Prince Turki Al-Faisal, currently Ambassador to the United Kingdom and Ireland, and nominated to be Ambassador to the United States, was interviewed on August 28, 2005 by Deborah Solomon of the New York Times Magazine. The following is a complete transcript.
SOLOMON: As the outgoing Saudi Arabian ambassador in Britain, were you surprised to learn that none of the suspects in the recent London bombings were Saudis or even Arabs?
PRINCE TURKI: Al hamdulillah!
SOLOMON: Excuse me?
PRINCE TURKI: Al hamdulillah means "Thanks to God."
SOLOMON: But now you are about to leave London and become the Saudi ambassador to the US, where many people still wonder why so many of the 9/11 terrorists were Saudi citizens.
PRINCE TURKI: Bin Laden was very clever about that. He wanted to make a rift in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States. And he succeeded, because now in every headline you see in the US, it says 15 out of the 19 terrorists were Saudis, and those 15 people have come to mean the Saudi people, whether we like it or not.
SOLOMON: As the longtime director of Saudi intelligence, you were personally named in the $1 trillion lawsuit filed by the families of 9/11 victims, who claimed that you contributed money and support to al-Qaeda if only as a payoff to keep them out of your country. Although the charges were later thrown out, what was that experience like for you?
PRINCE TURKI: I felt offended, frankly. I had spent my life in the intelligence business for nearly 30 years, so it was kind of a slap in the face to be accused not only of financing terrorism but of fostering it -- and even some people have accused me of having established al-Qaeda myself.
SOLOMON: You’ve met Osama bin Laden?
PRINCE TURKI: I met him five times. At that time, which was in the mid-80’s and late 80’s, he was a very shy person, very self-effacing, extremely sparse in his words and generally a do-gooder, someone who brought financial and medical and other support to the Afghan mujahedeen.
SOLOMON: So how did he acquire such bruising rage?
PRINCE TURKI: You put the right word, rage, this rage that is very cool-headed and calculating. How can I explain it? I am not a psychiatrist. No one can sit and have him on the couch for interviews.
SOLOMON: How did you feel about Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,”' in which he accuses Prince Bandar, your predecessor in Washington, of colluding with the Bush administration to sneak members of the Saudi royal family out of this country right after 9/11?
PRINCE TURKI: What made me unhappy is that Mr. Moore made a point of criticizing Saudi Arabia without even having set foot in Saudi Arabia.
SOLOMON: Do you see the war in Iraq as the main cause of anti-Americanism around the world today?
PRINCE TURKI: Iraq is an adjunct, but not the core issue. If Iraq is solved, Palestine will remain a sore point for Arabs everywhere.
SOLOMON: Are you saying that the US has been too soft on Israel?
PRINCE TURKI: Absolutely. I cannot see any logic in it, seeing how badly the U.S. is looked upon, not just in the Arab world but in the wider Muslim world.
SOLOMON: Are you religious? I see you dress in Western clothing.
PRINCE TURKI: I pray five times a day. In Muslim practice, there are parts of the body you have to cover completely in public, and it doesn’t matter how you cover it. This is a suit I bought in Paris.
SOLOMON: I don’t mean to make you feel unimportant, but aren’t you one of some 6,000 Saudi princes?
PRINCE TURKI: I haven’t counted, so I don't know.
SOLOMON: The gap between the rich and the poor in your country is colossal.
PRINCE TURKI: I think that is another misconception. Let’s talk about America. You have more than 30 million people under the poverty line in America. That is not a few people!
SOLOMON: As a son of the late King Faisal, are you accustomed to getting everything you want?
PRINCE TURKI: Being the son of a king is no different than being the son of a journalist or anyone else. I went to Princeton and spent only one term there. I failed all my engineering courses, so I was kicked out of Princeton. Georgetown was good enough to take me.
SOLOMON: Before I go, I have to ask you, why is green the national color of Saudi Arabia?
PRINCE TURKI: Because we are a desert country whose ultimate ambition is to turn green.