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interview: bandar bin sultan

Saudi dissidents say that there is growing anti-Americanism in Saudi Arabia, that bin Laden is in some ways becoming a folk hero, in part because the regime does not allow dissent, there is unemployment, etc. Is there growing anti-Americanism in Saudi Arabia?

It's almost as deja vu again. We heard the same stories, the same pontification from people who ... are against the kingdom, against its policies. In 1990, we were told ... that if the Americans come to help Saudi Arabia defend itself and liberate Kuwait, the Arab world will rise from the Atlantic to the Gulf.

Because?

Because the infidels have come, because Saudi Arabia is a holy land. Well, the truth of the matter, one, the premise was wrong. America has never been a colonizing power as far as we were concerned. Our relationship with America did not start in 1990. It started in the 1930s. And when the Americans came to Saudi Arabia, they didn't come as an invader. They came actually as a private sector, trying to help us find oil. They found the oil for us, and they've been our friends ever since. ...

But bin Laden himself [went] to the royal family when the invasion of Kuwait took place, and said, "We will defend Saudi Arabia," as I understand it, meaning he and the Afghan Arabs or the Saudis. ...

No. That is not true. Bin Laden used to come to us when America -- underline, America -- through the CIA and Saudi Arabia were helping our brother mujahedeen in Afghanistan to get rid of the communist, secularist Soviet Union forces, to liberate them. ... Osama bin Laden came and said, "Thank you. Thank you for bringing the Americans to help us to get rid of the secularist, atheist Soviets."



about bandar bin sultan

Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Washington, Prince Bandar bin Sultan served as Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States from 1983 to 2005. In this interview with FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman, Prince Bandar argues that while U.S. policy in the Middle East has its flaws, it cannot be blamed for the atrocities of Sept. 11 -- Osama bin Laden and like-minded extremists must bear full responsibility. Prince Bandar also speaks candidly about dissidents within his own country, about relations between Saudi Arabia and other governments in the Middle East, and about the role that Saudi Arabia may take in the fight against terrorism. This interview was conducted late September 2001.

You had a conversation with him?

I had a personal conversation. Other people had more conversation. I had a very short meeting. ... He wouldn't impress me as somebody who would be a leader for anything. Actually, at that time, I thought he couldn't lead eight ducks across the street.

But when people talk about the infidels coming, that is sacrilegious in Islam, because Islam believes in the people of the Book. You have to believe in Judaism, Christianity, Moses and Jesus. I, as a Muslim, if I don't recognize Christianity or Judaism as God's religion, and the prophets of God, I am automatically excommunicated.

So here you see this is the belief of the majority of Muslims. We should not be blamed for a cult, and that's what those people are -- a cult.

But they are without popular support in your country?

If there were popular support, their ambassador would be talking to you now. If they had popular support, he wouldn't be hiding in Afghanistan. Look, Saudi Arabia -- I believe personally, and I think my government, my leadership believes, and our people -- you cannot govern people in spite of their will forever. ... History tells us it's not doable. ...

So for us in Saudi Arabia, we are extraordinarily sensitive to our people's feeling. ... My family has been in leadership position since 1747. Now, you can call us many things, but politically stupid we are not. And we make our decisions based on one simple fact. Does it sound good [in] downtown Riyadh or not? We don't ask ourself does it sound good on CNN, or downtown Washington, or London, or Washington Post. ... We are constantly keeping our thumb on the pulse of our people.

That is why, for example, you don't find any Saudi community living overseas. There is no Saudi-American or Saudi-British community. You have Irish-American, you have Egyptian-American, Lebanese-American. Ask yourself why. How come people who go study overseas, who live overseas, do business overseas, always come home?

Except the dissidents, except the people who say that they can't say what they want to say.

I grant you that. Now, if I grant you that, you have to grant me one thing. Do you make a judgment based on 10 people, 20 people, 100 people out of 12 million people?

So the reports that we are receiving that there is sort of a quiet celebration amongst many people in the Islamic world, including Saudi Arabia, saying the United States in some ways got its comeuppance on Sept. 11 because the United States has been tilting in the wrong direction, has not been paying attention to the needs of the Islamic people, tilting towards Israel, and doing other things -- that's not happening?

... There is a feeling that America is more sensitive to the Israeli needs than to Arab needs, particularly Palestinians. There are emotions that only if America could be fair vis-a-vis how it treats the Palestinian needs vis-a-vis the Israeli needs. These are fair comments, but I can assure you, it does not go to the extent that people are saying, "Ah, they got what they deserve." That is not true.

Is there a possibility that people feel -- as we know that many people feel in the Islamic world, and we've heard also in Saudi Arabia -- that bin Laden has become almost a cult hero to some people because he's been able to stand up, first to the Soviet Union, and now to the only remaining superpower?

Here is the point. You are making this man 20 feet tall. The mujahedeen were fighting honorably against the Soviets, but they had no hope in hell to win that war. The reason they won that war is because America and Saudi Arabia put $1 billion each to give them arms, training, equipment, and lobbied for them worldwide. So let's not overexaggerate. ...

So Osama bin Laden has been blown out of proportion?

I think he has, I do. And I think the U.S. ... the Western media has blown him out of proportion; definitely, definitely.

He uses the right sentences that he thinks could touch the sentiments of the public. But if you remember, when the SCUDs were falling on Riyadh, some kids in some Arab countries were running around with Saddam Hussein's picture. That is not sign of support for Saddam. That's sign of frustration. That is why, while we were conducting the liberation of Kuwait with our allied operations, we were planning for a peace conference, which was the Madrid conference.

... Islam does not teach us to hate. Islam doesn't teach us to kill innocent people. Islam doesn't teach us to kill Americans or any other people, civilians, innocent people. Islam doesn't teach us to hate and make it permissible to kill Jews and Christians. My point here is if you take the issue as religious, he has no case to make. But if he's on CNN for an hour every other day and [the cover of] Newsweek, et cetera, certainly he looks larger than life. ...

I believe strongly that we all underestimated the effect of such approach, such attempt to use religion to convince people, because we thought it makes no difference. Well, now we discover that maybe we should have taken it more seriously than we did before.

So if we have reports that supposedly elements of the royal family or other people in Saudi Arabia have forwarded money to bin Laden, to his organization, that there's been a lot of traffic to Afghanistan -- not true?

Not true. Not true at all. In fact, so much not true that people are mixing orange and apple. When we were sponsoring the fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and through Pakistan, we are the ones who cleared all those people to go, we and you. We sent them money, not just from the public, but the government's ... money. So people are taking a moment in history and superimposing it on now, and making it look like it's a continuation.

But you've heard the allegations....

I have.

... that there's been more traffic recently to Afghanistan from Saudi Arabia, that sixteen of the people [who carried out the attacks on Sept. 11] were carrying Saudi papers ...

Right.

... that the appearance is that there is some underground or undercurrent in your country that is supporting them.

But appearances could be fooling. There's a difference between appearance and reality. The truth of the matter is, this is no more accurate than saying McVeigh represents all white, blond, blue-eyed army veterans' thinking, or that the militias in America, where they think the federal government is sacrilegious. Why is it ... less threatening, those organizations, to you than ours [are]? Interesting.

The death toll is a little higher.

Ah, thank you. Thank you. I hope this does not encourage you all to do more in a silly way, in a tragic way. The truth of the matter here is Islam is good religion. It's a religion of peace and tolerance. ... What I'm saying is, you cannot judge either Islam or Arab or Saudi Arabia by bin Laden or sixteen people or 100 people, for that matter. ...

You were explaining about bin Laden -- that he's not what he appears to be?

No. That is true, but also why his message is not threatening to us, because he cannot say Islam is not practiced properly in Saudi Arabia. In fact, many people -- even within the Arab world -- criticize us. Why? Because we close shops five times a day during prayer times, because we adhere to traditional Islamic culture ... and because, to us, Islam's a way of life, so we don't have to pretend or go through ceremonies. It's just a daily thing.

But what he says is that you're corrupt ... that you're hypocrites.

Exactly. And it's the opposite. I think the greatest proof, if I am as powerful as bin Laden and my message as strong as bin Laden, and my followers are as great as bin Laden, why would I hide in a cave in Afghanistan? I will go where it counts. I'll come to Saudi Arabia. Let the revolution ... let my followers take over.

There is a rumor on the Internet that he's on his way to Mecca.

I hope so. He's welcome. He is welcome if he comes. Just like his family, his brothers and sisters disowned him, I can assure you 99.9 percent of Saudis will disown him, and I have absolutely no doubt about that.

[Let's talk about] Al Jazeera, [the Arabic-language television network based in Qatar,] and the flow of information into the country, which you can't control any more, right? In a sense, you don't have full freedom of the press as we would know it here in the United States.

Well, different, different.

But how has that affected the street?

... I think, instead of talking about Al Jazeera and inflating it like bin Laden's been inflated, I would rather ignore it, to be honest with you, because to me it's fake. It's fake freedom of the press. ... Why? Because they remind me of the saying, "My mind is made up. Don't confuse me with facts." They have a program, three people to discuss an issue. The problem is all three agree with each other. Either they are pro-bin Laden or anti-Arab citizens or anti-American.

... So it is irrelevant to me. What is dangerous, however, it's an outlet. It's an outlet. And that outlet allows people who have poisonous views to be given role to the public. That's okay. That's all right. No problem. They can't be more powerful than other news media outlets that we don't like. However, satellite TV generally, the advent of satellite TV, has produced new phenomenon, and that is there is no more lag time. It happens, you see it. And when CNN was the only one at one time, what we saw on CNN is the real-life things. Now almost every Arab country has satellite TV.

Where that affects the situation is when there is violence in the West Bank or Gaza or in Jerusalem, and it doesn't matter who did the violence to whom, whether it's the Israelis or the Palestinians. What you see in the 10 seconds, maybe half a minute on the news, we have it for an hour, two hours. Day in and day out, it gets to you. ...

But is that creating ... dissent in the street or popular...

Not in Saudi Arabia. It's creating uncomfort, sometimes it's creating anger at what they see, particularly if they think it is outrageous. Because, you see, everybody has the right to fight terrorism, OK? And we believe in Saudi Arabia that terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. There is no good terrorism and bad terrorism. If you go after civilians, then you are a terrorist.

But in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict situation, you have two different ... two situations overlapping. You have attacks on civilian, Israeli civilians, in discos, in restaurants. ... That to me is a terrorist act. You cannot accept it. It doesn't matter just because my brother, the Palestinians, are doing it; it doesn't make it more right.

If you are in the occupied land, West Bank and Gaza, and you are fighting the Israeli army with [guns] ... that's different. Why is it different? Because that's what you did in this country. Your Founding Fathers were terrorists, as far as George the Third was concerned. So we make that difference.

What gets to people is, the Israelis have inherited what they call British colonial laws, that I advise them strongly to get rid of it. The British gave it up. For their own sake, they should give it up.

One kid kills people, blows himself [up] in a car. They will go to his family and blow up their home. Now instead of having one terrorist who's dead, they have six kids who are going to grow up to take revenge, and now they created six.

... To people in the Arab world, we are seen as the backers of Israel.

Yes.

And therefore if someone like bin Laden attacks us, the friend of their enemy, he gains in stature.

No. That's where we differ. That's where people here jump to conclusion. ... The fact that you help Israel is not looked upon with admiration in our part of the world, particularly when they are wrong. However, we know ... it's important for you to have relationship with Israel so you can influence them to do the right thing. But to jump from saying he supports my enemy and therefore he's my enemy, and therefore I'm going to go kill 6,000 people in the World Trade Center, that is crazy. That is unacceptable under any law.

And again, for the record, when a Saudi dissident tells us that there was quiet celebration when the World Trade Center happened, in your country, that people had quiet feasts and that people ... there's a growing --

That's almost ghoulish. That should tell you more about this dissident than about the system in my country. The truth of the matter, that those young dissidents who admire bin Laden, they want Saudi Arabia to be like Taliban. Those guys are not Jeffersonian Democrats. They don't want to change the system so we can be like Europe.

But you're not a Jeffersonian Democrat.

No, I'm not, but I sure am not Talibanian. I am more Alexander Hamilton ideals than Jeffersonian Democrats, probably.

Then why [has] Saudi Arabia ... just only recently ended your relationship with the Taliban?

I'm glad you mentioned that. As I told you, we and Americans moved heaven and earth to get the Soviets out of [Afghanistan]. ... So we have moral responsibility to Afghanistan to stabilize. ...

We then felt we have the only acceptable leadership, because of the holy lands, that could mediate between the different factions, and we had emissaries and so on and so forth. Finally we got them to agree to come to Mecca in the holy land and make an agreement there, and sign it. ...

By that time, during this period, Taliban controlled 80 percent of the countryside. ... They said if you recognize us, since we control 80 percent, then we will come. We agreed with them, if we recognize them, they come, and then they share power with the rest. They came, they agreed in Mecca, in the holiest of holies.

You see, you cannot be half-Muslim as you can't be half-pregnant. Those people like to pick and choose when they want to be Muslims, when they don't want. When they are attacking us, we are corrupt, bad Muslims. When they're killing innocent people, well, that's OK. ...

The Taliban people double-crossed everybody, broke the oath they made in Mecca, and after everybody put their arms down, they took it over. And immediately we broke ... we froze all relationship with them. And to be honest with you, we never gave it a big importance. We froze the relation. We ignored the whole thing. ...

This comes from an aboveground supporter of bin Laden. ... I said to him, "What's all this anti-American stuff? We went to the Persian Gulf and we defended your country. You know, we helped your country against Saddam." And he replied, "No one asked for the American troops to go there. You went there to protect your own interests. You went there to protect some corrupted regimes that are working against their own people."

... You see, those people would like to have it both ways. None of them will survive if Saddam Hussein was in Saudi Arabia. ... Saddam Hussein has been a secular all his life. ... Now he's a Muslim. Suddenly he's a Muslim. ...

And we felt we are the injured party. Forget the Americans now. We are the one who stood up with Iraq and the Iraqi people, when other Arab socialist and republic countries were against it. We are the one who brought the whole West to them. ... They betrayed us. But my point here is, with all of that betrayal, we did not treat Saddam as a Muslim country. ... We treated them as somebody who betrayed Islam and Arab culture and religion.

It is not against Islamic law to ask people who are your friends to come and help you protect your own people. We did not ask the Americans, or the other 33 countries that came to help us, to put down an uprising against the king. That would not be accepted. And you know what? Nobody, no force in the world, including the United States of America, can help the king of Saudi Arabia or the royal family or the government to stay in power against the will of its people.

But when these people say that you are a corrupt regime -- that you practice one way when you're in the West and another way at home, that you are living off of the oil wealth, that you don't have democracy ... of course, they don't support democracy...

Thank you. I'm glad you mentioned that. ...

But what they are saying is that there is substance to their grievance.

No, there's no substance to their grievance. ... I'm not cocky on this issue, because governing is no joke. If you get too cocky or you lose touch with the majority of your people, you are finished. I don't care who you are, and I don't care what system. In a democracy, in a Western democracy, you lose touch with your people, you lose elections. In a monarchy, you lose your head probably, or have a revolution or have a coup.

So, it is not magic. Governing is not magic. It's been there for tens of thousands of years. If you maintain the majority, the support of majority of your people who feel what you do serves their interest, you are safe. That doesn't mean you cannot find ten, 100, 1,000 or maybe 100,000 people who don't like it.

But there is a stereotype in the Western mind. You have a romantic weakness for all the dissidents: Oh, they're against us, the underdog, poor people. Trust me -- and if 11 September did not convince you, I cannot do anything to convince the American people, the Western mind -- we are proud Arab Muslims. We have thousands of years of history and culture, and we like to modernize, but not necessarily Westernize, and we are different. If we can agree that being different is not necessarily bad, that you can be different and still be friends, then I think you can go a long way.

But the stereotyping of my culture, my people, my country makes what happens in your country, which is similar, kosher, [while] what happens in our country is not. To have a militia in America, it's OK. They are "discontent." Well, they kill people. One guy blew up a whole building, killed 190 people. We never had a terrorist attack in our country by a Saudi that killed same number as you did in Oklahoma.

No, but you had the Riyadh [bombing].

Five.

Right, and you had Khobar.

Nineteen. Thank you.

... attacks on Americans.

... If I am going to have anybody to oppose me, my government, my system, I would like to have those kind of people to hate me. ... People give aid and comfort to those kind of people by saying, "Well, maybe he has a point." Bin Laden has no point. ... This man hates, period -- you, us, anybody. ...

We believe everything good is in America, as long as you understand everything bad is in America. Now God gave us a brain, let's take the good and leave the bad. ...

Are you afraid what the results might be of cooperating with the United States?

No, because we never, nothing in our relationship with the United States or any other country will be done at the expense of the interests of our people. ...

My point is, therefore, as I told you, we always keep an eye on our constituency. And how many times have we been attacked in your press or by your politicians or... You know why we're attacked? Not because we're bad to our people, but because we will not do what they think is good, from their view. Hey, I don't have to please people downtown Washington, but I must always take into account Saudi people. ...

What would the reaction be amongst your people if, as some have suggested, we broaden the war against terrorism, not just again bin Laden -- but Saddam, the Hezbollah -- and we take military action in all of those areas?

If you had a proof and evidence to show that somebody is doing terrorism, I think everybody will be with you. But you see, there are two different things ... There is the terrorism that was directly behind the attack on your country, your people. This we have no ifs, no buts, as far as your right to go after them...

Are you convinced that bin Laden was behind these acts? Is your intelligence service telling you this?

I must tell you that, based on everything I know, no doubt in my mind that he is behind it, yes, absolutely, absolutely. And you know what? Most of the countries in Europe or in Asia or anywhere else who are saying, "Give us the proof," they know the proof. Even they've been victim of it, all of them. The question is, what do you with it?

What do you mean?

What do you do with that information? We believe, and America believes, that now let's go after the terrorists and bring them to justice, and others believe, well, maybe we can massage the issue, maybe we can go around it. We are not compromising on that.

But when you involve other people, for example, if those dissidents in England, whether it's Egyptian dissidents or Saudi dissidents or something, who now we know are linked to bin Laden and Al Qaeda, one way or another, do we go and bomb London? No. So I think the greatest thing that President Bush did is to do this coalition. Being anti-terrorist is apple pie and motherhood. Everybody wants to be anti-terrorist, right?

The people directly involved should be punished, and people scattered all over the place, let's talk. "Do you approve of this or not? Are you in or are you out? Are you part of that coalition or not?" And then, let's sort that out.

But I believe the fight against terrorism, now that you globalized it, OK, the international coalition is not just weapons. It is diplomacy, it is economic, it is intelligence, and maybe some military. So the hypothetical question you gave me, what if this and that, I'm open to any suggestion. ... Let's sit and think it through. Why would Iran condemn this? Why would Libya condemn this? Why would Syria condemn this? Because everybody, in their own way, must have had some bad taste from it, one way or another. ...

What happened to America has galvanized the world. Now it's the time for cool-headedness. I hope, and I believe, history will judge us on how we channel this anger, this anger and indignation that we saw come out of what happened on 11 September. History will judge us much better if we can direct that anger in a positive direction; i.e., converting and getting common agreements on fighting this disease.

And I think the Muslim world has a task too. The Muslim world, particularly the scholars, should get together now -- bring all of the scholars from all sects to sit down and come down with a common religious position on this and say, anyone who does not agree with this definition, with the consensus, come and rationalize it with us. Talk to us. Let's sit down and debate it. And if we do that and you still don't, then you are a pariah. And I would not be surprised if you don't see this, in the next few weeks or months, as part of our contribution to fighting terrorism.

Bin Laden was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991, 1992. He went to the Sudan.

Not expelled; he left.

He wasn't very popular with the government.

Exactly. He left, but we didn't say, "Get out." He left because he thought it was getting to the point where what he's saying and doing is not going to be accepted.

And he still had an interrelationship with his family at that point...

Correct.

... who did some work with him in the Sudan.

Correct.

And your government, actually, at one time or another, had liaisons with the Sudan on a number of issues.

Yes, yes.

In 1996, the United States, and I believe your government, pressures the Sudanese government and says, "Get him out of here, get him out of Sudan."

Before that, we sent people to him from his family, and we tried to reason with him. "Why are you doing this? You're going way out. This is not acceptable." At that time, he coupled with this guy, al-Turabi, in Sudan. ... And then, that's when they began to sort of pump him up.

And he made it with the Egyptians and...

Egyptian Jihad, and al-Zawahiri, and they began to [think], here is a guy who has hard currency, dollars, he could be useful. ... So we warned him, we warned him, and then we found out that he was going to draw his money from the kingdom, move outside. ... To take his money, to draw his account...

They alleged $300 million.

There is no $300 million, trust me. When his father died, his share was something like 84 million riyal or $25 million, and we believe between that time, until he gets whatever he gets in his hand outside of the country, no more than $30 million to $55 million. But he had shares in the big corporation of his family. That was frozen because of his, what we considered his illegal activities. But under our law, private property is very sacred. We could not freeze it for good. We could freeze it only for a certain time. After a while, you have to prove something or get rid or allow to withdraw it.

And that's when his family had meetings with him, and he just told them they all are sacrilegious, they all are corrupt, they are all infidels. ... So they legally disowned him. Once they did that, the government then stripped from him his nationality.

That's 1994.

Exactly. Once we did that, all his assets were frozen in the country, and they're still there. It might go to his children at certain age or whatever, but they're still frozen.

In 1996, though, he is being asked by the Sudanese to leave ... because of pressure from the United States and from your government.

Correct.

They tell us they offered him to you, and you didn't want to take him.

Well ... I am not fully aware of the details of this. But I think it's a gray area.

Well, he had to fly out. ... He flew out over Saudi airspace. ... And he arrives with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Correct, but he didn't get an aircraft and say, "Hey guys, I'm coming across." I think he would have ... that would have had a different outcome to it.

But I think, to be honest with you, look, we never gave him the weight that now everybody is giving him. We just thought he was a nuisance, and he was bad for the image of Saudi Arabia, of Islam, his family. We never thought of him as the bin Laden who is doing all of this. ...

So did you underestimate him the way we have apparently underestimated him?

We underestimated the power of the people around him that created this, what we see today, yes.

The infrastructure.

Infrastructure that was developed, and it is not his infrastructure.

Whose is it?

I think it's the brainchild of the people around him. One of them is this Egyptian, al-Zawahiri. ... I think he's more educated, more trained for that. He was part of Al-Jihad organization in Egypt. That's the same group who planned the assassination of President Sadat and all of the trouble that went into Egypt, and I think that he had the brain to bring specialists, if you want, in different areas. And now we discover maybe we should not have underestimated. Maybe, maybe we should have paid more attention to how far an evil brain can go.

In the United States we talk about this as an intelligence failure greater than Pearl Harbor. But it's also apparently an intelligence failure on the part of your government, as well, to assess the danger here.

I think it's underestimation. Yes, I'm willing to say that. I think all of us underestimated where this was leading, and I think there is enough blame to go around for everybody.

But, you see, I always believed you can achieve a strategic surprise any time you choose if you do two things; one, do something that's thoroughly stupid and, two, that it is clearly against your interests. For example, Saddam Hussein did nothing that we didn't know before he invaded Kuwait, but when it came to the question, will he actually go and take over Kuwait, we said, come on, that's so stupid. And then we looked at what's in it for him. It doesn't make sense. He achieved strategic surprise, not tactical surprise.

... This guy has evil people around him. Some of them are very smart, very shrewd, and it is not unique to brainwash some discontent people, young people ...

But they've broken the profile. Before they were people who had nothing to lose, who were from the street, if you will, who were impoverished. ... Apparently, in this operation, we have well-educated people, college degrees, living in the West.

I think maybe we caught your bug, like Patty Hearst ... all intellectual, middle-class, like the Red Brigades in Italy. Ironically enough, last night I was watching a program on that, and it struck me, the similarity -- fanatic, hate the institutions, and the symbol of power, and believe we are right, everybody else wrong, we are right, and of course attachment with youth. And it's almost like a self-hating process. I am wealthy, and I see all of those despondent people, and you get that guilt feeling. Instead of saying, "I am wealthy, I am going to help the poor; I am wealthy, I am going to go and hit the other wealthy guys." ...

Look, I'm not a psychiatrist. I cannot go in the mind of those people and tell you what makes them flip or break. But for sure, say what you want to say about Saudi political system, those are not good people, not only dissidents. Anyone who says, "What bin Laden and his people did is bad, but..." They are just as guilty, in my book. There is no "but" when it comes to massacring innocent people. And if there is a religion that says go and massacre women, children, innocent people, I don't want to be in that religion.

With all due respect, when the Taliban massacred the Shiites in Afghanistan, massacred women and children, did Saudi Arabia withdraw support of the Taliban?

The Taliban, when they did that, by the time we realized what they did, we already were in conflict with them, and they were already in control of most of the country, and we were trying to put that system back together. But did America -- all the West, all of it -- break diplomatic relations with Saddam Hussein when they knew he bombed his people with chemicals in Halabja?

If you are trying to tell me that we are not consistent, you succeeded. We are not consistent. But in politics, it's hard to be consistent all the time, and we are not alone. As you say, you Americans, consistency is the [mark of a] small mind. ...

In a certain sense we, in the United States, don't speak your language -- literally and figuratively.

Correct.

And that may be part of the problem.

That is true. That is true. ... Nobody spends enough time to understand the culture of other countries -- what makes them tick? What is the reality, and what is the falseness? And because you don't need [to know other cultures] ... the way other people need to know you, it's a weakness. It definitely is a weakness.

When we came to investigate the Khobar bombing, our law-enforcement people said they weren't getting cooperation from the Saudi government, they weren't being allowed to interview people to get to the bottom of this. And [FBI Director Louis] Freeh himself made a point of not leaving office until he was sure he could get some indictments. What happened there?

I am glad you mentioned this. Because bin Laden has dissidents, friends, who are saying [that] we were in Louis Freeh's pocket, we actually had the FBI here and they were telling us what to do, and the Americans came to our country to arrest our dissidents. ...

I never found the complaints from our allies in the West as damaging politically to Saudi Arabia. I always thought that is an asset. The more Americans complain, or the Europeans, that we are not cooperating on internal matters, the more you give me strength with those -- with my people, and with the dissidents -- that we are not in the pocket of anybody. We are your friends. We respect you. We like you to respect us. But there are lines after which we are not gonna compromise.

So what happened there is simple. It is the same friction as you have between the FBI and the CIA. Security services, or intelligence services, are very jealous about what they do. And our people have to go at the end of the day, once the investigation, to Sharia law court. ... A religious court. When they go there they must make sure from the court perception that the information is not contaminated by foreign influence. Because, if that victim, if the accused says, "But I challenge this evidence because foreigners gave it all," we lose the case in our court. That guy goes out free. So, there was a method unto that madness, that's number one.

Number two, it was a National Security matter for us. There are things that you know you don't tell us. There are things we know we may not tell you, unless we know what is the extent of them. If we wanted to see the big picture before we shared it with you. And when it was all done, we shared what is necessary with you.

Let's go to the Wahhabi question. ... Let me quote from an Islamic author who's [a professor at the University of California]. He writes about Islamic extremism. He says, "If the U.S. wants to do something about radical Islam, it has to deal with Saudi Arabia. The rogue states, Iraq and Libya, are less important in the radicalization of Islam than Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the single most important cause and supporter of the general fanaticism of Islam."

I have no doubt that the University will not hire anybody who's not qualified. And I am sure this man is qualified in everything except Islam. Because, number one, there is no such a thing as Wahhabi sect. ... He was a preacher. ... And in 1730s or so, people within the heart of Arabia were almost becoming pagans. You know, they worshipped trees, caves, and so on. And all what the man said is, "Please, brothers, go back to basics. What the prophet did or said, let's do it." And my -- the founder of my family joined up with him, and the two of them, quote, unquote, "unified" the peninsula. But we have never claimed to be a sect. ...

The Shah of Iran used to write to King Faisal [of Saudi Arabia] in the 1960s, late 1960s. ... telling him that, "Please, my brother, modernize. Open up your country. Make the schools mixed women and men. Let women wear mini-skirts. Have discos. Be modern, otherwise I cannot guarantee you will stay in your throne."

And the King, King Faisal, used to write to the Shah and say, "Your Majesty, I appreciate your advice. May I remind you, you are not the Shah of France. You are not in the Elysee; you are in Iran. Your population is 90 percent Muslims. Please don't forget that."

In fact, we have about six, seven letters like that. History proved our point. What I'm saying here is our Islam, our preaching of Islam, the Islam we follow, says, we are proud of our religion, we are proud of our culture, and we are open-minded. We are open-minded as long as people don't try to jam on us things that we cannot accept.

And I tell you why. There is a simple rationale here. I always describe modernization, if you want, or cross-cultural trade-off, as human transplant. Transplanting parts of the body to another part mechanically is simple. You can cut somebody's hand and sew it back on. But the problem is it will be rejected. So the reason body transplant did not work historically is because the body would reject it. When did it become successful? When the medical environment and the scientists discovered the medication for anti-rejection.

So what do you do when you want to have a kidney transplant or a heart transplant? They give you a medicine to lesson the rejection possibility of your body, so that when you put a foreign object in the body it can accept it. I think Saudi Arabia, as far as politically and religiously, we discovered this fact a long time ago. When we see something that we think we like to do, first we start putting the anti-rejection medicine within our nation. It doesn't help us, trust me. It doesn't help us to look good to you and lose our base. Never.

But I summarize ... Saudi uniqueness in the following. Everything to do with modernization, whether it is social, or political, or academic, or economic -- that includes women going to school, women working...

Driving?

Driving, modernization, everything ... the modern history of Saudi Arabia, we never had public uprising or demonstration in the streets asking for it. We are the only country in the world where the government is avant garde and the people are more conservative. And most of the trouble we had is because we wanted to move forward. But we are not arrogant enough to think we will move forward regardless of what our people think.

... We try and bring our people forward, yes. We want to modernize, yes. But, we are not crazy enough or insensitive enough, or arrogant enough to assume we can just because we like it, or America likes it, or Britain likes it we can force that upon our people. That you will never have in Saudi Arabia. ...

Is that why there may very well be so many Saudis who have become followers of bin Laden, or who have gone to Afghanistan? ... I'm just trying to find out why it is we have so many Saudis involved, apparently, in this.

Ah. But when you say "so many," you have to put it relatively. A friend of mine used to say, every time I asked her "How is your husband?," she'd say, "Compared to what?" So the point here is, relative to what? Many -- relative to what? Sixteen, twenty, one hundred? But I can tell you that bin Laden -- what he represents, and people who preach like him or who support him -- yes, they don't like my government. Yes, they don't like my political system. But, yes, they don't like it for the wrong reasons, not for the right reasons you think of. They want us to go back 1,000 years. We want to move forward.

But we have talked to intellectuals, doctors, dissidents who are not in the country who say that to do business in Saudi Arabia, you must have a partner in the royal family. You must have an "in," in the country. It's not an open system. It's a corrupt system. ...

You know what? I would be offended if I thought we had a monopoly on corruption. I think--

You know the image, though. You know what I'm talking about.

Yeah, I know the image. But you don't know your image either in my country, in my world. In other words, the image of the West is not any better. What I'm saying is, if you have house of glass, don't throw stones.

But the way I answer the corruption charges is this. In the last 30 years, we have implemented a development program that was approximately ... close to $400 billion worth, OK? Now, look at the whole country, where it was, where it is now. And I am confident after you look at it, you could not have done all of that for less than, let's say, $350 billion.

If you tell me that building this whole country, and spending $350 billion out of $400 billion, that we misused or got corrupted with $50 billion, I'll tell you, "Yes." But I'll take that any time. There are so many countries in the Third World that have oil that are still 30 years behind. But, more important, more important -- who are you to tell me this? ... What I'm trying to tell you is, so what? We did not invent corruption, nor did those dissidents, who are so genius, discover it. This happened since Adam and Eve. ... I mean, this is human nature. But we are not as bad as you think. ...

... The shock of Sept. 11 ... I mean, you have an intelligence service.

Sure.

They're pretty good.

Not bad.

Especially in Saudi Arabia. And they have liaisons with the Egyptians. Even maybe through the back door with the Israelis, depending upon the subject...

No, that is not true.

OK. And then there's the CIA.

Correct.

America spends $10 billion a year on counterterrorism. And nobody had a clue?

OK. Number one, it's always smarter after the fact. Monday-morning quarterbacking is easier than actually quarterbacking. Number two, there was no tactical surprise for us. Because we were looking for those people for long time. And we have made many successes that were not announced. The problem with intelligence work and certain ... security work, when you succeed, nothing happens. But you know what? Nothing happens -- not because you failed; nothing happened because you are succeeding. But all that it takes is one mistake. And I really don't think anybody yet has invented the way you can overcome this.

A senior U.S. law enforcement official, directly involved in this investigation told us, "At least 17 of the 19 people don't appear in any of our computer indexes."

That's not true. But...

What do you mean, it's not true?

It's not true.

Not in the U.S. government's anti-terrorism indexes.

That's not true. What I'm saying is, what we didn't have -- we and you -- is not the knowledge of X, Y, Zed, Mr. X, Mr. Y ... or the numbers. What we didn't have is, how do you connect that then to what happened now?

In other words, two of the people were going through flight school two years ago. The FBI went to visit them because some people got suspicious. They talked to them, but as far as the FBI's concerned, they have not violated any laws.

You see, it maybe is a wake-up call to America and to the Western world that freedom does not come free. I think the West, particularly Americans, are so proud of the freedoms they have -- and I think they should be proud -- but as long that they don't get complacent and forget how did they get these freedoms.

There was heavy price paid by this country from its Founding Fathers until the Civil War, until whatever, until you get here. Freedom comes with a price. It's not free. So, I think people became so complacent ... and so secure that they thought whatever bad things could happen somewhere the little, remote chance that there ... of it happening here should not make us violate some of our freedoms. ...

Freedom does not come for free. There is always a price for freedom. And in my judgement, you cannot have it both ways. In my judgement, as tragic as what happened is in reality, and I believe it is tragic -- I believe, in fact, it's so tragic, it has a historical dimension to it, the rest of our lives, we will be thinking before 11 September, after 11 September -- I don't believe that should make you turn into a closed society or trample on the civil rights of everybody. But I think common sense should prevail. And common sense says there are certain things that need to be done, because they make sense. ...

You said that that it is not true that we didn't know about these people?

No, it's not true. It's not true.

The Saudi intelligence people knew about them?

I think everybody knew about somebody ... something. But nobody can connect. ... You remember what I told you before? In other words, we were not tactically surprised. ...

You were saying that there was intelligence available that some of these people were taking flight school lessons in the United States...

Maybe.

... connected to bin Laden? ...

Correct.

... in some fashion...

... and there might be something funny going on. But, yes.

And we had names?

And we had names, yes, all of us.

And the FBI didn't go to talk to them?

And the FBI went to talk to them. But then what do you charge them with? You charge them because we think you might do something? There was no ... the goods were not there on them. So what I am saying is, there is a lot of diffusion of power in this country, diffusion of authority. ... The people who check the passports are different from the people who are the customs, from the people who run the prisons, from the people who do the security, from the federal to the local, to the states. You have fantastic accumulative security system. But its weakness -- it's not interconnected.

And we're not a monarchy.

And maybe you regret it, that you are not a monarchy. Maybe if you were a monarchy, you would have more common sense to do the right thing. And not get too carried away with quote-unquote "freedom." You are not free to go to the movie and scream, "Fire." Why? You are not free to go to a football match and take off all your clothes. Why? So there is no absolute freedom. ...

There have been many reports that Islamic charities, some based in Saudi Arabia, individuals ... in Saudi Arabia or outside of the country, but people with wealth, have put money into these kinds of networks and made investments in them, if you will.

You see, this is the least issue that I feel Saudi Arabia is vulnerable to ... financial support, for two reasons. Number one, yes, we are generous society. Forget the government now. It's society. For a reason.

Well, the Islamic culture...

Exactly. ... We don't have taxes in the kingdom. People don't pay taxes. In fact, some of my friends in the Congress beg me not to spread this rumor around this country. But we don't pay taxes.

However, we have a religious tax that's dictated by our religion, that is compulsory but not enforceable. Why? Because it's left to one's faith and belief and so on. And it is supposed to go to the poor. And remember, this law came 1,400 years ago. At that time, a lot of poor people, it was a social means to balance the needs of the general people, general public. ... The way it's practiced religiously, if you cannot find anybody needy, you go to the next neighborhood or the next village or the next city or the next country.

Well, in Saudi Arabia, God blessed us with a lot of wealth. We take care of almost all our people. That doesn't mean everybody, but almost all. But there's always excess to give. ... So we send it to Afghanistan, to Bosnia, to Senegal, to anywhere in the world. To Africa, Asia, my point ... the Arab world, but as charities. And this for us is just done deal. You go to Friday prayers. You could stand there and say, "Please help." And people will give you checks, money, et cetera.

I am not saying somebody will not use the goodwill of these charity organizations and recycle that money and send it for a bad cause. I am not denying that. I am saying we have never been confronted with such a possibility without taking look at it. And if it's true, we stopped it.

Did it happen?

It happened long time ago.

But was there money going to bin Laden, to his operation?

No, not to bin Laden, but to organizations that are just as bad as bin Laden, but from other places -- Egyptian, some Egyptian organizations ... and once it came to our attention, we stopped it.

But you know ... it is said of the Saudi government paying money to the PLO...

Correct.

... to various organizations...

Correct.

... take some of our money...

And leave...

... and leave us alone.

... Leave us alone. That is a lovely story. And I think it's very colorful story. But that's not true. I even read the other day that Saudi Arabia pays $10 billion as protection money to all these organizations to leave it alone.

That's not true. And in fact, I am sure it's not true. ... It's not true because we have never worried about the effect of these organizations on our country. We might have paid people because of other reasons. For example, when the Palestinians were having problems with the Jordanians, we might have just said, "Take this, take that. Just disengage, leave each other alone." We might've paid some people to switch from being revolutionaries to be nice citizens. But we have never paid it in the sense of, "Protect me, leave me alone" -- what has been mentioned.

However, the money trail, as we talked about. ... Our problem has been, is once an accusation comes to us and we follow it, we found the money leaves Saudi Arabia, goes to Europe and we can follow it, goes to the United States, America, and we lose contact with it. ... Because when it comes from America, nobody's looking at the money as being quote-unquote "dirty money." So what we are saying is, yes, money is a problem. Let's put our money where our mouth is. Let's sit down. Let's take a common stand.

So when people ask me, "Well, how do you feel about the president ... the executive order he signed?" I think it's great. I have no problem with that. But more important, I think that President Bush did something even more important. He proposed to the Security Council of the United Nations, and it was approved unanimously. Now it is the law of the world, international law, that everybody should cooperate on this matter.

So you would join in pressuring, let's say, certain Islamic banks in Dubai?

Anybody who sends money to those bad guys, we should be after them. And if they resist, they should not ... the civilized world should not deal with them -- no ifs, no buts.

And your government, for the record, is not concerned about this total commitment, if you will, to helping the United States in terms of the reaction on the street?

No, no. Not at all. But you see, I find in Washington these days a touch of intellectual arrogance. We're not making these commitments to help the United States. We're selfish. We're trying to help ourselves and the people in the world, and particularly the little countries, the small countries and the poor countries. ... Stopping evil is good for everybody. It is not our fault that it happens to be America is the cause for this action. But we are not that sensitive to think if it's good for America, it must be bad for the world. No, not necessarily. In this case, if it's good for America, it's good for Saudi Arabia. It's good for Djibouti. It's good for China. It doesn't matter.

But to the person who has told us, "Oh, it's terrible what happened at the World Trade Center. But where were you Americans when people who were starving were dying in Iraq because of your sanctions? Where's the sympathy for them?"

It's very simple. America and Saudi Arabia are very sympathetic to the plight of the Iraqi people. But we didn't cause it. Why are we on the defensive? There was one address to the suffering of Iraqi people, Saddam Hussein. He led them in eight years [of] war. You didn't cause it; we didn't.

Your government has no information that he in any way supported, trained, this network?

No. We don't have anything solid of that. We think he's happy with the results. But we don't have anything solid on that.

Solid ... meaning?

Solid, meaning something you can take to the court, or something I can say to you in public on TV.

You know that his people have gone to Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden?

I don't put anything beyond Saddam Hussein. I'm just telling you I don't have anything in my hand now that I could share with you. That's for sure.

And it's important in this situation only to act based on evidence.

I think it's always important. I could not have asked ... my people would not have accepted for me to ask for 500,000 American troops to come if I said, "I think Saddam will invade Kuwait." But when he invaded Kuwait, I didn't have to do a lot of lobbying in Saudi Arabia.

All those ... look, all those guys who love to be dissidents, they don't go to Afghanistan. They're sitting in London ... or a bar in there or in a club or in Hyde Park. Great, great dissidents. If they really ... they'll come to Saudi Arabia and fight from there, or go to Djibouti or something.

But those armchair dissidents, what they don't tell you is, none of them -- none of them -- would've accepted our government or our rule had we allowed what happened to Kuwait to happen to us. What Saddam did in Kuwait was earthshaking. A brother Arab that we helped for eight years to the tune of $25 billion, and to...

Bad investment?

... very bad investment. But it's a good lesson. It's a good lesson. The tragedy there was, that this Arab traitor, who double-crossed us and took over a brother Arab country ... what hurts is that there were people who were going in the streets and cheering for him. That hurt. ... You know what most of those people say now? "It's your fault Americans are here, because you should've finished him." Well, wait a minute. You can't have it both ways. ...

This is reminding me of some American politicians who were against the American involvement with us in the war liberating Kuwait. And when it was over, and Saddam did what he did to the Shiites, they said, "America should go and send ground troops." ... Wait a minute. Where were you when... You cannot have it both ways. Life is choices.

One last question, just so I have it clearly. In your opinion, bin Laden ... it's not really him -- there's an infrastructure here? ... So if we kill him, it's not the end of the story?

I'm afraid it isn't. It doesn't say that he should not go and face his Lord sooner better than later. It just means that we have a disease. And we cannot treat this disease with aspirin. It has to be done with chemotherapy. But preferably, with laser, so that you don't damage the other good cells in the body, but you just take the bad cancer out. And it is doable. It would require patience. It will require time -- time, meaning, give yourself time to understand other cultures. You Americans are in so much hurry. You think you can meet a foreigner in ten minutes, thank you and you leave. Patience. Take your time. It's worth it. ...

Now, we, on the other hand, in the Arab and Islamic world, have a role to play, a big role. And I believe Saudi Arabia ... its destiny is to shoulder the future responsibility in fighting this kind of warped thinking within our religion. And I believe my leadership will stand to the challenge. And that is not just the leadership, the political, but also the religious leadership. Because before we come to you to help us in this world, let's get our own house in order. And I'm not talking now about our own house in Saudi Arabia, but in the Islamic world at large.

And I believe Saudi Arabia should and might ... I say "should," because that's my view; "might," because it has to be decided by my leaders, and I think it's coming ... to call a conference of all the recognized [clerics] and religious leaders in all Islamic countries. Have a conference in Mecca, and sit down, let's discuss it. Let's discuss it. Within the last two weeks, the two most senior [clerics] in Saudi Arabia came out clearly against this.

The leading clerics?

Leading clerics. One is in charge of the supreme judicial court. And one was the mufti. And both of them said, "This is wrong. This is criminal. But not only the act was criminal. But if you support it, you are just as sinful." Furthermore, which is not known in this country, they said, "If you feel joy for it..." -- now, understand, joy for it, or you feel good about it -- "That is sinful." So when those dissidents come and say, "Well, in Saudi Arabia, really, people were happy about what..." that is bullshit, if you pardon my French. Because Saudis are decent people. And they have a lot in common with people outside -- Washington; Valdesta, Georgia; Sherman, Texas. And those people are just -- don't know what they're talking about.

So when we get these reports in Egypt, in Palestine, of people saying that, "Where were you Americans when the people in Iraq were suffering or the Palestinians were suffering? It's bad what happened. But it's a two-way street."

Yes, but we were there. You were there. The problem, Americans are their own worst lawyers. What have you done to Iraq that was generated by you? Nothing. You have done a lot for them, I know. In this room, Iraqi officials, in this room, used to meet with American officials to help them, how they ... fight the war. In this room.

[The war] in Iran, you're talking about...

... in Iran. ... They [Iraq] are ungrateful. The leadership's ungrateful. But also, it's evil. Now, we did... America and Saudi Arabia did not make Saddam go and fight the Iranians for eight years. America and Saudi Arabia did not make Saddam invade Kuwait. America and Saudi Arabia did not insist he stay there until we come and clobber him. But that is ... don't people take responsibility for what they do? And yet, what did we offer him? We offered him, he can have anything. Oil for food and medicine, anything he wants, except chemicals, germ warfare, and nuclear. Now, is that an offer that he should refuse? No. But because you know you are right and you know we are right, we are poor people at PR.

He's a demagogue. And he uses propaganda the way Hitler used to use propaganda. We are good people. We really mean well. Because we think we are good and we mean well, we don't need to tell anybody. Everybody should know. That's wrong. It's our fault. There were lists in the United Nations -- this is not ... secret ... in the United Nations of Iraqi requests from the oil money. One request was once ...12,000 cases of whiskey. Can you imagine? Whiskey. When people cannot get milk for the children as he claims, whiskey. He built 50 of his palaces. ...

But wait. There is a reason. What is his rationale? To show the defiance of the nation. Now, wait a minute. Any leader with a human heart and brain will know that feeding the kids is more important than posturing. The truth of the matter is, we owe no apology. We feel pain for the Iraqi people.

... And one day when this man and his evil regime collapse, you will hear all kind of horror story of the Iraqi people say, "Where were you? How come you didn't get rid of him?" ... The road to hell is full of good intentions. And we've seen the road to hell. And the Kuwaiti people have seen the sympathy of Saddam.

We're not going allow it to happen again. But we should not feel guilty about it. We should be able to propagate this, to inform the people and show them, we have all the facts in our...

I understand, right. But what I'm really getting at is, the pictures we see in Pakistan of people holding Saddam's picture ... holding Osama bin Laden's picture, the people who give interviews in Egypt who say they have some degree of understanding of what was done at the World Trade Center ... the people in Palestine who say the same ... isn't that going to destabilize your regime and, eventually, others like it?

You see, my point is, all those people as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, we are the ones who are helping them, not Saddam, not Osama bin Laden. When Pakistan requires help for the Pakistani people, it is not Saddam who's giving them oil or foreign aid. It's not Saddam or bin Laden who's going to the EU, to America, and lifting sanctions and bringing people together. It is us. The Palestinians, it is not Saddam who ... in fact, Saddam distracted people from the Palestinian issue, to the adventures he made there and the crimes he made.

But it is us who come where it counts in America or in Britain, and present the case of the Palestinian, and defend it. And we are listened to and that benefits them. The problem is, we are just as bad as you as far as PR and propaganda. The same streets you see with pictures of bin Laden in Pakistan, give me two hours, $10,000, and I will show you a street full of ... you give me your grandmother's picture and I can put it there, and it will be there.

The truth of the matter is, the world has problems, economic problems. And there is poverty in the world. And unless we concentrate in lifting the human beings and give them a decent standard of living, we're not going to get out of this ... so, why don't we do it? Of course we want to do it, but we get distracted by Saddam, by bin Laden, by others. And yet, we're doing a hell of a lot. I told you just earlier, the biggest contribution to the Taliban, to Afghanistan, is America -- and nobody knows it.

Food, you mean, aid...

food and whatever aid you want to give it. So what I am saying is, we and you are good people. We don't do as good job of explaining ourselves. ...

... And when Bosnia took place, can you imagine civil war and racial and religious war in the heart of Europe in the year 2000? Unthinkable. And yet, they could not do anything until America came and get involved. Now, if America's so bad, why did they help us and liberate Kuwait? If America's so bad, why did they protect the Muslims in Bosnia? If America is so bad, why did they protect the Muslims in Kosovo? Is this how you treat your friends? And if we have a problem with you, why don't we argue about it?

In Palestine ... in Palestine is your weakness. But there, it is a weakness because I believe there is a curse. When the Arabs are ready, the Israelis are mad. When the Israelis are ready, the Arabs are mad. And we keep missing each other going back and forth. And guess who pays the price? The average human beings, the Palestinians or Israelis. They are the ones who are getting ... who pay the price for the ego ... of their leaders.

I say very clearly here that there is no reason why Palestinians and Israelis cannot live in peace together as good neighbors, and therefore, the whole Middle East can live in peace. And peace is the only solution to all our other problems. Because with peace, we can have economic development. We can shift the war budgets to peace budgets. And we can lift the standard of living of human being. Have you ever seen rich people having a revolution in a nation? No.

But when people have economic degradation, and subhuman standard of living ... and they cannot feed their kids, they cannot send them to the hospital or get medicine, and you have oppression over and above that, you have problems. Today, what we need is not human rights, per se. We need the rights for humans to live. The luxury of having the right to speak ... We want the right to eat for a lot of people. Let's first finish that. Then we get to all your fantasies in America.


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