VERJEE: Saudi Arabia is also considered a close ally of the United States. The country is cracking down on terrorist activity, but it’s also paying a price. Last week, suicide car bombers stormed an oil production facility but didn’t get close enough to cause and real damage.
Joining us now to talk about a wide range of issues is His Royal Highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States. So lovely to meet you in person, Your Highness.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you; nice of you to invite me.
VERJEE: It’s a pleasure. Let’s start off with a recent development where four wanted Al-Qaeda militants were killed in an attack in Riyadh, including, apparently, the leader of Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.
PRINCE TURKI: [Fahd] Aljuwair, yes.
VERJEE: What more details can you tell us about?
PRINCE TURKI: Well, this follows from the attack on the oil facility in the Eastern Province, which failed -- they didn’t get through the first perimeter of defenses. And all our oil facilities have various perimeters of defense and we’ve deployed more than 15,000 men to protect the oil facilities, along with other technical and high-tech detection systems to protect the oil facilities. Al hamdulillah, this latest attack has proven that we can do that.
From there, intelligence and pursuit of some of those who supported this attack in Abqaiq led to the shootout in a suburb of Riyadh, where Mr. Aljuwair was killed.
VERJEE: So four have been killed, by my understanding. The fifth has not been identified. Do you have any indication from Riyadh who that fifth is?
PRINCE TURKI: We don’t know yet.
VERJEE: And there’s a sixth person, then, who is wanted but hasn’t been identified.
PRINCE TURKI: Right.
VERJEE: And that person’s been arrested. Do you know of the identity?
PRINCE TURKI: I don’t know who it is.
PRINCE TURKI: But he will definitely give us a lot of information.
VERJEE: How much of the information that is gotten from those arrested led to more arrests, and allow you to crack down?
PRINCE TURKI: By the nature of the matter, anyone who participates in an action like that must know something about other activities. And it’s like a chain -- you capture one, you interrogate him, that leads you to other people that can be captured, that lead you to other people that can be captured. And so on, Al hamdulillah. The security forces in the Kingdom now are the ones who are on the initiative. They are interdicting and preventing these people from doing harm.
VERJEE: A big story here in the United States is the controversy over Dubai Ports World. How does Saudi Arabia view it, where on the one hand, US lawmakers are saying it should not control six US seaports for security reasons, and the president is saying there’s no security issue. How do you see it?
PRINCE TURKI: It would be inappropriate for me to comment on an issue that does not deal with Saudi Arabia. It is between the United States and Dubai.
VERJEE: Do you think it’s racist, though? A lot of Arab leaders -- Arab countries -- have raised issues and concerns that this is just a fear of Arabs.
PRINCE TURKI: I cannot say, really, because I have seen how I’ve been treated in this country -- very warmly. We have now in the United States more than 7,000 Saudi students going to various universities. They have been received very warmly in the United States. And racism exists in every country, and I think your president has been very forthcoming in not allowing this issue to be portrayed as an issue of racism.
VERJEE: Let’s talk about Hamas: how do you think the West -- the world, the European Union, the United States -- should deal with Hamas?
PRINCE TURKI: King Abdullah issued a joint statement with President Musharraf, when he was on a state visit to Pakistan after the victory of Hamas, in which both leaders called on the leadership of the Palestinian people to commit themselves to the prior commitments of the Palestinian Authority: the Abdullah Peace Plan and the roadmap.
And at the same time, they called on the world community to accept the fact that the Palestinian people have elected a new leadership. So, we have to deal with that issue on the basis that this is the choice of the Palestinian people.
VERJEE: Is Saudi Arabia going to give Hamas money to make up the shortfall of...
PRINCE TURKI: What we have done is, we have always contributed to the welfare of the Palestinian people. That has been done through the United Nations, through the World…
VERJEE: Will you increase that?
PRINCE TURKI: -- through the World Bank, and through various world institutions. If there is a need to increase it to meet humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, we will definitely consider it.
VERJEE: Let’s talk about Iraq and the increasing sectarian violence that we’ve seen there. Do you think that the policies of the United States has pursued over the past months, or the past few years, has fueled the Sunni/Shiite divide?
PRINCE TURKI: I think the issue now is to look to the future. Definitely the Iraqi people are looking to the future. As a result of the tragic incidents that happened, not just in Samarra with the blowing up of the Golden Mosque, but also the other incidents that happened after that -- all of the political leadership in Iraq has come together to try to work out a way forward. And they have all, in principle, have agreed to a National Unity Government that will bring all the various sectarian and ethnic divisions of Iraq together. And this is what we are supporting.
VERJEE: Just finally, are you worried, is Saudi Arabia worried, about the increasing Iranian influence, not only in Iraq, but in the region?
PRINCE TURKI: We have relations with Iran that allow us to talk directly with the Iranians, and we do that. And we listen to their concerns and they listen to our concerns. There is a group of countries, contiguous countries, around Iraq that meet regularly to talk about issue in Iraq, including the government of Iraq.
Iran is a member of that group, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, and Egypt and Bahrain. So everything that has to do with that issue is dealt with through that group.
VERJEE: Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, thank you so much.
PRINCE TURKI: Thank you, Ms. Verjee.
VERJEE: It’s a pleasure.
PRINCE TURKI: It’s a pleasure, thank you.