2003 Transcript

Crown Prince Abdullah interviewed by Ms. Katie Couric of NBC's 'Today Show'
KATIE COURIC: Crown Prince Abdullah is a low-profile leader in a high-profile country. Unofficially, he's been ruling Saudi Arabia for the past eight years, ever since his brother, King Fahd, suffered a series of strokes. People call Prince Abdullah a visionary, and reform is a key priority at a time his country faces increasing internal challenges and an increasingly challenging relationship with the United States. I met up with Crown Prince Abdullah at one of his official meetings, known here as a majlis, where Saudi citizens gather weekly to voice their opinions about the country. At Sunday's meeting, Prince Abdullah called for unity, not division, saying that reason, patience, moderation and kind words will help bring people together. For a de facto king, he makes an effort to be in touch with all Saudis, reaching out to the homeless, eating lunch at the mall. He is also passionate about horse-racing. In his first American television interview ever, he admits that while the relationship between his country and the United States is turbulent right now, he insists it is still solid and unshakeable.

(To Crown Prince Abdullah.)

Many people in Saudi Arabia currently have very negative feelings about the United States. Only 16 percent in a recent poll think positively about America. Why do you think that is?

CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: (through interpreter) The primary reason being the situation in Palestine and American policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the events that are occurring there, which have generated anger among people in the region.

The second reason I believe, there is criticism toward Saudi Arabia - has to do with some American media and the unfair criticism or attacks against the Kingdom which have caused a lot of pain among Saudis.

MS. COURIC: What, in your view, needs to be done vis-a-vis the Arab-Israeli situation to have public opinion in the Arab world toward the United States change?

CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: America was founded on the basis of justice and equality, and this is what is required to bring this conflict to an end. What the Palestinian people are asking for is a just solution and an equitable solution.

MS. COURIC: Do you feel as if U.S. policy is too one-sided and too pro-Israel?


MS. COURIC: Because 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11th were from Saudi Arabia, some people in the United States feel this is a breeding ground for terrorists. What is your government and what are you doing to ensure there aren't many more like those 15 individuals who are willing to take that kind of action against the United States?

CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: I believe that no society is immune from deviants and extremists. This situation exists in every country, in every society and in every faith. These individuals do not represent their societies. They do not represent the prevailing thinking of a society.

MS. COURIC: But what can you tell the American people that will convince them that this kind of activity, terrorism against the United States, or other countries, for that matter, is not something that is being encouraged in Saudi Arabia, but is, in fact, being dealt with very seriously?

CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: To begin with, I would suggest that the American people study the Holy Qur'an and the Islamic faith. Our Qur'an and our faith reject terrorism and the taking of innocent lives, because we believe that this violates the basic principles of our faith as well as the principles of humanity and the preservation of life.

MS. COURIC: Having said that, that still doesn't address the problem of religious fanatics in your country who may want to wage a jihad against the United States.

CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: When we look at the Torah or the Bible or the Qur'an, we will find people of all faiths that interpret their scriptures in an extreme way. But this does not reflect the society.

MS. COURIC: About the war with Iraq, a possible war with Iraq, do you believe, Your Highness, that a peaceful solution is realistic, given the fact that the buildup of U.S. forces in this region continues?

CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: I have a sense, and I must say I have a strange sense, that it may not come to war, in spite of the momentum and movement and buildup in that direction. I can't explain it, but that's my sense.

I believe that every problem has a solution, and I believe that if we look at understanding and communications as the basis for interacting with each other in life, we can find solutions to problems. I believe that force only begets death and destruction. It does not build anything. And that is why I hope that my sense that it will not come to war is correct.

MS. COURIC: You've been described as a great visionary and reformer. How difficult is it to balance your desire for progress and respect for Islamic tradition and an increasingly fundamentalist society here in Saudi Arabia?

CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: Our Islamic faith is a forward-looking faith, a faith of learning and a faith of science. There should be no contradiction between religion, on one hand, and modernization and progress, on the other hand, if we interpret our faith properly.