Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi National Guard Minister Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz blamed the emergence of terrorist groups in Syria on the international community’s failure to support the Syrian people, warning that the blight of terrorism can only be eradicated following the ouster of the Assad regime.
In a broad-ranging interview with Asharq Al-Awsat following a high-level visit to Washington during which he met with US President Barack Obama, the National Guard minister hailed Saudi-US relations, but acknowledged some differences of opinion on key issues, including Iran.
Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah spoke about the ongoing campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the importance of safeguarding regional security and stability and confronting terrorism and extremism in all its forms. The Saudi National Guard minister also discussed a number of important regional issues including the prospects for an Iranian nuclear deal and the latest developments in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) reconciliation, issuing a renewed call for Cairo to back the Riyadh Agreement.
Asharq Al-Awsat: You met with US President Barack Obama and a congressional delegation, as well as senior US Defense Department officials. Can you tell us what you discussed?
Prince Miteb Bin Abdullah: The visit included a number of meetings with US officials. These meetings reflect the depth of Saudi-US relations, and the nature of strategic partnership between our two states. These relations began in the 1940s and remain ongoing until today because they are based on common interests and mutual coordination.
The current stage and the unprecedented developments in the Middle East require even greater coordination, perhaps more than at any time before. The Middle East is witnessing conflicts, unrest and instability, particularly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. This is not to mention the repercussions of political change that have affected a number of regional states, the security of the Gulf and the war against terrorism and extremism that is not just targeting our own region, but which is extending to many other regions of the world.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a pivotal state in the region. It is a state that supports regional peace and stability. On the other hand, the US is the most influential power in regional events and so it has significant responsibilities toward our region and its stability. The US also has its own interests in the region and important strategic, economic, and political relations with regional states. All of this means that any meetings between Saudi and US officials are important and involve discussions on a number of levels and on a number of issues.
Saudi Arabia is committed to putting forward its viewpoint regarding these issues within the framework of coordination with the American side. This is especially the case on issues where the US position or viewpoint might be different to our own. Washington is well aware of the important role that Saudi Arabia plays in the Arab and Islamic world and therefore consultation between both sides is something that is required by the current regional and international reality on the ground.
Q: Did you discuss matters relating specifically to the Saudi National Guard?
The arming and training of the [Saudi] National Guard in cooperation with the US was also discussed during our meetings, particularly as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia—under the Guidance of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz—is committed to developing its security capabilities. Saudi Arabia must be fully prepared to safeguard its national defense and defend the homeland via its security apparatus and defense and interior ministries.
Q: Would you describe these talks as being successful?
In terms of assessing these talks, I would say that they were important and successful and resulted in convergence of opinions between Riyadh and Washington on a number of issues of joint concern.
Q: Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf region are facing a number of security threats from a number of different directions while the US position on some issues is not necessarily in line with that of Riyadh, such as Washington’s take on the situation in Bahrain. Did you notice any change in the US position on Gulf security in general, and the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in particular?
The Arab Gulf region is a vital strategic region, and its security is a prime concern for all Gulf states. Gulf security is also a concern for all international states, particularly the major powers as well as all major energy importers. Therefore, the security of the Gulf region is vital not just for Gulf states but for all states.
Of course, the issue of Gulf security was present during the Saudi-US talks, and Riyadh has clear and consistent policies toward the security of the region based on the policy of mutual respect and not allowing others to intervene in the affairs of GCC member states. At the same time, GCC states do not interfere in the affairs of others, and this is a constant and declared policy on the part of Saudi Arabia and other GCC member states.
On this issue, just like other aspects of Saudi-US relations, there are variations in viewpoints but this comes within the framework of strategic relations—these differences of opinion do not affect the overall relationship between Saudi Arabia and the US. However we, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, clarify our viewpoint and hold fast to our constants in the region and the rest of the world, and that includes the US.
Q: There is a possibility that Washington will reach an agreement with Tehran over the Iranian nuclear program. How would any such agreement affect Gulf security, particularly given that Iran is expanding its influence and presence in many regional states from Iraq to Syria to Yemen? Did your discussions in Washington encompass the Iranian nuclear talks?
The Iranian agreement is taking place with the international community, although this does include the US. This agreement is an important requirement and something that Saudi Arabia is backing, so long as Iran agrees to abide by the [international] laws and respect the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Iran’s nuclear reactors must be subject to international inspection and there must not be any militarization of Iran’s nuclear program in the future, while this must all take place as part of a clear and public agreement that Iran abides by and which is accepted by the international community.
As for Iranian infiltration of some Arab states, such as those you mentioned in your question, these are independent states and are sovereign members of regional and international organizations. Therefore any intervention in the affairs of these states under any circumstances or pretexts is unacceptable and rejected according to international conventions and norms. It is enough that these states have witnessed tragic events. Therefore, it is important that we put an end to these tragedies and begin a new policy that promotes regional stability, avoids sectarian unrest and confronts the specter of terrorism which is something that is affecting every country in the world.
Q: ISIS has announced that it is targeting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Algeria, while the US-led anti-ISIS alliance is making slow progress. How do you rate the anti-ISIS alliance’s performance so far? Do you believe that there is a need for ground troops to combat ISIS?
I think that we must eradicate the reasons for the presence of ISIS and other terrorism organizations on the ground. These groups were formed on the rubble of the international community’s failure to stand with the Syrian people. If the international community wants to eradicate the specter of terrorism in Syria, then it must get rid of what created this situation . . .and that is the current regime, while simultaneously confronting ISIS and all other terrorist groups.
The major powers must truly cooperation to confront terrorism and extremism and cooperate with Saudi Arabia and the initiatives that were proposed by King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz to confront terrorism. In the event of such cooperation, ISIS and other terror organizations will be eradicated from every regional state.
Q: There are a number of regional countries that are witnessing unrest these days, not least Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. However, what efforts has Riyadh undertaken to preserve stability in other countries like Jordan and Egypt?
Saudi Arabia is sparing no effort to stand with brotherly Arab states and their people. Saudi Arabia stood with the choice of the brotherly Egyptian people when they rose up and rejected the former rule [of Mohamed Mursi] while we stood in solidarity with the Egyptian people’s revolution when it chose the current government and president, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. Saudi Arabia stands with the legitimate people and institutions, not the groups that raise false slogans in order to reach power.
Saudi Arabia and the GCC states also put forward the Gulf Initiative for Yemen, and Saudi Arabia will always support the stability of Yemen and all brotherly Arab states.
Q: King Abdullah has called on Egypt to back the Riyadh Agreement which ended the diplomatic crisis between Riyadh and a number of other GCC states and Qatar. What is your view of the latest diplomatic developments within the GCC?
King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz adopted the Riyadh Agreement with other brotherly Arab leaders and monarchs in the GCC in Riyadh in order to serve the greater interests of GCC states and sought to preserve the unity of the Arab Ummah [community] and adopt brotherly relations between all Arab states during this dangerous period which is unlike any time that we have witnessed before. We hope that there is reconciliation between Egypt and Qatar as soon as possible, for they are both brotherly states. These are not fundamental differences—the differences between Egypt and Qatar can be easily solved by the leaderships of both states. This is what we are seeking and this is what we hope will happen soon, God willing.