WASHINGTON,(Reuters) – Saudi Arabia”s King Abdullah, in his first interview since coming to power, said he is working to trim high oil prices, which cause "tremendous" damage to other countries, and vowed to eliminate al Qaeda and its "work of the devil."
Speaking to ABC Television”s Barbara Walters, Abdullah defended women”s rights, predicted Saudi women will one day drive and said the kingdom is now producing over 10 million barrels of oil per day. He said one reason he gave the exclusive interview was because Walters is a woman.
Abdullah said Mideast countries, including Iran and his own, should not acquire nuclear weapons and urged Iran not to become an "obstacle" to peace in Iraq.
"Without a doubt, we have benefited financially (from high oil prices), but we believe that the damage to other countries is tremendous and we don”t believe prices should be at this level," the king said, according to excerpts of the interview, to air Friday on the ൜/20" and "Nightline" programs.
Asked what the kingdom could do to calm prices, Abdullah said: "We are trying and we continue to try. We have increased oil production to over 10 million barrels a day."
He expressed little concern Saudi wells might run dry, citing predictions oil supplies will last more than 70 years.
Two weeks ago, Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi declined to say whether the kingdom would produce more or less oil in October than the estimated 9.6 million barrels per day (bpd) it produced in September.
He said there were "no takers" for Saudi Arabia”s offer to pump more oil amid rising prices and constraints on U.S. refining capacity.
The kingdom has said it wants to gradually boost its oil production capacity to 15 million bpd, from the current 11 million bpd capacity.
Saudi Arabia is the largest producing nation of the OPEC cartel, which agreed last month to effectively suspend its output quotas through 2005 because of volatile prices.
”MADNESS AND EVIL”
In the interview, Abdullah spoke strongly against extremism and the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by al Qaeda, which fractured U.S.-Saudi relations because most of the hijackers came from the kingdom.
He called al Qaeda "madness and evil. It is the work of the devil," he said, and promised to fight ൦ years if we have to until we eliminate this scourge."
He defended Islam as a "religion of peace" which rejects the Sept. 11 attacks but acknowledged that the extremist threat had not been ended in his country.
Still, he questioned why so much focus in the fight has been on Saudi Arabia when "extremism exists in every country of the world" and rejected charges that the kingdom funds fundamentalist religious schools that export extremism.
Riyadh has regulated charities, withdrawn support for institutions deemed extremist and "toned down" textbooks, he said.
Abdullah said differences over Iraq, Afghanistan and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have soured Saudi views of America, but "we are always loyal to our friends, including the United States."
Restrictions on Saudi women, including a driving ban, have also caused tensions, but Abdullah said: "I believe the day will come when women drive."
"Our people are just now beginning to open up to the world and I believe that with the passing of days in the future everything is possible," he said.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal recently said U.S. policy in Iraq is widening sectarian divisions in Iraq to the point of effectively handing the country to Iran.
Abdullah was less direct, saying: "We hope that Iran will not become an obstacle to peace and security in Iraq."
As to U.S. concerns that Iran seeks to build nuclear weapons and, if Tehran is successful, Saudi Arabia might follow, Abdullah said his country "like other countries in the region, rejects the acquisition of nuclear weapons by anyone, especially nuclear weapons in the Middle East region."