JACKI LYDEN, host: From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I’m Jacki Lyden.
More than 100 world leaders are gathering in New York over the next few days for the United Nations General Assembly. Among those attending will be the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud Al-Faisal.
The desert kingdom has been looking for ways to increase its political influence in the Middle East, most recently, by hosting an Arab summit and reaffirming its willingness to broker a deal with Israel. Prince Saud also says Saudi Arabia is keeping a close eye on the events unfolding every day in Iraq, but maintains his country is more interested in keeping the region secure from outside Iraq’s borders.
Prince Saud joins me now from New York. Welcome to the program.
PRINCE SAUD AL-FAISAL: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be with you.
LYDEN: Let’s turn to Iraq first. I’d like to ask how worried you are about the Iranian role there. Iraq is a majority Shiite country, as we know, but Saudi Arabians have many coreligionists in the former Sunni ruling class. So what do you think Iran’s intentions are?
PRINCE SAUD: Well, coreligionists, we are all Muslims there. It’s one religion. And Iran admits itself that it is interfering in Iraq, but it is claiming that it’s for the benefit of Iraq. And we have taken a decision, and the countries adjacent to Iraq, that we should not interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq. We should all work to help, in the way that the Iraqis see that we can help.
LYDEN: Do you foresee anything that would change your status there of nonintervention?
PRINCE SAUD: Well, this is something that all of us have to decide on. We must sustain ourselves. Of course, having Iraq in this situation that it is tantalizing perhaps to some and opens the way to intervention from the outside. But this is to be resisted because it can only complicate the situation.
LYDEN: This month, General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker told the American Congress that they see good signs emerging in Iraq. Do you see any?
PRINCE SAUD: Well, it took two issues – the political, as well as the military. Although, he said there were some military advances. He adds the political process is not coming through, and I think he’s right in that. And unless the political process comes through, we hardly think that a solution for the Iraqi situation will be achievable.
LYDEN: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has invited Saudi Arabia along with other Arab countries to a summit on the question of peace in the Palestinians and Israel, expected to take place in November. Will the Kingdom attend?
PRINCE SAUD: Well, this is not very true. There hasn’t been a form of invitation to anybody. What we have been told is that these details are being worked out, and for that, many details have to be worked out.
LYDEN: So you’re not rejecting it out of hand, but you might like to see some preconditions?
PRINCE SAUD: Well, I wouldn’t call them preconditions. We want to be assured that the meeting will deal with the general peace of the Middle East and not just take a partial position on the peace process.
LYDEN: Let me ask you again about the war in Iraq. The majority of Americans’ poll say that they want some sort of U.S. pullout and soon. Do you feel that this is a good idea?
PRINCE SAUD: I think the most important issue in Iraq is the national reconciliation. Anything else is secondary to this consideration, whether it is withdrawal or any other aspects of the Iraqi problem is hinged on the national reconciliation. And unless the national reconciliation happens, you cannot conceive of any other action whether it is withdrawal or that is – it shouldn’t be done.
LYDEN: Many analysts have said that a likely solution is a division of the country into several parts – Shia, Sunni, Kurd. Is this something that could provide security in the region?
PRINCE SAUD: This is a call for continuous conflict, and conflict that would not only be localized to Iraq but would pull in the country surrounding Iraq, too. This is a most dangerous suggestion.
LYDEN: Because it would lead to more bloodshed.
PRINCE SAUD: Indeed.
LYDEN: Your Excellency, you are in New York. I don’t know whether or not you’ve ever had a chance to visit the site of the attack that we call Ground Zero down…
PRINCE SAUD: Oh, yes, I have.
LYDEN: I’d like to ask you, six years on this month, how is Saudi Arabia dealing with Islamic militancy? I mean, as you know, the majority of the hijackers who attacked the U.S. that day were from Saudi Arabia.
PRINCE SAUD: Well, first of all, let me say that it was a disaster, a catastrophe of huge size, especially, felt in Saudi Arabia because we suffer from terrorism in the same way. Our people are killed; our security forces are being killed, so we know what the feeling of terrorist attack means. And we are trying to deal with terrorism in every way we can.
LYDEN: But has there been an internal reconsideration in Saudi Arabia about the way that Islam is taught? In the past, the Kingdom has supported thousands of schools throughout the Islamic world. Do you ever reflect how the teachings of Islam have gone so far as to sometimes preached violence as a solution?
PRINCE SAUD: We have gone through a soul-searching process of every facet of life and education in Saudi Arabia. And we have done everything that we can to reform the educational system not because of its impact outside but because we want our country and our society to bear the fruit of education without the extremism that it entail.
LYDEN: We’ve been speaking with Prince Saud Al-Faisal, the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia. Thank you very much for being with us today.
PRINCE SAUD: Thank you.