In an interview that ran the full hour of PBS’s Charlie Rose program on April 26, 2004, Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal said in the run up to the war in Iraq, Saudi Arabia expressed its concern that the United States have a plan in place to deal with the potential for sectarian strife and felt that U.S. objectives to remove Saddam Hussein could have been achieved without bloodshed by turning to others in the Iraqi leadership to remove the Iraqi dictator. Iraq, he noted, was isolated in the region and it was the view of Saudi Arabia that keeping the Iraqi government and army intact would have provided an opportunity to avoid the challenges now confronting the United States. But it was not an assessment shared by the United States, he concluded.
Asked about reports of U.S.-Saudi cooperation in the war effort, Prince Saud noted, without delving into the specifics, that the two nations have a long history of cooperation and certainly in this case it was no different.
Prince Saud said that he is encouraged by the U.S. decision to turn to the United Nations in helping build a transition and its recognition that former members of the Baath Party are needed for their expertise; he believes it is important that whatever government emerges must be non-sectarian and non-ethnic in nature with guarantees for the protection of minorities. He cautioned that surrendering to the demands of any one of Iraq’s major minority groups would only lead to demands by other groups for similar concessions at the expense of a strong, viable central government. Should things spin out of control in Iraq, he warned, it could threaten the security of the entire region.
Turning to the issue of reforms in the Kingdom, Prince Saud said that Saudi Arabia is committed to pursuing the initiative started by King Fahd and now vigorously advanced by Crown Prince Abdullah. However, he stressed that the institutions will be home-grown and distinctly Saudi in nature. Reform is something that cannot be imposed from outside, he observed, and Saudi Arabia is pursuing changes because it is in the interest of its citizens. Asked about the matter of women’s rights, Prince Saud said the Kingdom has no intention of not making good use of the skills of half of its population. He also noted that already 39% of positions in the Saudi government are held by women; and women make up more than 50% of the school attendance in the Kingdom.
Asked if Iraq would help or hurt the war on terrorism, Prince Saud replied that anything that extremists can point to as an injustice will fuel their cause. Al-Qaeda’s objective is Saudi Arabia and its strategy depends on driving a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the United States. But the war against terrorism can be successful if it is conducted as a global effort. Saudi Arabia has taken major initiatives in cooperation with the G-8 to cut the flow of money to terrorists, but still some accuse the Kingdom of failing to do enough.
Prince Saud also spoke at length of how U.S. policy towards Israel is the source of anger and frustration in the Arab world. He observed that the United States turns a blind eye to Israel’s violence against the Palestinians. American viewers, he observed, do not see the homes destroyed and the lives disrupted by the occupation. Sharon, he continued, has consistently sought to undermine the peace process, and has destroyed the powerbase of the Palestinian Authority. He has conducted an assassination campaign directed against the Palestinian leadership, and threatened the life of Yasser Arafat. He is attempting take the issues of Jerusalem and the right of return, off the table. It is critical, said Prince Saud, to get the peace process back on track under the auspices of the ‘roadmap’ and the Quartet. The formula for peace is known by everybody, he said. It requires a separation of forces by international intervention and the resumption of negotiations. Arab countries will do their part if only Israel would enter the negotiation process in good faith, he said.
In concluding remarks, Prince Saud said he wants Americans to understand that Saudi Arabia is a friend of the United States and will continue to be so.