Washington D.C., Asharq Al-Awsat- In his final interview as Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al- Faisal spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the circumstances of his resignation reaffirming that he resigned for personal and family reasons, and that the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah Bin-Abdulaziz, agreed to his resignation before it was announced. Prince Turki denied the existence of disputes between him and Saudi officials, or among the Saudi officials over the relations with Iran. He stressed that the Saudi-US relations were strong, and that the Kingdom was following a balanced policy in the energy sector. Prince Turki said that the Iraqi people, despite the current events, would emerge strong and united. He described Iraq as the safety valve of the region, and said that it had been exposed to invasions in the past.
The Following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Why did you resign after such a short period as ambassador?
(Prince Turki) The fact is that I am exhausted, and I found out that I have been away from the family, and that I need rest after more than 30 years of work for the state and in the service of King and country. I asked the permission of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to allow me to leave this post, and he, God reward him, agreed.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Your resignation came with speculation in the US Media about disagreements?
(Prince Turki) My job is not to follow up speculation. I did what I did on the basis of private reasons that concern me personally. Whoever wants to speculate, this is up to them.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Perhaps one of the reasons for the speculation is that there has been no statement from the Royal Court as is usual in these cases, and that the news was broken first by the US media?
(Prince Turki) I have no explanation for this. I know that when I asked the permission of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, he, agreed that I leave my job. I have been told (that my resignation was accepted) by my superior, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al- Faisal, and I told him that I would convey this to US officials and to the colleagues at the embassy here. He said to me, “Go with God.” I believe that he announced a few days later at a press conference that I submitted my resignation, and that it was accepted. Perhaps this was considered sufficient rather than issuing an official statement about the resignation.
(Asharq Al-Awsat)) US newspapers have published that there are disputes, and there were references to Prince Bandar Bin-Sultan, secretary general of the National Security Council?
(Prince Turki) These are unfounded rumors, and hence do not deserve a reply from me. I have given the reasons for the resignation, and in my opinion they are good and sufficient reasons.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What is the outcome of your time in Washington as ambassador?
(Prince Turki) It was a very rich experience as an ambassador, and as a representative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, of my country, and of my people. First, because communicating with the United States has been one of the pillars of the Saudi foreign policy since the era of the late King Abdulaziz. Second, as the existing bilateral relations are diverse and intensive, it was important that I should knock on all doors in the United States, which was one of the reasons of my exhaustion.
I have pursued the restoration of old friendships between me, as a government official, and governmental and non-governmental US leaders, and also to establish new friends for Saudi Arabia. Within one year and three months I visited more than 25 states, and on many occasions I talked to students, university professors, professionals, and others in order to reach the US people.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Before you came to Washington you were the ambassador to London. Have you noticed any differences between the two posts?
(Prince Turki) I said to British Prime Minister Tony Blair when I bade him farewell that Britain for me was like a university in which one graduates to face up to the diplomatic work. Naturally, I had no diplomatic experience before this. I said to the Prime Minister that after my experience in Britain I would be able to face up to any diplomatic post. However, when I arrived in the United States, I found the diplomatic work more intensive and larger in volume.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) If you found the work in the United States more intensive and larger in volume, why did you relinquish it after just a short period?
(Prince Turki) This was not my intention. Quite frankly, during the start of the summer, I found that there was a gap between me and the family, a gap in time, and in communication. I found that my time was ruled by official work, by traveling to deliver lectures, and by attending meetings. Even when I returned home, I used to be exhausted, and I did not wish to talk to anyone. Therefore, I thought of leaving work, and this occurred after the agreement of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, as I said.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) You toured the United States, and learned many things about the US people. How do they compare to British people?
(Prince Turki) Both peoples have their own qualities, and have their own positive and negative points. However, I prefer to talk about the positive points. The British have a strong sense of history in their structure as a nation and as a country. Thus, they have a strong sense of their heritage and ancestors, and pride in their country and identity. Despite what is said about their coldness, they are warm, welcoming, and slightly shy. There is something else that helped me in performing my duties, namely that many of those I dealt with had great knowledge of our region.
As for the US people, I found simplicity, spontaneity, and pursuit of reaching their goal as soon as possible through the shortest route. They focus on a specific aim, and try to achieve from you specific information about your own specific aim in order to deal with you, and then they move on to other things. Also this facilitated my mission. The US people are curious, and wish to read an article or a book about something specific in order to add it to their information. They also are warm and hospitable.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Have you not found that lack of knowledge of our region among the US people has influenced, and still influences their policy in the region?
(Prince Turki) Yes, I noticed this. However I am optimistic because of their curiosity and their love to understand. Unfortunately, we, the Arabs and Muslims through out history, have neglected presenting information about ourselves to the US people. This has helped in increasing, or preserving, their lack of understanding about us. How many books have been published in the United States during the past 20 years by an Arab or Muslim intellectual about the Arab and Islamic region?! Not many, but a large number of US experts and university professors have published many books about us, dozens, if not hundreds.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) US newspapers wrote about the existence of disputes among Saudi officials over Iran. These newspapers said that some Saudi officials considered that a confrontation with Iran would be a catastrophe, while others considered the opposite, namely that the extension of the Iranian influence over Iraq would be a catastrophe?
(Prince Turki) Despite all that is published in the newspapers whether here or in Europe, the Saudi stance, as stated by Foreign Minister Prince Saud al- Faisal, is that Iran is an important neighbor, has its history and historic status in the region, and we deal with it as equals. We talk to it frankly about all the apprehensions we have about our relations with it, and we listen to it about all its apprehensions about that issue. Prince Saud al- Faisal has said it openly in many press conferences that any military action against Iran is against the Saudi interests. This is the official stance, and there is no other stance adopted by Prince Bandar Bin-Sultan, Prince Turki al- Faisal, or anyone else. We all are government officials, and we perform our duties according to the directive of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, God keep him safe, and it is the King who draws up the public policy, commissions the ministers to implement it, and the foreign minister is the one commissioned to implement all that is related to foreign issues.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) As part of the talk about the tension in the relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, US newspapers returned to the issue of the Al-Khobar bombings, and reiterated that Iran was behind them?
(Prince Turki) I have not heard anything new about this issue, and as far as I know there are no official statements to confirm this claim.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There is the other opinion that says that the catastrophe is not a confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but it is the Iranian control over Iraq through the Shiite majority ascending to government in Iraq?
(Prince Turki) If for argument’s sake we accept that Iran wants to control Iraq, we believe that the Iraqi people are capable of protecting their sovereignty, independence, and interests. This view has been reiterated many times by Foreign Minister Prince Saud al- Faisal. We believe that Iraq is capable of overcoming the problems it faces, and we believe that Iraq is the safety valve for all of us in the region. We should remember that historically Iraq has been targeted by invaders. Before Islam it was invaded by the Persians. During the Ottoman rule, Iraq was the field for many battles between the Ottomans and the Safavis. Thus, Iraq today includes many sects and creeds, such as the Shiites, the Sunnis, the Yazidis, the Christians, and the Jews. Also there are many ethnic groups, such as the Arabs, the Kurds, the Turkoman, and the Persians. Therefore, I say that this mixture and woven fabric makes Iraq a safety valve and it will not be fragmented, collapse, or fall.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is this despite all that is happening now?
(Prince Turki) Yes, despite all that is happening now. What is happening now is a political exploitation of the sects and ethnic groups. The killing and destruction that are taking place now have political reasons. If an agreement over a political solution is reached, the unity and sovereignty of Iraq will continue.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Two months ago, The Washington Post published an opinion by Saudi expert that caused problems, because he said that Saudi Arabia would intervene on the side of the Sunni minority in Iraq, because this minority was confronting the control of the Shiite majority?
(Prince Turki) As I said, Saudi Arabia keeps equal distances between itself and all the sects and ethnic groups in Iraq. The person who expressed that opinion was not a Saudi official, but he was contracted by the Saudi embassy here to undertake studies, and he has no official status. He personally wrote that his opinion was not official. The Saudi embassy decided to terminate the contract with him in order not to give his opinion official status, and to secure the independence of his opinion. Anyway, an official statement has been issued rejecting these claims, and reiterating that we do not interfere in Iraq’s internal affairs.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In the State of the Union address, US President George Bush reiterated that “the United States is addicted to oil,” and that it ought to stop relying on the Middle East oil?
(Prince Turki) I do not know why they think that the one intended by this is Saudi Arabia? We provide the United States with only 10 to 12 percent of its oil imports, and all the countries of the Middle East provide it with between 15 and 18 percent of its oil imports, while 82 percent of its imports come from non-Arab countries. Therefore, this wish to dispense with the imports will affect countries close to the United States before it will affect us. The second point is that we always say to the United States that it will not be able to achieve independence in the field of oil; we know this, and they also know it. However much the reliance on the oil alternatives increases these alternatives will never be able to cover all their needs. Oil will continue to be the main source of energy, whether in the United States or in the rest of the world countries.
We always say to the United States that it is imperative to establish joint cooperation in the field of oil. The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques said that to President Bush when they met at the president’s ranch in Crawford in Texas in April 2005. King Abdullah told President Bush that Saudi Arabia decided to spend 50 billion dollars to increase its production from 10 million to 13.5 million barrels a day. Since then we have been working to implement our part of this agreement. Perhaps you heard the statements by Energy Minister Ali Al-Nuaymi recently in India when he said that our production would reach 12.5 million barrels in 2009.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) President Bush announced last month the increase in the US forces in Iraq. However, this announcement was met with strong opposition among the US people, in US congress by the members of the Democratic Party, and even by some members of the Republican Party?
(Prince Turki) President Bush said when he made the announcement that the aim was to stop the violence and achieve stability in Iraq. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region, and discussed this issue with their leaders. US Vice President Dick Cheney also visited the region. Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al- Faisal held a joint press conference with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in which he said that Saudi Arabia supported the aims of President Bush’s plan to stop the violence and achieve stability in Iraq. As for the decisions of the US Government and the stance of the US people toward these decisions, these are US internal affairs in which we have no right to interfere or influence. I always say that the United States entered Iraq without invitation, but it should not get out of Iraq without invitation; the Iraqi Government and the Iraqi people ought to have a say in its departure, the way it is to be done, its timing, and its requirements.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Recently at George Washington University, Washington D.C., and on other occasions, you linked the problem of Iraq to the Palestinian problem. The students asked you about this link, and you confirmed it. Do you think that the US people understand this, believe it, and can solve the Palestinian problem in order to help in solving the other problems?
(Prince Turki) I always repeat that all the problems of the region are interlinked, and not only the two problems of Iraq and Palestine. The problem of Lebanon is linked to that of Palestine. The so-called war on terror is linked to the problem of Palestine. The situation in Iran, all the issues related to the Iranian interests, the fears, and the apprehensions are all interlinked.
I always say to the US people that if they examined every cell of the body of every Arab and Muslim, they would find the word “Palestine” written within every one of these cells. The Arabs do not want anything other than the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, namely the state, the identity, the borders, and the capital. There are positive indicators that have appeared recently, such as President Bush’s address to the UN General Assembly of which more than 60 percent was about the Middle East region. For the first time President Bush talked in a public and official address about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and he used the word “occupation.” This word had been excluded from the official US dictionary.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) During your US tours you met Muslims who talked to you about their situation. It is clear that some of them have been facing restrictions and molestation since 11 September attacks?
(Prince Turki) I heard all kinds of things. I heard contradictory and divergent stories. There are those who have said that they are facing persecution and discrimination, and they presented evidence of attacks on mosques, houses, and working places. However, I have heard from the majority that they are completely satisfied with their stay in the United States. They say that they are being treated the same as any other US citizens.
In the past, every group immigrating to the United States faced discrimination and persecution. This was since the Spaniards came to the United States, and then the English and the other Europeans. There were Irish, Italian, and Jewish minorities. Of course there was the black minority, which suffered a great deal in the past. However, all these minorities later on became integrated, and became the same as everybody else. Yes, there are exceptional cases and yes there are extremists on every side, whether among the Muslims or within the US society; however, the general picture of the Muslims in the United States is positive and calls for optimism.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Many US officials, with President George Bush at their forefront, say that the war on terror will continue for a long time. The military in the Pentagon in particular emphasize that it is a world war that perhaps is endless. When do you think it will end?
(Prince Turki) Whoever pursues an end of terrorism everywhere has not learned anything from the experience of history. The terrorists resort to terror in order to achieve political aims. They did this in the past, they are doing it now, and they will do it in the future. Man will never establish a Utopia without differences or problems, like the one some people exploit to justify their terrorist deeds. Even if the last “Muslim terrorist” were to be killed, another terrorist under a different name would come to achieve another political aim.
There are nationalities and religions, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Buddhists who practiced, practice, and will practice terrorism. No side will be able to confront those extremist Muslims other than the Muslims, because they know more than anybody else the extent of the deviation of these extremists from the Koran and the Sunnah of the Prophet, because they know that there is no justification for killing the innocent and destroying property, and because they know that fighting the extremists is jihad for the sake of God. Yes, our duty is to perform the greater jihad.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What will you do when you return to Saudi Arabia?
(Prince Turki) I am returning to Riyadh because I have a job of which I am proud, namely the King Faisal Center for Islamic Research and Studies. I have been selected as a chairman of its board of directors since it was established. With God’s help, I would like to develop it in order to increase its activities in the religious, intellectual, and cultural fields.