Following a coffee chat hosted by the Georgetown School of Foreign Service, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs sat down with Prince Turki bin Faisal al Saud, former Saudi Ambassador to the United States, to talk about Saudi Arabia’s role in the international community.
GJIA: Do you believe that there is an ethos that characterizes the Saudi worldview? Germans, for example, are known to value discipline, while Americans emphasize individualism. Is there an analogy for Saudis?
PT: In my experience, I would say that the Saudi ethos is “do no harm,” as well as to engage with everybody and promote mutual interests and minimize any harmful effects that might arise over the course of diplomatic situations.
GJIA: That is probably very difficult to do, especially considering the current situation in the Middle East.
PT: It is doable. The Saudi Kingdom has been united since 1932, and we have managed to maintain a level of stability and engagement with others that is very helpful, not just to us, but also to the community of nations.
GJIA: During your talk you mentioned putting international diplomatic pressure on Netanyahu to adopt a two-state solution. You also pushed for a cease-fire in Syria. What “bargaining chips” did Saudi Arabia use in these international negotiations?
PT: The good standing of Saudi Arabia in the world community is a big plus for us. People listen to us. Our friendships with countries are steadfast and resolute. We’ve come to the support of others in their times of crisis, either with financial aid, diplomatic support, or military aid. So people depend – or rather they find that they can depend – on Saudi Arabia. When we say yes to an agreement, nations trust that we will not renege on our promises.
GJIA: In 2005, when you were Ambassador to the United States, you suggested that President Bush focus more on the issue of Israel and Palestine than on Iran. I know that in July you attended an MEK rally in Paris. Should attention now shift to the Iran issue?
PT: I don’t remember suggesting concentrating on the Middle East and not Iran, because at that time most of the talk in the administration in 2005- 2006 was about taking military action against Iran. When I was Ambassador, our foreign minister expressed to Mr. Bush the view that Saudi Arabia had two nightmares: the first being Iran developing nuclear weapons and the second being the United States taking military action against Iran to prevent it. The only alternative to military action was to find a way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That was to be done by establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, where nuclear proliferation would be prevented. Today, there is more public attention given to the issues of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Palestine. But from my personal view, and my government’s view as well, you first need to solve the Palestinian problem to move things forward in the Middle East.
GJIA: You mentioned how Saudi Arabia’s main concerns now are ISIS and Iran. Do you think that these two concepts are at odds because in dealing with one you decrease pressure on the other?
PT: I think that they feed on each other. Iran mentions Fahesh* as being the enemy of everybody, but I haven’t seen them fighting Fahesh. Fahesh, in turn, puts up Iran as the enemy, the Shia, but where has Fahesh ever undertaken an operation in Iran? Both use each other to promote their agendas. And both of them are also transnational, with the Islamic State wanting to establish a Sunni Caliphate, and Iran wanting to establish Shi’a hegemony.
GJIA: Thank you very much for your time, sir.
Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud is a member of the House of Saud, the Saudi Arabia royal family. He is one of the founders of the King Faisal Foundation and serves as chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies. He served as Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States from 2005-2007.