Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal appeared on PBS’s Charlie Rose last night to discuss the pressing security issues facing the Middle East. He addressed a range of issues including the conflict in Iraq, Palestine, and Iran.Transcript of Prince Saud's interview with Charlie Rose
The conversation opened with Iraq. Charlie Rose in his introduction noted that Prince Saud’s warnings before the US invasion of the dangers of chaos and sectarian divisions have proven remarkably accurate and he asked Prince Saud where he saw things today.
Prince Saud replied that the first priority in Iraq must be national reconciliation. He warned that without substantive steps to promote genuine national reconciliation nothing will happen and tensions will continue to fester. Should Iraq be partitioned, he added, other nations in the region would risk being drawn in and instability will spread.
Prince Saud observed that thus far the Iraqi government has failed to live up to the hopes and expectations that it would take seriously its obligation to advance political reconciliation as its number one priority.
“So many decisions that have to be taken, have not been taken so far,” he said. “Now, the program of action that has been established we think is the right one. The priority is being given to national reconciliation. If that is so then that certainly is the way to proceed in Iraq, but having said that if you have a program of action that is the right program of action you need the vehicle to do it and the government until now has not done the work that needs to be done.”
He called upon the Shiite religious community to do more to support meaningful compromise that will once again create a truly national consensus in Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, he said, has been very careful to keep the same distance from all warring parties in Iraq. Saudi Arabia is equally distressed to see the misfortune of Iraqis whether they be Sunni or Shiite. He denied that Saudi Arabia is backing Sunni militias or in any way is meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs.
In fact, Saudi Arabia is working very hard to address the wider problem of Sunni-Shiite tensions, saying that further exacerbation of sectarian tensions would only tear at the fabric of Muslim society in many countries. Iran has pledged to work with Arab states to redress the issue, but unless they do sectarian tensions could grow. The nightmare scenario, he said, would be for this conflict to spread beyond Iraq.
He said that based on his view of the political debate in Washington there appears to be a consensus that the US cannot leave Iraq in disarray. The US, he argued, needs to implement its own action plan and make all Iraqis equal in the eyes of the law, disband militias and give everyone a stake in Iraq’s wealth and resources. He also said the Iraqi government and security forces need to focus on its own professionalism and end the ban on participation by former members of the Baath Party.
Asked about the progress in al-Anbar province, Prince Saud said it is his hope that the militant ideology of al-Qaeda would be rejected everywhere. Cooperation with al-Qaeda, he stressed, is always counterproductive and his tantamount to supporting terror for terror’s sake.
But he expressed concern that extremists are being given grounds to try to justify their actions and to recruit new terrorists. Asked why he felt some Saudi citizens would go to Iraq to fight, Prince Saud said that everyday on television there are scenes of violence of fellow Muslims being killed in Palestine and elsewhere. It is not unlike those from America who were drawn into the Spanish Civil War. All this is being exploited by al-Qaeda, he warned.
Asked about Iran’s nuclear program, Prince Saud warned of the dangers of the spread of nuclear weapons and said he hoped that Iran would live up to its promise of not seeking to acquire or build them. Saudi Arabia, he added, has decided it would not develop or acquire nuclear weapons because it is not in Saudi Arabia's interests, but that is not to say that other nations on the region might not do so.
He also said it is important to move to resolve the underlying tensions fueling violence in the region. Palestine and Israel’s ongoing occupation of Arab territories is at the center of the larger regional conflict and needs to be addressed. Everyone, he argued, knows the basic issues that must be resolved to advance the peace process, but there needs to be a greater political will on the part of the warning parties to realize the peace.
Prince Saud was asked to respond to a suggestion by NY Times op-ed contributor Thomas Friedman that King Abdullah symbolize the Arab commitment to peace by traveling to Jerusalem to first pray at the al-Aqsa Mosque, travel to Ramallah to outline the terms of a peace settlement, then go to Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust and finally address the Israeli parliament to submit the Arab peace plan.
Prince Saud then asked what happens if the plan did not work and noted that an elaborate piece of political theater is no substitute for the real political commitment by the parties to the conflict. King Abdullah, he continued, offered his good offices to put an Arab peace proposal on the table and now it is time for Israel to make a meaningful response.
“The issue is not for somebody who is not in the conflict to take risks for peace. It is those in conflict that must risk peace,” said Prince Saud. Thus far, he observed Israel has respond with disproportionate military action against every incident and has imposed the most brutal occupation on the Palestinians that only fuels more violence.
Israel, he said, came into the region by force but can only live the region by acceptance. King Abdullah’s peace initiative offers Israel an avenue to gain that acceptance and to normalize relations with its Arab neighbors.
Prince Saud also expressed frustration that Israel and the United States worked against the Kingdom’s efforts to promote Palestinian reconciliation. Palestinian unity, he said, is critical to peace because only a peace brokered with a broad consensus is durable.