingdom -- if they could vent all the anger against the Americans that they would be spared. And there are suggestions -- for example, a Saudi diplomat to Berlin who had ties to al Qaeda. The defense minister to Saudi Arabia, Prince Bandar's father, funneling $4 million to the International Islamic Relief Organization, money which the CIA said funded training camps in Afghanistan. Prince Bandar's wife, whose contributions to a Jordanian woman mysteriously found their way into the hands of the hijackers of September 11th. Is there a double game being played by the royal family of Saudi Arabia?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: No, absolutely not. I mean, we are targeted by al Qaeda. They are coming after us. Their objective is to change and topple the government in Saudi Arabia. We have been effective in the war on terrorism -- obviously not as effective as we should be. We are learning as time goes by. I think that our biggest problem -- and this is what creates the perception of this, the double game or the two-facedness, or whatever you call it -- I have had to deal with it in this town for the past two years -- is the fact that we don't express ourselves, we don't explain the steps that we have taken, and it creates the impression that we are not doing something. Add to it a healthy dose of individuals pushing a story that is not correct. For example, when people say Prince Sultan gave money to the Islamic Relief Organization. Yes, he did, but it is a bona fide multinational charitable organization, and he gave it to them in that context. When people say money from Princess Haifa made its way to the hijackers, we have no evidence to that effect. She gave money to a Jordanian lady who in turn may have given it to her husband; her husband may have had contact with them. That's like saying Sun Trust bank is involved in the financing of 9/11, because one of the hijackers had a bank account there.

MR. RUSSERT: But there's always a lot of smoke -- and when you connect the dots, there's always a lot of suspicion.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: It depends on how far you want to connect the dots. We are all -- what is it, six times removed?

MR. RUSSERT: Well, but let me show you some dots that were connected. These are the 15 hijackers who were involved in the hijackings of September 11th -- all Saudis, despite initial denials by the Saudi government. And let me show you this from June 1996. This is the Khobar Towers, and I will read it to you: "In June of '96, a truck bombing killed 19 Americans at the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia. In June 2001, a United States federal grand jury charged 13 Saudis and a Lebanese man on the bombing. In June 2002, Saudi Arabian officials said the kingdom had sentenced some of the people arrested for the bombing, but did not say how many nor specified what the sentences were."  Why won't you tell us who was sentenced, what the sentences were? And, two, why don't you bring -- allow -- send those Saudis over here so they can meet American justice for killing Americans?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: There was one of them here. He was in Canada. He was extradited to the U.S. We allowed him to be extradited to the U.S. When he came here he pleaded innocent, and your courts could not do a thing about it. And as a consequence, he was extradited from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia, when your Justice Department officials gave up because they could not indict him.

MR. RUSSERT: But who was convicted in Saudi Arabia?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: No, we have -- we have -- we have -- the investigation with regards to Khobar Towers remains open, because your government and my government have agreed that the investigation would only be closed if we both believe it should be closed and if we both agree what the conclusion of the investigation is. So if it has not been formally closed, it is not because of our decision; it is because of a joint decision by both of us.

MR. RUSSERT: But will you tell us who was convicted and what the sentences are?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Well, we -- I can look into this and get back to you. I am not aware of it now, because I don't deal with law enforcement.

MR. RUSSERT: And what fuels this concern and suspicion is that yesterday Prince Nayef, again the same Interior minister, said that the FBI investigators who are in Riyadh right now, quote, "they are not investigators -- they will probe nothing. They are observers." Why can't the United States be allowed to send the FBI to Saudi Arabia to investigate the murder of eight Americans?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: But that's what they are there for.

MR. RUSSERT: Why did Prince Nayef say they are observers?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: I have not seen the quote, but we have over a hundred people from various agencies of the U.S. government. We asked for that assistance. The U.S. provided that assistance. We are thankful to the U.S. for doing so. They provide forensics expertise, they provide law enforcement expertise. This is a serious investigation. This is a joint investigation. They will do as much as they can do in any other country in the world.

MR. RUSSERT: The FBI will be allowed to investigate?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: They will be part of the investigation, yes. I am not a technical person in terms of where -- what exactly people do, but this is a serious effort for us. We would like to know what happened. Most of the victims were Saudi citizens, and we have a desire and a willingness and a commitment to crush this terrorist network, and we will do it.

MR. RUSSERT: It may be too late, according to some articles that have been written. Here's the Wall Street Journal from Wednesday: "Extreme anti-American groups are enjoying new-found support within Saudi Arabia." Again, the Interior Minister Nayef has urged Saudis to help arrest the 19 suspected terrorists. Hours later Saudi dissidents say three prominent clerics of a new generation of al Qaeda supporters issued a fatwa, religious decree, that called on believers to do just the opposite: provide the fugitives with shelter and help. That's what's going on in your country. And some Saudi Arabians have written about it very clearly.

This is the Arab News, and I'll read it to you. "Nobody wants to admit that perpetrators, the terrorists who carried out these acts, were Saudis, many bearing well known Saudi family names. Who are we trying to fool? Ourselves or the international community? Neither can be fooled. It's about time we got our act together. The time of pretending that radicalism does not exist in Saudi Arabia is long past."

And then this editorial from the Arab news: "We have to face up to the fact that we have a terrorist problem here. We do not want to admit that Saudis were involved in September 11th. We can no longer ignore that we have a nest of vipers here, hoping that by doing so they will go away. They will not. They are our problem, and we all are their targets now. We cannot say that suicide bombings in Israel and Russia are acceptable, but not in Saudi Arabia. The cult of suicide bombings has to stop. So too as to chattering, malicious, vindictive, hate propaganda. It has provided a fertile ground for ignorance and hatred to grow."

Your government has tolerated, perhaps even enabled, hate propaganda, malicious vicious things to be taught in your schools, and then you wonder why terrorism is spreading.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: I think that that's overblown. We have looked at our educational systems. We have changed textbooks.

We have introduced pilot programs in Riyadh as well as in Jeddah, and we are assessing those, and we will make a determination whether we would roll it out on a nationwide basis or not. Over the past two years we have clamped down on the rhetoric that comes out of the mosques. Our Ministry of Islamic Affairs has guidelines that prohibit preachers from venturing into the political area, doing sermons. Our Supreme Religious Council issued a fatwa in February saying that it is un-Islamic to call people infidels and to incite people, because that leads to violence and the killing of innocents. And we have dismissed over a thousand imams at various mosques from their positions over the past six months, because they did this. So, yes, we have taken action.

I think where I personally believe where we were at fault is in not expressing ourselves. What you read in the article and what you read in the editorial of the Arab News is absolutely correct. I think you will be hard pressed to find a Saudi official who will tell you otherwise. What we haven't done is, we haven't expressed it. Now we are, because on Monday for us was a massive jolt, and we have to deal with this issue in a public way. We have to deal with this issue in a serious way and in a strong way, and that's what we are doing. In the past we tended to deal with our problems without talking about them. Those days are over.

MR. RUSSERT: But you have a lot to explain. Again, Prince Nayef after September 11th said this: "We put big question marks and asked who committed the events of September 11th and who benefited from them. Who benefited from the events of 9-11? I think the Zionists are behind these events." That's outrageous.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: I think -- but that's clearly not the case. We know that. It was Saudis who committed, who – 

MR. RUSSERT: But why would he say that?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: That's a question you should direct to His Highness, not to me.

MR. RUSSERT: But it went on and on, and you mention imams in Saudi Arabia. This is what a top Saudi Arabian religious leader said, using inflammatory anti-Semitic rhetoric -- "Pray to Allah to terminate Jews. Urge all Muslims to shun peace with Israel." Shaikh Abdelrahman al-Sudais, one of the top imams in Saudi Arabia, called on Muslims to say farewell to peace initiatives with these people, Jews. He prayed to the Muslim God to terminate the Jews, whom he called the scum of humanity, rats of the world, prophet killers, pigs and monkeys.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: That's also incorrect. And he was reprimanded for this.

MR. RUSSERT: He was reprimanded?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Oh, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Is he still preaching?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Yes, he is. But he's not -- I think if he had a choice he would retract these words -- he would not have said these words. It's clearly not right. You cannot -- you cannot defile, you cannot malign other people, certainly not when it comes to their faith.

MR. RUSSERT: And yet we see these pictures all across the country and around the world -- this is Saudi television -- of money being raised on a Saudi telethon -- tens of millions of dollars, as you can see -- gold, funds, financing. And this is the way the Daily News said the money was going: Raise millions of dollars for families of Palestinian, quote, "martyrs," including suicide bombers in a state-sponsored live telethon, ordered by Saudi King Fahd, and broadcast on Saudi-owned satellite channels. The 11-hour martyr-thon raised $12 million in the first five hours. The haul topped $56 million five hours later. It finally reached $92 million. That's money that was going to quote, "Palestinians" – 


MR. RUSSERT: -- martyrs. But included families of suicide bombers.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Can we -- this issue has been so mischaracterized. We raised money to give to the Palestinians. Your own government gives money to the Palestinians. Our grand mufti, our chief religious theologian, two years ago said that suicide bombings were contradictory to the teachings of Islam, and it's illegal. You can't do it as a Muslim -- you don't go to heaven. You cannot take your soul, much less the soul of innocent people. We raised money in that telethon. Before the telethon was over we were being charged with providing money to suicide bombers. The funds are distributed to the Palestinians through international organizations -- the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the Palestinian Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The money is accounted for. Every Palestinian family in need gets that money. If it was meant to encourage suicide bombers, it would be like Saddam: You blow yourself up, and we will give you money, your family cash. That's not the case. We give them food, we give them pharmaceuticals, we give them -- we provide them with hospitals and roads. That's where the money goes to.

MR. RUSSERT: The problem is this: We hear you say that, and then we see evidence of the opposite. For example, what is being taught to young Saudi children? The United States Congress authorized a commission to look into that. This was the headline from the report: "Saudis Top Violators are Religious Rights," and went on to say this: "Independent studies conducted in recent months indicate that official government textbooks published by the Saudi Ministry of Education include offensive and discriminatory language, and in some cases promote intolerance and hatred of other religious groups. Among the major findings:

"One, Islam, specifically the Wahabi interpretation, which is the ruling class of Saudi Arabia, is presented as the only true religion, and all other religions are considered invalid and misguided, including other streams of Islam.

"Two, Christians and Jews repeatedly are labeled as infidels and enemies of Islam, who should not be befriended or emulated, and are referred to in an eighth grade textbook as apes and pigs.

"Three, Jews are repeatedly referred to as a wicked nation, characterized by bribery, deception, betrayal among other things.

"Four, those who abandon Islam for another religion deserve to be killed, or at least imprisoned if found guilty."

If that's what you are teaching your eighth grade children, why are you surprised that they are not turning into terrorists?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: I would agree with you, yes, but I think that this issue is overblown. I can go through a textbook in virtually any country, pick out a line, and blow it out of proportion. I think that's what we have here. We have had over the last 30 years no terrorism out of Saudi Arabia except with al Qaeda. They were able to brainwash our youth and they were able to recruit a number of them. We are talking about 1,500, 2,000 possibly out of six or seven thousand members. That doesn't taint the whole country. You have met Saudis. Do they look like they're fanatics?

MR. RUSSERT: But when it comes to terrorism against the United States -- in Riyadh, Monday night, September 11th here, Khobar Towers -- why is it disproportionate that Saudis are involved against Americans?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Well, with all due respect, what happened Monday was an attack against Saudi Arabia. There were 34 people died, of whom eight were Americans. The compounds that were targeted had   - two thirds of the residents were either Saudi or other Middle Easterners. This was an attack against the world. There were 30 nationalities probably living in those compounds, from Australia to Canada, including the United States and Saudi Arabia.

MR. RUSSERT: But wasn't it the policy of the royal family to teach hate against Americans and Jews and hope that the young terrorists would vent their anger against them, as opposed against the royal family of Saudi Arabia?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: No, I think that's wishful thinking, because any time you teach hate and incitement, it comes back and destroys you.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about a letter that the crown prince sent to President Bush in 2001, and this is an important area to explore.

And here it is on the screen: "Crown Prince Abdullah read from a letter he sent to President George Bush on August 27th, 2001" -- now, that's just about 15 days before September 11th -- in which he wrote that, quote, "A time comes when people and nations part. We are at a crossroads. It is a time for the United States and Saudi Arabia to look at their separate interests. Those governments that don't feel the pulse of the people and respond to it will suffer the fate of the shah of Iran," whom as you well know was overthrown some 30 years ago. "The pulse of the people" -- is the crown prince saying that he has to listen to the street in Saudi Arabia where 80 percent of the people give a favorable rating to Osama bin Laden, according to every poll data we've seen including those taken by our own State Department. He was listening to that and suggesting that Saudi Arabia had to peel away, break away from the United States, because he was listening to the beat of a different drummer, terrorism.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: No. I think the quote you had on the screen was a part of a verbal message that was sent to the president. Saudi Arabia and our public was very upset with the actions of Sharon's government in the summer of 2001, especially when he moved his forces into Ramallah. Our public was very upset when the U.S. government and President Bush did not take a strong position to deter Sharon from moving into civilian areas, and as a consequence the crown prince was suggesting that if the United States has decided contrary to how we see its interests that it would support Sharon regardless of what Sharon does, then we and Saudi Arabia will have to look out for our own interests, and we may take actions that may not be in line with American interests, because our public demands it. This was two years ago, and that's -- it's still a valid position. Can you tell me, Tim, that an American president will go against or contradict public opinion in the United States if it was strongly felt? I doubt it. I've been in this country for 20 years. All politics is local. We both know this.

MR. RUSSERT: Not if people in the country were advocating terrorism against Saudi Arabia the way people in the streets of Saudi Arabia are advocating terrorism against the United States.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: But they are not. I don't buy this. Saudis are not advocating terrorism against the United States. There is a common link between all the Saudis who are involved in al Qaeda. They have been to Afghanistan, they have been to Bosnia, they come from dysfunctional families. We have a personality profile of them. They are not representative of Saudi society.

MR. RUSSERT: Final question: The Saudis have now declared war on terrorism. They have aligned themselves with America to try to take on al Qaeda. Can the royal family, the monarchy in Saudi Arabia, survive by aligning themselves with the United States? With so many of your young people having been indoctrinated with such American hate in the schools?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Absolutely. I don't think we are aligning ourselves with the U.S. We are aligning ourselves with our people. Our people demand security, our people demand peace. Our people want to be able to raise their kids and have normal lives without having somebody blow them to pieces. And if the United States, which it is, is supporting us in this effort, we appreciate it, and we are thankful for it. If other countries want to support us, that's fine too. The terrorists have declared war on us. We can no longer afford to be quiet about it. We will take them on, we will rise to the challenge, and we will crush them. I have no doubt about it.

Monday for Saudi Arabia was, as I mentioned earlier, a jolt. Saudis demand action. They want their government to put an end to this, regardless of what the cost is.

MR. RUSSERT: And the royal family of Saudi Arabia will survive?

MR. AL-JUBEIR: If -- if the Saudi government cannot provide security for its citizens and its residents, then we have no business being in government.

MR. RUSSERT: We will be watching. Adel al-Jubeir, we thank you for joining us.

MR. AL-JUBEIR: Thank you.