2003 Transcript

Saudi Ambassador interviewed by L.A. Times
Ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan, interviewed on September 22 by the L.A. Times, addressed several topics, including claims of Saudi involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

On Saudi-U.S. relationship …

“Now we believe, in direct information from captured people or through intelligence, that this was one of the objectives [of the 9/11 attacks] - to hit the Saudi-American relations and hopefully destroy it ...... I must tell you, they came close to it. But both governments -- and lots of people with common sense -- braced up for it, and I think now we are over the hump. But it was very tough, and mixed with emotion. It’s just very hard - and a big fight against terrorism.

“So the priority became, where do we concentrate most? Fighting the terrorists, or trying to grab their money, or explaining to the American people our position, etc. And we feel now we are at the stage where we are content with the level of cooperation and the level of targeting of the bad guys.” 

“We have never had the [Saudi-U.S.] relationship shaken with the average American people. And I saw, on 11 September, that morning, I saw and was shocked down to my roots. And I saw everything I’ve done in this country for 18 years, collapse right in front of my eyes. Because now, the average American says why? How come? ...... These are our friends, and so on. 

“I must tell you I am very much encouraged by the comments I’ve heard so far when you sit and tell people the facts, vis-a-vis what they see on TV or read in the papers, attributed to the pundits, specialists, unnamed senior officials, without name, etc.

“I was nervous, really I was very nervous about the relationship because the confidence of the American people was shaken in us. And I am happy and encouraged to intensify what I am doing now because they are not a lost cause. They are hungry for information, and by gosh, it is amazing how much myths are thrown out there without anybody …...  sometimes I feel somebody doesn’t want to take yes for an answer.”

On long-standing Saudi fight against terrorism ... 

“What happened on 9/11 caused a lot of pain here and shock, but caused also a shock and bewilderment in my country. Because the relationship with the United States has never been so shaky. America has not done anything to the Saudi people or government or leadership, since Roosevelt, that will justify why we would clash with them. 

“But Al-Qaeda, and bin Laden, or their ilk, did not approve of this relationship, and they decided to hit it and destroy this relationship. So they started in Saudi Arabia, with a few activities there, and incitement, and some bombings. When that didn’t work, they started attacking the American presence there. And when that didn’t work, they came with this plan, 9/11.

“So our war with them started long before you felt the pain here,” said the prince. “In fact, the irony for us is that on the 10th of September, a lot of those people you’re now looking for or got, we called them terrorists. You called them dissidents. On the 12th of September, they became terrorists.”

On his own relationship with the Bush administration... 

“Exactly the description you mentioned about [my] close relationship with Bush was said with Carter. It was said with Reagan. You can’t have more politically [divergent people.] It was said with Bush, with Clinton. The truth of the matter: the Saudi-American relationship has been powerful  since Roosevelt. Since Roosevelt till today, every president that came in power here never left office with the Saudi-American relationship being downhill. So I don’t see anything really special there.

“Now, if you know people, of course it makes life much easier. Somebody mentioned in January or February 2001, they said ‘Bandar, this is your dream team.’ I said, ‘could be.’ We were talking about this, people who you worked with a few years ago, guess what, they came back again: Cheney, I worked with him as Secretary of Defense when we liberated Kuwait. Powell, I knew Powell since he was a Lt. Colonel and I was a major in the air force, and our paths crossed all through that until he became National Security with Reagan, and Chief of Staff, and now secretary of State. Rumsfeld, we knew him a long time ago when he was Secretary of Defense.

“My point is, there are so many people who came, that not only you have to work with them, which we did, but you like them, too.  I like other people, too, in other administrations.”

On Yasser Arafat and the Middle East peace process ...

“We are taking it for a fact that Arafat has to be killed or exiled so we can get things done. That fact is false, by the way he’s being treated. If he’s not being treated, and attention is diverted from issues to be discussed to ‘did Arafat get water or not. Did he get food or not. Is there electricity or not. Did the Army put more tanks, less tanks,’ this became the story instead of what else is going to happen.

“So I think, definitely, killing him by the Israelis is going to be a disaster and help nobody. And we and the United States of America, on that we agree totally.

“I’ve spent 70 percent of my time for the last twenty years on the peace process in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And I had my heart broken time and time again. When we are this far from making the breakthrough, and then things collapsed.

“I believe there is a leadership failure in the Middle East between Palestinians and Israelis, and I believe that the solution is as clear to my eyes as the sun. There will never be a Palestinian state that can exist in dignity unless Israel has its security met. But there will never be security for Israel unless the Palestinians are assured of their state and their dignity to be preserved. Now, in my mind, once you accept that, then filling in the details should be easier.

“And the tragedy is, nobody is doing what Sadat did, which he lost his life for, or what Rabin did, which he lost his life for. Both were killed by extremists in their society, both Israeli and Egyptian. And unless you’re willing to have the courage to move in a bold way, within this context, we’re not going to see peace come immediately. And guess what, the people who pay the price are the innocent lives in Israel and the innocent lives in Palestine.”