WALTERS: Because 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis is this something that has caused you great grief, would you like to say something to the American people about that?
KING ABDULLAH: Yes, of course, it has. And we were shocked. It has had a negative effect on all Saudis, because this is not who we are. Nor is it what our faith teaches us. We, as Arabs, are always loyal to our friends and we value such friendships.
WALTERS: Well, officially, our two countries are friends and allies. But unofficially there seem to be some suspicion and even hatred. Why do you think this is?
KING ABDULLAH: Yes, the Saudi people have some disagreements with the United States in particular when it comes to the issue of the Palestinian question, the war in Afghanistan and the war of Iraq, and I believe this may have influenced the opinion of the Saudi public towards the United States.
WALTERS: King Abdullah was against the US invasion in Iraq. And now the war next door is the most pressing foreign policy matter for Saudi Arabia. Majority rule in Iraq would mean Shiite domination – something mostly Sunni Saudi Arabia does not want to see.
Last month, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal caused a stir by warning that Iraq is heading for disintegration, which could drag the entire region into war. The King, however, remains cautious.
KING ABDULLAH: What we ask for is that justice and equity prevail among all of the ethnic groups in Iraq. We believe that Iraq is one country in which all Iraqis live in peace and justice. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, until today, has not interfered in Iraq’s affairs. We have not done so because we don’t want to open up ourselves to charges or accusations that we have a hand in the disintegration of Iraq. We also have been accused in the past of having a hand of what happened in Iraq, in particular with regards to terrorism and the violence. We are innocent of these charges and we have remained neutral, in spite of the injustices we see currently going on.
WALTERS: Let’s talk about Iran. Iran has become more powerful, as a result of the turmoil in Iraq. Do you see that as a threat to the region?
KING ABDULLAH: The questioner is oftentimes more knowledgeable than the questionee.
WALTERS: So you are not worried about Iran becoming more powerful?
KING ABDULLAH: Iran is a friendly country. Iran is a Muslim country. We hope that Iran will not become an obstacle to peace and security in Iraq. This is what we hope for and this is what we believe the Iraqi people want.
WALTERS: Iran became a security concern for the wider world after it hinted last summer that it might go after nuclear weapons. The question then, for King Abdullah, if Iran gets those weapons, would Saudi Arabia have to have them, too?
KING ABDULLAH: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like other countries in the region, rejects the acquisition of nuclear weapons by anyone, especially nuclear weapons in the Middle East region. We hope that such weapons will be banned or eliminated from the region by every country in the region.
WALTERS: President Bush has said that one of his goals is to spread democracy in your region. Is this realistic?
KING ABDULLAH: If you look at democracy in the United States, you will see that it took many, many years to develop.
WALTERS: A flash point for Westerners is that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive. It seems to be symbolic of a woman’s lack of independence. Would you support allowing women to drive?
KING ABDULLAH: I believe strongly in the rights of women. My mother is a woman. My sister is a woman. My daughter is a woman. My wife is a woman and I was born of a woman. I believe the day will come when women drive. In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive. The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible.
WALTERS: There are so many restrictions against women. Do you see this changing?
KING ABDULLAH: Yes, I believe we can. But it will require a little bit of time.
WALTERS: There is progress even now, says the palace. Where women used to be confined to jobs mostly in health care and education, Abdullah just declared the job market open for women in any field that suits her nature. The rest, he says, will come in time.
KING ABDULLAH: Our people are just now beginning to open up to the world. I believe that with the passing of days, in the future, everything is possible.
WALTERS: Anything is possible. But what is the King doing to stop terrorism? You’ll learn that in part two of my interview with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and he also has a message for Americans.
WALTERS: While it is true that 15 of the 19 September 11th hijackers were Saudis, the Kingdom itself has also been the repeated target of al-Qaeda’s wrath. I asked King Abdullah about terrorism when I interviewed him earlier this month in Jeddah. And here is part two of that interview.
WALTERS: Three years ago, al-Qaeda operatives began attacking Saudi Arabia, in ten incidents so far, hundreds have been killed. Why do you think Saudi Arabia is becoming fertile ground for Saudi Arabia?
KING ABDULLAH: Madness. Madness and evil – it is the work of the devil. Such acts cannot be perpetrated by any individual who has a sense of decency or humanity or justice or faith.
WALTERS: Do you feel that you have eliminated the threat here in your own country?
KING ABDULLAH: No.
WALTERS: You’re still worried about it?
KING ABDULLAH: I have stated, after the first terrorist attack, that we will fight the terrorist and those who support them or condone their actions for 10, 20, 30 years if we have to, until we eliminate the surge scourge. I believe the world must stand shoulder to shoulder with each other if we are to eliminate this evil from our midst.
WALTERS: Terrorism to some degree starts with extremism. And there are people who feel that the educational system in Saudi Arabia has in the past, contributed to extremism and hatred. When we were here three years ago, we found textbooks that called for the killing of Jews. What is being done to stop this extremist teaching?
KING ABDULLAH: I will not deny that such extremism existed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. But such extremism exists in almost every country in the world. If you look at the United States, and what people have said about Islam, I asked myself why the focus is only on Saudi Arabia when it comes to such matters, when we all should be fighting such extremist thought everywhere. Muslims are not bloodthirsty people. Islam is a religion of peace that forbids the killing of the innocent. Islam also accepts the prophets, whether those prophets are Mohammad, may God’s peace and blessings be upon him, or Moses, or the other prophets of the Books.
WALTERS: In this country, however, you cannot practice a religion other than Islam publicly although there are 5 million foreigners in this country.
KING ABDULLAH: Public worship is not allowed, you are correct. Because Saudi Arabia, as you know, is the birthplace of Islam. To allow the construction of places of worship other than Islamic ones in Saudi Arabia would be like asking the Vatican to build a mosque inside of it. However, people in Saudi Arabia are free to practice their faiths in the privacy of their homes.
WALTERS: The Council on Foreign Relations reported last year, and I’m quoting, “Saudi Arabia continues massive spending on fundamentalist religious schools which export radical extremism that can lead to terrorism.” Will you, or can you, stop this funding of these schools?
KING ABDULLAH: It doesn’t seem logical. We are fighting terrorism and extremism in our midst. Why would we be funding it somewhere else? It is not logical or rationale for us to be supporting it. We have also regulated our charities and we have closed offices around the world and we have withdrawn support for institutions we have found to be extremist.
WALTERS: And changed your textbooks?
KING ABDULLAH: Yes, we have. We have toned them down.
WALTERS: Toned them down. I want to talk about young people. Sixty percent of your people are under the age of 20 and they’re reaching age when they’ll need jobs. There is already a good deal of unemployment. That can lead to discontent and some people feel it can lead to radicalism. What are you doing about that?
KING ABDULLAH: I would like to say, first, that the issue of unemployment in Saudi Arabia has improved greatly in recent years and we have been able to reduce it substantially and we need to find approximately 100,000 jobs for those who are seeking jobs but cannot find them this time.
WALTERS: According to US projections, the King’s assessment is optimistic at best. Unemployment hovers between 15% and 25%, a long-term problem that grows worse year by year, as the population explodes. And it is this, perhaps more than anything else, which propels the need for change in Saudi Arabia. With only 60 or 70 more years of oil production guaranteed, many feel the Kingdom has no choice but to change if it is to survive.
Walters to KING ABDULLAH: Since this is the first interview that you are doing on television and the first for America, what would you most like my country to know about yours? What would your message be for America?
KING ABDULLAH: Yes, the message is that the American people have been our friends for over 60 years. There was no conflict or problem or doubt that existed between us until the tragic events of a few years ago in New York City, which were perpetrated by a small and deviant group of individuals who have no respect for humanity or the teachings of their faiths.
I also want to convey my greetings to President Bush and to all Americans, young and old.