2003 Transcript

Remarks by Prince Bandar Bin Sultan Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States to the Conference of Mayors, at the Capital Hilton, Washington, DC

AMB. BANDAR: (Applause.) Thank you very much. It's always nice to be introduced by a fellow from Colorado. And Mayor Webb, thank you for the kind words you have mentioned.

Probably my relationship with the mayor shows how the rest of the world and the international arena should behave. We are friends. He is, of course, proud of his home team, the Broncos, and I am a Dallas Cowboys fan. (Laughter.) And we still don't fight over it, except as friends. (Laughter.) 

I want to start with a disclaimer that, number one, I am bipartisan, and therefore, I have no comments on what Senator Kennedy has said to you earlier. And if I do, I'll keep it to myself. (Laughter.) 

It's truly my honor and it gives me great pleasure to be with you here. I was telling some of your colleagues earlier on that after 20 years in this great capital of yours, I learned that if I want to keep my sanity, I have to leave every two weeks, three weeks, outside meet real people. then come back here. Otherwise, one can go crazy easily in this town. (Laughter.) And you are the people or you represent the people that I enjoy visiting with. 

I was thinking yesterday, flying back from Saudi Arabia, that what am I going to talk to you about today.

The headlines are easy. The details may not be as easy as one would like them to be. So I thought probably the best thing is, instead of me assuming that I know what you want to hear and then tell you, maybe I should let you decide what are the areas that you are interested in, whether it is bilateral between our two countries or whether it is multilateral, as far as the crisis that we are all going through to now.

So first, I would say that Saudi Arabia has a been a friend of the United States of America since the '20s, late '20s, early '30s. And our relationship with the United States of America started in an unusual way. It started with the private sector, not with the U.S. government. We were looking for water, and somebody found oil with us. (Laughter.) And Saudi Arabia has never been the same since. (Laughter.)

Also, Saudi Arabia has never been a colony because, before the oil, we had nothing to colonize, except desert and camels; and after the oil, it was not fashionable to be colonialist. So our relationship really basically started people to people and mutual interests, and over the last 70 years, it sustained that.

In 20 years, I have never had a more painful and shocking event that happened in my life compared to 9/11. And 9/11 was a tragedy by all measures, but it also was evil. And I have seen the reaction of the American people, and unfortunately, the reaction I'm just about to describe, you will not see it on TV because it's not news. You will see negative reactions here and there, but the American people reacted in a very typical American way vis-a-vis their neighbors and community friends either from Arab descendants or from Islamic faith.

In one place, I think it's in Dallas, Texas, an Arab Muslim woman who was covering her head was going to go shopping, and somebody, I think, insulted her or something. All her neighbors covered their hair and walked with her to the shopping center. To me, that is real America.

And when the president goes to the Islamic Center here in Washington and visits with them, that sets, I think, the tone from the leadership down to the tolerance and the goodness of America.

But I can assure you those 19 evil human beings who committed that crime on 9/11 do not represent Islam either. There are bad Jews, but Judaism is a great religion. There are bad Christians; Christianity is a great religion. And there are bad Muslims, but Islam is a great religion. During the Inquisition, for example, many years ago -- many, many years ago, Protestants and Jews used to emigrate to the Arabs. Why? Because they were tolerant. Now, I have never trusted anyone who goes to war fighting for God, because throughout history, the name of God was invoked when a lot of crimes have been done against some other people.

But right now, you can be assured that the relationship between our two countries have not gotten weaker since 9/11, but gotten stronger. Why? Because we and you were the target, and our relationship was the target for that attack. And we will not allow those people to prevail by damaging that relationship. In fact, there are so much happening, that is not known to the public, and it's not time to announce it to the public, that I think will prove my point.

We've always in Saudi Arabia felt that when the American friends catch cold, we catch pneumonia in our part of the world. So the health of your economy, for example, is paramount to us because it does affect us and affect our daily lives. Hence, about four or five days ago, Saudi Arabia has managed to get OPEC, for example, to increase oil production a million and a half to make sure we can dampen the effect of the absence of the Venezuelan oil crisis. And my government is ready to do more in the next two, three weeks, if we see the price is not stabilizing, and particularly going down to below $28.

I hope that the international aspect of your conference could give us a chance to invite you all to hold this conference in Saudi Arabia, in one of the cities there, in the near future. And I'll be staying in touch with Mayor Webb and others to see if we can do that. 

That is really as much as I want to bore you with, and now I'll let you decide what is it you want to hear, and I will be more than happy to answer your questions. (Applause.)

Please. Yes? 

QHow would you feel if 15 or 19 Americans would go to Saudi Arabia and cause the damage that was caused on September 11 by Saudi citizens to the United States? How would you feel? How -- what would be the movement in Saudi Arabia against American (sic) if it was the other way around?

And the second part of my question: Since you talk about an improvement in the relationship between the two countries, we all know that Saddam Hussein has weapon of mass destruction that were there, that -- they were not disposed in any way or form. And today, between your relationship in the United States, your country have put a hold on the United States on flying over, using your base. What has happened to the destruction of that relationship between the two countries in -- versus what happened in post-September 11, when you knew for sure that Saddam Hussein is a threat to the world, when you knew for sure that he has weapon of mass destruction? 

AMB. BANDAR:Thank you, sir. I think I will feel no difference than how Americans felt when 9/11 took place. I think the feeling -- when injustice or terror of that magnitude hits any society or any nation, I think there is a universal reaction to it, which is a combination of anger and pain for the families of the victims, and outrage vis-a-vis the people who caused it or planned it.

And the whole story of 11 -- 9/11 is not out yet. And what -- I can tell you, though, that we and your security services here and others around the world were on the hunt many, many months before the -- 9/11 took place.

Of course, it's always smarter after the fact, one -- and Monday morning quarterbacking is easy. But I can assure you we were working like crazy for months before the attack took place. And since that fight is still going on, I am not at liberty to give you more, but sometime in the future, the whole thing will come out and then you will find that Saudi Arabia particularly have upheld its share of the fight honorably. The fact is the tragedy, it's an evil tragedy took place.

And before 11 September, because we have different cultures, different religions, different form of government -- and I've always felt that, you know, being different is not necessarily bad. Being different is just what it is. In fact, it could be enriching to a society to have different backgrounds and cultures. But you know, for a while, about two, three years before -- more than that, maybe five years before 9/11, all the bad people that we were chasing -- they never go hide in Iran or Libya or Syria. They always go to London, Berlin, Paris, sometimes here. And when we report to our counterparts, "Look, there are bad people. Will you please help us with them?," we are told they are dissidents and that if we only give them the right to speak, they would not have problems.

Well, the truth of the matter is, yes, they were dissidents. And yes, we didn't give them the right to speak, because when they spoke, it was ugly. And the result of their thinking and speaking is what you saw in 9/11. It is a thin line between doing the right thing because somebody genuinely has a discontent or between somebody who's evil who wants to use either God or liberty and so on to cause more harm for others.

As I said, there are many people on the 10th of September who were called dissidents. 12th of September, most of them became terrorists. I wish that change took place without 9/11 having to be the cause of it.

But I think now, cool-headedness and good conscience must guide us to do two things at the same time. We must be firm after the evil-doers so we can prevent their next move. But we must not get too carried away, and in the process of doing the right thing we do the wrong thing. And it is a very balanced choice here.

As far as -- your second question is -- 

QFlying over Saudi Arabia.

AMB. BANDAR:Oh, flying over Saudi Arabia and support with Saddam. You know, some of you -- I'm sure most of you have been to this great town many times. But few of you probably have lived here. Having lived here 20 years, Washington, they don't -- does not leak, they have a hemorrhage -- (light laughter) -- when it comes to government running its own affairs. One of the most classic things in Washington is "a knowledgeable source" -- (light laughter) -- or "senior source who doesn't want to be identified". (Light laughter.) I can assure you of one thing: the people who know, they don't talk; and the people who talk, they don't know. (Laughter, applause.)

My government is not embarrassed about its relationship with this country. In fact, we were friends when it was not fashionable in our part of the world, in the '50s and the '60s. And we still are not -- we're still proud of our relationship with you. When we disagree, we disagree as friends. But the main objective usually is the same.

Saddam Hussein is an evil man. But he's the leader of his country. Saddam Hussein in the last 20 years has caused more pain to his people and to our region than anybody else. We feel that the United Nations has spoken as far as what needs to be done with that -- this situation. And we feel President Bush has done a very wise thing and showed great leadership by going to the United Nations and getting a unanimous decision out of the United Nations of what should happen now.

I just speak from personal experience in dealing with Saddam. He never finds an opportunity that he could miss that he does not miss. He has a panache for a grand understanding of issues.

My government is like yours; we pray that this conflict will be solved peacefully, and if it's not solved peacefully, it will not be because we intimidated or we asked for trouble.

But in the Middle East, we have other problems other than Saddam Hussein and Iraq. We have the Palestinian-Israeli issue, and that's of paramount importance for us and for the whole region. We feel that President Bush's initiative, and Crown Prince Abdullah's initiative, which is the two-state solution, is probably the ideal solution. And the question now is how we can get together and make it happen in reality so we can stop the suffering and the high price that civilians from both sides are paying unnecessarily.

But without saying so much about overflights or no overflights, just do not believe what you read. And I can assure you my government and your government are very happy about the cooperation. I always say about how you Americans like -- you want to know too much too soon. Sometimes that's not necessarily the best way. (Laughter.) It's like 911; you -- when somebody is in trouble in this country, you call the police, you dial 911 -- "Please help me. I'm at 7-11 and somebody is holding me up." (Laughter.) You know what, in Saudi Arabia we have the same thing, in fact, the same number -- 911. And here is the different scenes. An American police will respond to a 911 call with sirens, flashing lights, until they get there. Saudi police will get there quietly until he finds the person, and then arrests.

We feel -- maybe something is wrong with us, but we don't like to announce everything we know in our plans to bin Laden and Saddam, to the whole world, before we get there. Maybe it's not so smart, just like the thief. (Laughter, applause.) 

Next question. 

QHi. My name is Joel Segal. I'm from the office of Congressman John Conyers. My question is about the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, which you gave me a nice segue to ask this question. Saudi Arabians put forward a very exciting proposal that would have laid the groundwork for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and unfortunately, for whatever reason, I don't think that it was embraced or worked enough by the UN, by America or Europe.

We know that in Northern Ireland and we -- also in Bosnia that until the international community came in, the problems would have never been solved. 

In your expert opinion -- and you are an expert -- what must the United States do, what must the United Nations do, what must the Arab countries do to bring both sides back to the negotiating table, so we can have a lasting, final peace?

AMB. BANDAR:Thank you, sir. Tragedy in the Middle East is, when the Arabs are ready, the Israelis are not, and when the Israelis are ready, the Arabs are not. And we kept missing each other along.

Where the United States of America is vital to the process is, America is the only nation in the world that's trusted by both sides. Particularly now, since you are the only game in town, as far as superpower, that becomes vital. That -- the hope was that you arrest both sides when they're just parallel, and then they can talk.

You know, I have had more heartburns by coming this far from clinching peace between the Arabs and Israel, and it fell apart at the last moment.

And my wife and I have eight children, and we have two grandchildren. And I just cannot imagine my grandchildren being -- leaving high school or going to college and asking me then, "Grandpa, why did you fail solving the damn thing?" 60 years later.

So I can assure you, in a personal level, but in a national level, everybody's eager to do the right thing.

Now contrary to some of the common thinking and particularly in the media, President Bush have proposed a very far-reaching solution, which is the two-state solution, which is then you build everything on -- based on that. And that initiative does dovetail with our initiative. And the international community has supported both.

Unfortunately, there are enemies of peace on both sides on the ground, who -- every time we get closer to closing the gap and start actual things that people on the ground can feel, we get either terrorist attacks or an overwhelming attacks by the Israelis. So instead of fighting or competing to see who can do more peacefully and so on, there is now competition in a violent way.

I, being the ultimate optimist, feel that maybe after the 28th of this month, which is the elections in Israel, that any government comes now in Israel will understand that there are two constants in the Middle East that cannot be changed, regardless of what.

Number one, there is never going to be a solution that will satisfy the Palestinians if there is no guarantee for the Israeli people's security. Two, there will never be security for the Israeli people if there is no satisfaction for the national aspiration of the Palestinian people. Whichever way you take the Middle East and turn it 'round, these are the permanent pillars.

I believe now with the president's initiative, our initiative, and what's called the map of the road, that U.N. and Europe and Russia have supported, I think March, April will be a good month -- I'm optimistic that that will be a good month that we move on the peace process.

You have to remember one thing, though. America's a great country, but a young country. And I come from a place where the Lord, in his wisdom, sent in three major religions -- Judaism, then Christianity, then Islam -- to a small piece of real estate. You know why? Because we are difficult people. (Laughter.) And that is why you have -- you only -- you can step one step outside the mosque, and you are in the church; the other side, you are on the Wailing Wall. It is just the Lord knows that, and he was patient with us. Our American friends have to be patient and supportive and give us a chance to work it out between us. And I am confident that this will happen.

I wish we had more time so we can talk more about this. But I can assure you that it's so great to see you here, see real people vis-a-vis what I deal with every day here. (Laughter.) And I look forward to visiting you in your cities. 

And I will thank all of you, and particularly the ones who have either Saudi students or other students from foreign countries, for the good -- the true American way of dealing and handling them.

Thank you, my friends, and God bless.