WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Yesterday's announcement by the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad, that Syria would start to pull back its troops in Lebanon came just two days after Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah warned him during a face-to-face meeting that he should begin a full troop withdrawal or risk damaging relations between their two countries. Joining us now, the foreign affairs advisor to Crown Prince Abdullah, Adel Al-Jubeir.
Mr. Al-Jubeir, thanks very much for joining us. We'll get to what's happening in Saudi Arabia in a moment. Let's talk about Syria right now. How quickly should Syria withdraw all of its forces from Lebanon?
ADEL AL-JUBEIR, FOREIGN AFFAIRS ADVISOR TO CROWN PRINCE ABDULLAH: We believe that the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 requires a full withdrawal in as expeditious a manner as possible. The technical details will have to be worked out between the Syrians and Lebanese as well as with the United Nations.
The secretary-general is sending his very capable emissary, Terje Larsen, to the region in the next few days to talk to regional players, including the Syrian and Lebanese governments, to talk about the details. Then he will report to the Security Council, per the requirements of the U.N. resolution, what the next steps ought to be.
BLITZER: We heard Dan Bartlett, the president's counselor on this program, just a little while ago say that the U.S., the Bush administration, doesn't see how there can be free and fair elections in Lebanon if there are any Syrian troops there. And they want to have their elections in the spring, perhaps May.
Do you agree with that position?
AL-JUBEIR: I'm not sure about how this may are may not affect the elections in Lebanon. Perhaps international observers could help. But we have to be careful in terms of the Lebanese security situation -- what a quick pullout from Lebanon would entail in terms of Lebanon security situation domestically.
But I believe, Wolf, that, at the end of the day, it is inevitable that the Syrian government will comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Their president has said so yesterday.
BLITZER: Not only the troops, but the intelligence services, withdrawing them as well?
AL-JUBEIR: He said clearly that he would comply with 1559. And I believe 1559 is very clear in terms of what is required.
BLITZER: You know the situation in Lebanon. What happens inside Lebanon?
Because now, on Tuesday, Hezbollah says they're going to have a big pro-Syrian demonstration to counter the opposition demonstrations, which have continued ever since the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri. What unfolds in Lebanon, assuming the Syrians do withdraw eventually?
AL-JUBEIR: That's the $60,000 question, Wolf. Lebanon has always had a very delicate ethnic and sectarian balance. It went through a 17-year civil war. Saudi Arabia was very instrumental in bringing that war to an end, with the Taif Accords which restructured the Lebanese government.
The Syrian forces went into Lebanon initially in the 1970s in order to bring peace and stability to that country, which helped end the civil war. Now the question becomes, how do you maintain stability in Lebanon and hand the country back to the Lebanese?
BLITZER: And so, what's the answer? Do you think that there should be an introduction of foreign forces? There has been some suggestion that NATO should send troops to Lebanon to make sure that it's a peaceful, stable country.
AL-JUBEIR: We have heard that suggestion. We have heard suggestions of increasing the U.N. forces in Lebanon. We have heard suggestions of having multinational forces in Lebanon.
That is why it is important to have experts assess the situation to determine the pace of withdrawal and the speed of withdrawal so that it can't come too quickly. And it shouldn't come too slowly and it shouldn't come too quickly. It has to just be at the right time in order to keep the country stable.
BLITZER: I want to move on. But take us into that meeting between Crown Prince Abdullah and President Assad. Did he lay down the law -- Crown Prince Abdullah -- and threaten President Assad and say, "You have to comply"?
AL-JUBEIR: It would be very presumptuous of me to try to discuss what a head of state says to another head of state, Wolf. I'm sure you can understand.
BLITZER: But he was blunt?
AL-JUBEIR: The Crown Prince is known to be a very honest and sincere and direct person.
BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about democracy in the Middle East. We saw elections in Afghanistan. Then we saw elections in Iraq, free and fair elections. The Palestinians had their elections. The Lebanese want their elections.
Let me read to you from the London Times on Thursday: "But the fast pace of change does not necessarily mean that the Arab world is destined for a bright new democratic future. Egypt and Saudi Arabia announced their reforms under intense pressure from Washington. But there are doubts that President Mubarak or the Saudi royal family would allow elections that could sweep them from power."
The elections that you had, municipal elections, in Saudi Arabia were very, very modest. Only a small portion of the country. No women could vote. Where does Saudi Arabia stand in terms of moving toward what we would call a full democracy?
AL-JUBEIR: Well, it depends on the nature of our society. We are a country that is reforming in a comprehensive manner. We are doing so because it is in our best interests and in the interests of our citizens. We're not doing so in response to external pressure. That never works. Reform has to emanate from the inside. It has to be compatible with your customs and traditions.
BLITZER: The Saudis see what's going on in the region.
AL-JUBEIR: Of course they do.
BLITZER: They have satellite television.
AL-JUBEIR: Of course they do.
BLITZER: They see what happened in Iraq. They see what is happening among the Palestinians.
AL-JUBEIR: Of course they do.
BLITZER: It has an impact on them.
AL-JUBEIR: Yes, absolutely. And the government is adjusting to it. We're opening up our economy. We're creating jobs. We're opening up our media. We are opening up the public space for public discussions. We are broadening political participation in a gradual manner that is not disruptive to our society by introducing elections at the municipal level.
BLITZER: But half the population is totally excluded, namely women.
AL-JUBEIR: I believe the head of the election commission has recommended that in the next elections women should vote. And there are a lot of people in Saudi Arabia who believe that women ought to vote in the next elections. So I don't believe that the issue of women voting is going to be an issue for us in the future.
BLITZER: Well, when would that be? How many years would you estimate before women could vote in Saudi Arabia?
AL-JUBEIR: I personally would not be surprised if they vote next time around.
BLITZER: Which would be when?
AL-JUBEIR: Four years from now.
BLITZER: What about driving cars?
AL-JUBEIR: Again, this is an issue that our society has to debate among itself.
BLITZER: Because women in Saudi Arabia can't even get a driver's license.
Al-JUBEIR: Correct. There are people in Saudi Arabia who believe women ought to drive. There are some who believe women should not drive. And this is a debate that our society will have to resolve among itself.
One cannot impose one's will on the majority of the people, much as one wants to. We have a full process under way that we intend to see to its proper conclusion.
BLITZER: In recent days, the State Department came out with its annual human rights report on all countries in the world, including Saudi Arabia. They said the record of human rights abuses and violations for Saudi Arabia, however, still far exceeds the advances.
They cited torture and abuse of prisoners, closed trials, arrests of reformers, restrictions of speech and press, violence against women, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.
I assume you read that State Department report on human rights violations in Saudi Arabia. What do you make of that?
AL-JUBEIR: We always take issue with the State Department when it releases its annual human rights report, because we believe that many of the items in it are just not correct. If they consider corporal punishment, for instance, executions of drug dealers and rapists and murderers, as cruel and inhumane punishment, then that's their opinion. It is part of our faith that this is how you punish people.
With regards to the issue of torture and arresting people without proper procedures, we also take exception with this. There are violations that have taken place in Saudi Arabia, like they do in every country, but we investigate those and we punish the officials responsible for them.
BLITZER: The case of Ahmed Abu Ali, an American citizen arrested in Saudi Arabia -- he was studying there, accused of being al Qaeda, a valedictorian of his high school here in suburban Washington, D.C. He claims he was tortured in Saudi Arabia, forced to confess about a plot to kill President Bush. He's now been arrested here in the United States, sent from Saudi Arabia back to the United States.
His lawyers, his family insist the only reason he confessed is he was being tortured by your government.
AL-JUBEIR: Well, look at the facts, Wolf. While he was detained he was visited on fairly regular basis by American officials who saw absolutely no evidence of him being either mentally or physically abused in Saudi Arabia. When he was released and before he was handed over to the United States, he was inspected or checked out by four doctors, including an American doctor, who saw no evidence whatsoever of any physical abuse of him while while he was in Saudi custody. And while he was flying back to the United States, he was in the company of an American doctor who said that he didn't say anything or discuss anything or see any evidence of any kind of physical abuse that he underwent in Saudi Arabia.
So I think the allegation is preposterous. Perhaps it's his lawyer trying to strengthen his client's case by making him seem innocent. The U.S. government is fully aware of why he was detained. He was part of what we believed was a dangerous operation that they were trying to do.
We decided that he should be tried in the U.S. because his family also wanted him tried here, and that is the reason that we handed him over to the United States. But this is not a -- the charges of torture are completely unsubstantiated.
BLITZER: Did he say when he was under arrest in Saudi Arabia that he was part of an al Qaeda-associated group that wanted to kill President Bush?
AL-JUBEIR: I think everything that -- most of the case is laid out in the indictment I think that the U.S. attorney handed out when he arrived in the United States. And I would like to just leave it at that and not add to it.
BLITZER: Adel Al-Jubeir from Saudi Arabia, thanks very much for joining us.
AL-JUBEIR: My pleasure.