JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: The alliance lives on. For more than half a century, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States have had a special relationship. That relationship is based on oil. America needs it. The Saudis are willing suppliers. Today new stresses are putting that relationship to the test: terrorism, Israel’s realignment of the peace process – some say disengagement from it – the nuclear standoff with Iran, turmoil in Iraq, and Mr. Bush’s push for democracy, which may stabilize the region or de-stabilize it. Can the US-Saudi relationship stand the strain? We’ll ask Saudi Arabia’s former chief of its General Intelligence Directorate and currently the Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki Al-Faisal. Mr. Ambassador, welcome.
PRINCE TURKI AL-FAISAL: Thank you very much.
MCLAUGHLIN: Thank you for coming to the show.
PRINCE TURKI: Pleasure to be here.
MCLAUGHLIN: A new audiotape from bin Laden surfaced this week. It claims that Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker who is now serving a life sentence at a federal maximum security prison in Colorado, had nothing to do with the 9/11 plot. Why do you think Osama bin Laden sent this audiotape to address this particular matter?
PRINCE TURKI: I think there are probably two reasons why: One is to show that he is aware of current affairs and that he can comment on them; and two, to show that he is in charge of issues like the terrorist activity that Moussaoui was supposed to have been a party to – the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
MCLAUGHLIN: So do you believe what some critics say in this book over here by Peter Bergen, The Osama bin Laden I Know, which is a history of many interviews with him. One of the persons who is quoted in here who knew bin Laden quite well says that he has developed a taste for publicity. He likes to create world headlines now, and it’s not a good thing – this is what the person said. Do you think that’s true?
PRINCE TURKI: I think bin Laden has developed a megalomania about himself in the sense that he believes that he has a divine message and a divine mission to undertake in the world today. And such publicity and talking on tapes and sending them and getting response and resonance worldwide would definitely fall within his wishes.
MCLAUGHLIN: It apparently surprises you that he took that turn, because you described him when he was a younger age in terms that were quite different. You said that he was a gentle, enthusiastic young man of few words that didn’t raise his voice while talking. We discussed the condition of the mujaheddin and what he was doing to help them. I did not know him thoroughly enough to judge him or expect any other thing from him. His behavior at that time left no impression that he would become what he has become.
PRINCE TURKI: Absolutely. And that is still my view of him in those days, which was in the mid-’80s, late-’80s.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think he’s psychopathic?
PRINCE TURKI: He’s probably become so. I don’t know if he was originally. As I said in that quote that you quoted me, when I knew him in Pakistan in the mid-’80s, he was very gentle, very reserved, reticent, soft-spoken, shy.
MCLAUGHLIN: You were the chief of the General Intelligence Directorate of Saudi Arabia, which is the most central and controlling of the intelligence entities in Saudi Arabia for 24 years.
PRINCE TURKI: When it was in charge of foreign intelligence, like your CIA.
MCLAUGHLIN: Did you try to have Osama bin Laden assassinated?
PRINCE TURKI: No. What we tried to do is we tried to capture him. We tried to get him deported to the Kingdom for trial on some occasions, and I was party to that effort.
MCLAUGHLIN: Would you like to see him captured today?
PRINCE TURKI: Absolutely. I think it is vital and necessary, not just to put a closure to bin Laden, but to the whole issue of al Qaeda.
MCLAUGHLIN: You don’t think that that would create more problems than it’s worth? I mean by that, your jihadists – and you have jihadists there – and jihadists in other Muslim countries who are fanatical and fanatically devoted to Osama bin Laden would be turned loose to wreak ruin on your country.
PRINCE TURKI: Not just on Saudi Arabia. I think they have a global mission. As I told you, bin Laden has this view of himself as a –
MCLAUGHLIN: Why –
PRINCE TURKI: – sort of messiah.
MCLAUGHLIN: Why incite them by capturing bin Laden when he can wither away?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I don’t know if you can call incitement to capture somebody who’s already doing harm and destruction.
MCLAUGHLIN: The lesser of two evils is so –
PRINCE TURKI: He’s already operated in England last summer, in Spain before that. He continues to operate in Saudi Arabia, in Jordan, in Iraq.
MCLAUGHLIN: Are you giving him too much credit? Because there is a school of thought that says that he’s not an octopus with tendrils reaching out all over the world. He doesn’t have that kind of organization. That’s currently – it seems to be out of fashion, that thinking of him.
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I think every time we have one of these incidents – terrorist incidents – there is always a link to bin Laden somewhere within those incidents, either through the people who do these things or through the ideology that they espouse and follow.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think the intelligence chiefs around the world feel that way?
PRINCE TURKI: I haven’t talked to any of them recently, so I don’t know.
MCLAUGHLIN: You’re out of that business now?
PRINCE TURKI: I am so far.
MCLAUGHLIN: So would you see a trial of Osama bin Laden as a way to remove an irritant in the US-Saudi relations?
PRINCE TURKI: I think more than the US-Saudi relations, it would be to remove an irritant in world affairs. His presence definitely inspires certain individuals to aspire to be like him; hence, he’s able to recruit. And simply by surviving, he achieves an aura of invincibility and untouchableness that gives him this kind of magnitude with people.
MCLAUGHLIN: You know, there are some lingering doubts – as you know better than I – about whether or not Saudi Arabia is laggard in the war on terrorism.
PRINCE TURKI: These doubts exist in some minds, but I think in most people’s minds; everybody knows that the Kingdom now is the leading country fighting terrorism.
MCLAUGHLIN: If bin Laden is captured with Saudi help –
PRINCE TURKI: Absolutely.
MCLAUGHLIN: Then it would help to remove any of those lingering doubts. Is that correct?
PRINCE TURKI: It could be. I think it is not just Saudi Arabia’s responsibility to do that; I think it’s the responsibility of the world community.
MCLAUGHLIN: We have, of course, as you know, the Iraq war going on and you have a border with Iraq. And there is some thinking in the United States that jihadists cross the border and they fight on the side of the insurgency.
PRINCE TURKI: Well, the most patrolled border probably today in the world is the Saudi-Iraqi border on the Saudi side. And we use all modern technology: infrared cameras, helicopters, armored vehicles, foot soldiers. You name it, we’ve deployed it on that border.
There’s a big lack on the Iraqi side of the border because the allied forces have not adequately manned that side. But it’s – let me just say that it is a 900-kilometer border, so it’s a very long border. And I think both the Saudi side and the Iraqi side should be equally manned, but now it is only manned on our side.
MCLAUGHLIN: When you have hotheads from Saudi Arabia – young hotheads cross that border – what do they do? Do they work for the insurgency or do they join the Americans or what do they do?
PRINCE TURKI: The ones that we have either captured or prevented from going to Iraq, have generally aimed to go through other countries – either Syria or Iran or perhaps even Turkey or Jordan. And they generally, their intention is to go fight the invaders. That’s how they get there.
MCLAUGHLIN: The Americans.
PRINCE TURKI: The Americans and the British and whoever it is that they consider to be the invader.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do they come back?
PRINCE TURKI: When they get there, then they are taken over by the so-called jihadi elements in Iraq and either indoctrinated into becoming –
PRINCE TURKI: Brainwashed into becoming jihadists and so on, or those who don’t fall in that category, generally try to come back.
MCLAUGHLIN: What’s the preferred outcome of the war in Iraq that’s now going on, from the Saudi perspective?
PRINCE TURKI: An independent, stable and contributing Iraqi government and people.
MCLAUGHLIN: Unitary state?
PRINCE TURKI: Absolutely.
MCLAUGHLIN: What about a partition of three sectors?
PRINCE TURKI: I think that would create the problem – rather, increase the problem rather than decrease it.
MCLAUGHLIN: Wouldn’t that decrease your security problem, if you had three – if you had a triple partition: Kurds and Sunni and Shi’a?
PRINCE TURKI: No, because definitely if that were to happen, there would continue to be fighting between these groups, because how are you going to divide Iraq? There are already Shi’a, Sunnis and Kurds living all over Iraq, and other minorities as well – and even families made up of Shi’a and Sunni or Kurd and Arab or Turkmen and Kurd. How are going to divide them up? Are they going to divide them up geographically? So if you do that a family, let’s say – take me as an example.
If I were an Iraqi of Sunni origin married to a Shi’a and my children are half-Shi’a and half-Sunni – how are we going to divide ourselves up?
MCLAUGHLIN: And there’s also the question of oil and the distribution of oil, which would fight a partition, correct?
PRINCE TURKI: Absolutely. Yes, indeed.
MCLAUGHLIN: British Prime Minister Blair is going to be talking with the president. And he has said that British forces may be out by the end of the year, at least in some number. I think he even went beyond that. I think he said they’d probably all be out. The president doesn’t share that view.
Do you share the optimism of Mr. Blair with regard to US forces in Iraq? And do you think it would be better for every – for all aspect, for the American troops to stay there or to leave?
PRINCE TURKI: My view is that since American forces came into Iraq uninvited they should not leave Iraq uninvited. The Iraqi government which has just been formed is the representative of the Iraqi people. It went through a process of electoral choice last December when the parliament was voted for in Iraq that is truly legitimate and representative of all Iraqi factions and the majority of the Iraqi electorate. And hence, it is this government that should engage with the American forces and the British and other forces in Iraq as to how their relationship will continue from now on. I don’t think it is wise to simply pull up stakes and leave Iraq at the moment.
MCLAUGHLIN: In your various capacities, you have functioned as a back-channel person who can deal back channel from one state to another. Do you think – one of the suggestions is – Zbigniew Brzezinski’s – is that we ask the new Iraqi government to ask us to leave. And then with that publicized, we leave. Do you think it would be a good idea for the United States to back channel a request to the new Iraqi government to ask us to leave?
PRINCE TURKI: Trying back channels works in some cases. And I think in this case, as I said, it is better for the Iraqi government itself to reach that conclusion that it is better for them and the Iraqi people for a new arrangement with American presence in Iraq. And within the parliament in Iraq that was elected, there are those members of parliament who are of the view that America should leave now and they have expressed that view publicly.
But the system that is now in operation in Iraq leads to compromise. And if the Iraqi government can get a solid opinion of the representatives of the parliament for some kind of withdrawal time table for the American forces, I think they are the ones who should take the lead in that.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think they’re heading in that direction?
PRINCE TURKI: Inevitably they will.
PRINCE TURKI: Inevitably –
MCLAUGHLIN: Are we are on the threshold of such a time table?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I think the formation of the government is still in its infant stage. And they will have to go a long way to achieve the kind of authority within Iraq to be able to look upon these issues and deal with them.
MCLAUGHLIN: We’ll be right back.
MCLAUGHLIN: In terms of stability in the Middle East, how important is it to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? We’ll put that question to our guest. But first, here is his distinguished profile:
Born: Makkah, Saudi Arabia, the holiest site of Islam; 61 years of age. Wife: Princess Nouf bint Fahd; six children. Sunni Muslim. Georgetown University: BA, business administration and international relations. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: adviser to the Royal Court, five years. Saudi Arabia General Intelligence Directorate, the state Saudi foreign intelligence service: director general, 24 years.
King Faisal Foundation, Riyadh: co-founder and the trustee, 30 years and currently. Center for Research and Islamic Studies, board of directors: chairman, 23 years and currently. World Economic Forum, Geneva, Council of 100 Leaders to promote cooperation between the Western and Islamic worlds: co-chairman, three years and currently.
Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to, three years. United States: Saudi Arabia’s to, 10 months and currently. Hobbies: reading, swimming, skiing. Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal.
MCLAUGHLIN: You’re a direct descendant of the founder of your country.
PRINCE TURKI: Yes.
MCLAUGHLIN: Is that right?
PRINCE TURKI: Yes. My grandfather.
MCLAUGHLIN: He’s your grandfather?
PRINCE TURKI: Yes.
MCLAUGHLIN: And the foreign minister –
PRINCE TURKI: My brother.
MCLAUGHLIN: – is your brother.
PRINCE TURKI: That’s right.
MCLAUGHLIN: During his visit to Washington this week, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert devoted a portion of his address to Congress to Iran. Here is what he said about Iran: “Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terror and a notorious violator of fundamental human rights, stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. With these weapons, the security of the entire world is put in jeopardy.” Do you agree with those remarks?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, we think any possession of nuclear weapons in the Middle East is a danger. And that includes Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, not just Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons – hence, our call for a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East. It has been the Saudi policy for the last two decades, and we think that that is the way that the world should go.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that this language, these statements, make it practically impossible for Mr. Bush to engage with Iran?
PRINCE TURKI: I don’t see why. I know that, as Mr. Bush has said in public, if Iran were to comply with the United Nations resolutions that there may be some way of reaching an agreement with Iran. And also, Mr. Bush – and Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice have continually said on this issue that they want to pursue all of the diplomacy possible to achieve a resolution to this problem of nuclear enrichment in Iran.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Iran is a terrorist state?
PRINCE TURKI: We deal with Iran. We have diplomatic relations with Iran. And we engage with them and we talk to them frankly. And when we disagree with them, we face them – like you and I sitting like this – and tell them where we disagree with them. And we think that that is the best way of letting people know where we stand.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Ehud Olmert, the new prime minister, is justified in his taking the view that Iran is a terrorist state? He quotes: “The president” – of Iran, Ahmadinejad – “Its president believes it is his religious duty and his destiny to lead his country in a violent conflict against the infidels. With pride, he denies the Jewish Holocaust and speaks brazenly, calling to wipe Israel off the map.”
Do you think that President Ahmadinejad should renounce his statements about the Holocaust and Israel’s right to exist?
PRINCE TURKI: As I told you, when we sit face to face with the Iranians, we tell them where we stand on issues in general, and whether it is the nuclear problem, the issue of terrorism in the world, the issue of Iraq, the issue of relations with Israel, the peace process in the Arab and the Middle East. We’re not for public statements on things like that.
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric reminds you of the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden?
PRINCE TURKI: Osama bin Laden is the kind of megalomaniac who has this messianic type of –
MCLAUGHLIN: Religious – religious belief?
PRINCE TURKI: – religious philosophy, ethos, whatever you want to call it, that allows him to think that he can do whatever he likes with the rest of the world. And may I just refer to a historical note here? In the mid-’80s, when – if you remember the Iran-Contra controversy –
MCLAUGHLIN: Ronald Reagan.
PRINCE TURKI: Ronald Reagan. And the curious aspect of that controversy was that Israel was a partner in the Iran-Contra controversy by sending weapons and supplies to Iran through US agreement.
MCLAUGHLIN: So Iran was the intermediary in transmitting weaponry to the United States to send the Contras.
PRINCE TURKI: Well, Israel was.
MCLAUGHLIN: Israel was.
PRINCE TURKI: No, Israel sent weapons to Iran –
PRINCE TURKI: – through the United States in their fight against Iraq at that time.
PRINCE TURKI: And that is the curious thing about claims of enmity with Iran by these Israelis. But that’s history; that’s passed. It’s a reminder that sometimes in politics and international affairs, that people can overcome whatever differences they may have.
MCLAUGHLIN: So in the Iran-Iraq war, Israel was aiding Iran?
PRINCE TURKI: Yes.
MCLAUGHLIN: Through the assistance of the United States?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, yes.
MCLAUGHLIN: We’ll be right back.
MCLAUGHLIN: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to the president, 18 pages.
PRINCE TURKI: Right.
MCLAUGHLIN: Some believe that this is an opening that should be pursued – many believe it, in fact – by the president. Do you think the president should pursue it? Perhaps write a letter back on his own?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I think that’s something for the president to decide.
MCLAUGHLIN: If he called you up and said, what do you think, Mr. Ambassador?
PRINCE TURKI: (Laughs.)
MCLAUGHLIN: What would you say?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, I wouldn’t say it, definitely, on NBC Television. (Laughs.)
MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.) You’d say, yes, would you not?
PRINCE TURKI: There are many times when there have been hints of openings up between Iran and the United States, even preceding this administration. And as I told you, we talk to the Iranians and we think that people should talk to each other –
MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think –
PRINCE TURKI: – where they disagree.
MCLAUGHLIN: Have you bargained with the Iranians? Are we on the threshold of a grand bargain with the Iranians?
PRINCE TURKI: Well –
MCLAUGHLIN: Are we beyond the stage of calling for regime change to solve these problems? Is regime change on the way out as a shibboleth?
PRINCE TURKI: I think it should be. There are ways of changing regimes that you don’t have to actually send arms and armies to do that. And your country has practiced that issue in the past, in some cases successfully. But the consequences, of course, have to be well in hand and foreseen before such issues take place.
MCLAUGHLIN: Mr. Ambassador, our time is expired. But there’s so much else left to talk about. I hope you’ll come back as my guest.
PRINCE TURKI: I’d love to do that.
MCLAUGHLIN: All right.
PRINCE TURKI: Always good to talk you.
MCLAUGHLIN: Good luck to you.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you, Doctor.
MCLAUGHLIN: How important is it to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict?
PRINCE TURKI: It’s of maximal importance. The Palestinian- Israeli dispute is, if you like, the mother of all disputes. It goes back nearly, in historic terms, nearly a hundred years, from the Balfour Declaration in 1917 which allowed for the establishment of a Jewish homeland on Palestine, and it has continued as a point of contention since then. And the important thing today is that we believe that there is a chance for reaching a solution to this problem.
MCLAUGHLIN: On the subject of oil, if a military strike were to occur in Iran, what would happen to the price of oil?
PRINCE TURKI: It would go astronomical. And not just on striking Iran but the response of Iran is going to be equally devastating to the production of oil in the Gulf.
MCLAUGHLIN: Can you quantify that, say, on a barrel of oil?
PRINCE TURKI: I don’t think anybody can quantify that.
MCLAUGHLIN: Would you give me an estimate?
PRINCE TURKI: You talk about a couple of hundred dollars a barrel.
MCLAUGHLIN: Two hundred dollars a barrel.
PRINCE TURKI: Yeah.
MCLAUGHLIN: What impact would that have on the world economy?
PRINCE TURKI: Devastating. And you know, many people talk about the world economy in terms of what is good for the United States, for Europe, for China, for India, and so on. But there are poor countries that cannot afford these high prices. Even $70 a barrel for them is exorbitant. And we have to think of those people in Africa and Asia and Latin America who already suffer from poverty, and something has to be done to help them.