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King Abdullah bin AbdulazizSUSRIS Reprint

 

 

King Abdullah Interview Redux

 

Editor's Note:

A little over two months after assuming the throne in August 2005, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia granted his first television interview to an American network. SUSRIS provided a transcript of the interview shortly after its broadcast on the ABC News show "20/20" in the United States. The conversation between Abdullah and journalist Barbara Walters gave viewers an opportunity to hear the King's perspectives, opinions and plans for the future in a number of important areas -- most of which are valid three years later and should prove of interest to you.

Here again, for your consideration, is King Abdullah's interview with journalist Barbara Walters. This interview will be followed in your email inbox by a conversation the evening the broadcast aired between Walters and Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations assessing the interview with King Abdullah. 

 

This SUSRIS IOI was originally distributed on October 22, 2005

SUSRIS Introduction

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz (Televised image)King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz ascended to the throne of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on August 1, 2005 on the passing of King Fahd. Abdullah, in his capacity as Crown Prince, has been recognized as the de facto regent of the country since Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995. The transition from Fahd to Abdullah was a smooth affair, in full accordance with the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia and was followed by pledging of allegiance to the new King by officials and citizens in the Kingdom.

In his first television interview since assuming the title and role of King, Abdullah chose ABC News reporter Barbara Walters. The interview was conducted at the new king's palace in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and aired on ABC in the United States on Friday, October 14, 2005. A segment was included in the 20/20 news magazine show with a longer, follow on segment broadcast on Nightline later that evening.

Following the interview on Nightline, Barbara Walters talked with Ambassador Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations concerning King Abdullah's comments and other issues in the US-Saudi relationship. You can read his comments on SUSRIS.

We are also providing in e-mail and on-line a reprint of comments made by King Abdullah, then Crown Prince, in February 2001 during a meeting with John Duke Anthony, President of the National Council on US-Arab Relations and with me, then editor of the GulfWire e-newsletter service. We hope you find these additional materials of interest and helpful in understanding developments in the Kingdom and the current state of the relationship.

Patrick W. Ryan

 

King Abdullah Interview
ABC News 20/20
Friday, October 14, 2005

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz in an interview with Barbara Walters. (Televised image)[Introduction by Barbara Walters - video of scenes in Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah]

..Abdullah is already bucking tradition. Starting with the fact that in a country notorious for its discrimination against women, he has chosen to do his first television interview with a woman, me.

KING ABDULLAH: One of the reasons that I have made the decision to do this interview with you in particular, is that reason.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

BARBARA WALTERS: I understand that now that you are king, you prohibited your subjects from kissing your hand. Were you embarrassed to have your hand kissed?

ABDULLAH: I have tremendous distaste for such matters because I believe that one only bows before one's God, not before another human being.

President Bush welcomes then Crown Prince Abdullah to the Western White House in Crawford, Texas.  (Click for more)WALTERS: When you visited President Bush this past April, there were photographs of you and the president holding hands. This is not a gesture common among American men. Did it have significance?

ABDULLAH: Yes. In our culture, holding hands is a sign of friendship and a sign of loyalty and you do it with people dear to you. And President Bush is a friend whose friendship I value and treasure.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

WALTERS: Americans are very concerned about the rising price of oil. In the past ten years the price of crude has tripled. Do you see the price of oil continuing to rise.

ABDULLAH: God only knows. But we in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia don't accept these increases. Without a doubt we have benefited financially but we believe the damage to other countries is tremendous and we don't believe that the prices should be at these levels.

WALTERS: Is there anything that Saudi Arabia can do now to keep prices down?

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz interview with Barbara Walters. (Televised image)ABDULLAH: We are trying and we continue to try. We have increased our oil production to over 10 million barrels a day.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

WALTERS: The world's demand for oil does keep going up. There is concern that the Saudi oil fields may be running dry, may be peaking. Are you concerned about that?

ABDULLAH: According to the scientists and the geologists and the experts in this area, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's reserves are sufficient to provide supplies for longer than 60 or 70 years.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

WALTERS: A flashpoint for Westerners is that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive. It seems to be symbolic of a woman's lack of independence. Would you support allowing women to drive?

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz interview with Barbara Walters. (Televised image)ABDULLAH:  I believe strongly in the rights of women. My mother is a woman. My sister is a woman. My daughter is a woman. My wife is a woman. I believe the day will come when women will drive. In fact if you look at the areas of Saudi Arabia, the desert, and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive. The issue will require patience. In time I believe that it will be possible. I believe that patience is a virtue.

WALTERS: You cannot just make a decree that women can drive? You are the King!

ABDULLAH: I value and take care of my people as I would my eye.

WALTERS: Is that an answer?

ABDULLAH: Yes, I respect my people. It is impossible that I would do anything that is not acceptable to my people.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz interview with Barbara Walters. (Televised image)WALTERS: Your majesty, there are so many restrictions against women. Do you see this changing?

ABDULLAH: Yes, I believe we can. But it will require a little bit of time.

WALTERS: Saudi Arabia is the only Arab country where women do not have the right to vote. Do you foresee that the will be able to vote, perhaps in the next municipal elections.

ABDULLAH: 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.

BREAK - closing commentary by 20/20 commentators.

ABC News Nightline Segment - later in the evening >>

[Introduction - Barbara Walters Comments - Video clips]

..King Abdullah sat down with us at his palace in Jeddah. The fact that he decided to do his very first interview as King with an American reporter is telling. Though he claims a close relationship with President Bush he seems to want to reach the American people directly, especially on the subject of September 11th.

WALTERS: Because 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, is this something that has caused you great grief? Would you like to say anything to the American people about that?

ABDULLAH: Yes, of course it has, and we were shocked. It has had a negative impact on all Saudis because this is not who we are nor is it what our faith teaches us. We as Arabs are always loyal to our friends and we value such friendships.

WALTERS: Well, officially our two countries are friends and allies, but unofficially there seems to be some suspicion and even hatred. Why do you think this is?

ABDULLAH: Yes, the Saudi people have some disagreements with the United States, in particular when it comes to the issue of the Palestinian question, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq, and I believe this may have influenced the opinion of the Saudi public towards the United States.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

ABDULLAH: ..What we ask for is that justice and equity prevail among all of the ethnic groups in Iraq. We believe that all Iraq is one country in which all Iraqis live in peace and justice. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia until today has not interfered in Iraq's affairs. We have not done so because we don't want to open up ourselves to charges or accusations that we have a hand in the disintegration of Iraq. We also have been accused in the past of having a hand in what happened in Iraq, in particular with regards to terrorism and the violence, and we are innocent of these charges. And we have remained neutral in spite of the injustices that we see currently going on.

WALTERS: Let's talk about Iran. Iran has become more powerful as a result of the turmoil in Iraq. Do you see that as a threat to the region?

ABDULLAH: The questioner is often times more knowledgeable than the questionee.

WALTERS: So, you are not worried about Iran becoming more powerful?

ABDULLAH: Iran is a friendly country. Iran is a Muslim country. We hope that Iran will not become an obstacle to peace and security in Iraq. This is what we hope for and this is what we believe the Iraqi people hope for.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

..the question then for King Abdullah, if Iran gets those [nuclear] weapons would Saudi Arabia have to have them too?

ABDULLAH: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like other countries in the region, rejects the acquisition of nuclear weapons by anyone, especially nuclear weapons in the Middle East region. We hope that such weapons will be banned or eliminated from the region by every country in the region.

WALTERS: President Bush has said that one of his goals is to spread democracy in your region. Is this realistic?

ABDULLAH: If you look at democracy in the United States, you will see that it took many, many, many years to develop.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

A broadcaster on Saudi television.WALTERS: A flashpoint for Westerners is that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive. It seems to be symbolic of a woman's lack of independence. Would you support allowing a woman to drive?

ABDULLAH: I believe strongly in the rights of women. My mother is a woman. My sister is a woman. My daughter is a woman. My wife is a woman. And I was born of a woman. I believe the day will come when women drive. In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

WALTERS: There are so many restrictions against women. Do you see this changing?

ABDULLAH: Yes, I believe we can. But it will require a little bit of time.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

ABDULLAH: 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.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments - commercial break]

[Return from break - comments]

WALTERS: Why do you think Saudi Arabia is becoming fertile ground for al Qaeda?

ABDULLAH: Madness. Madness and evil. It is the work of the devil. Such acts cannot be perpetrated by any individual who has a sense of decency or humanity or justice or faith.

WALTERS: Do you feel that you have eliminated the threat here in your own country?

ABDULLAH: No.

WALTERS: You're still worried about it?

Terrorists launched a suicide car bomb attack April 21, 2004 against Saudi Arabian government buildings in Riyadh.  Four people were killed and 148 were wounded in the attack.  It followed a tense week in the capital during which Saudi security forces seized five bomb laden vehicles and the US State Department ordered the evacuation of most of its diplomatic corps and their families from the Kingdom. [click for more info]ABDULLAH: I have stated after the first terrorist attack that we will fight the terrorists and those who support them or condone their actions for 10, 20 or 30 years if we have to until we eliminate this scourge. I believe that the world must stand shoulder to shoulder with each other if we are to eliminate this evil from our midst.

WALTERS: Terrorism to some degree starts with extremism, and there are people who feel that the educational system in Saudi Arabia has in the past contributed to extremism and hatred. When we were here three years ago, we found textbooks that called for the killing of Jews. What is being done to stop this extremist teaching?

ABDULLAH: I will not deny that such extremism existed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but such extremism exists in almost every country in the world. If you look at the United States and what people have said about Islam I ask myself why the focus is only on Saudi Arabia when it comes to such matters when we all should be fighting such extremist thought everywhere. Muslims are not bloodthirsty people. Islam is a religion of peace that forbids the killing of the innocent. Islam also accepts the Prophets, whether those prophets are Mohammed, God's peace and blessing be upon Him, or Moses or the other prophets of the books.

WALTERS: In this country, however, you cannot practice a religion other than Islam publicly, although there are five million foreigners in this country.

ABDULLAH: Public worship is not allowed, you are correct, because Saudi Arabia, as you know, is the birthplace of Islam. To allow the construction of places of worship other than Islamic ones in Saudi Arabia it would be like asking the Vatican to build a mosque inside of it. However, people in Saudi Arabia are free to practice their faith in the privacy of their homes.

WALTERS: The Council of Foreign Relations reported last year, and I'm quoting, "Saudi Arabia continues massive spending on fundamentalist religious schools which export radical extremism that can lead to terrorism." Will you or can you stop this funding of these schools?

ABDULLAH: It doesn't seem logical. We are fighting terrorism and extremism in our midst. Why would we be funding it somewhere else? It is not logical or rational for us to be supporting it. We have also regulated our charities and we have closed offices around the world, and we have withdrawn support for institutions that we found to be extremist.

WALTERS: And changed your textbooks?

ABDULLAH: Yes, we have. We have toned them down.

WALTERS: Toned them down. I want to talk about young people. Sixty percent of your people are under the age of 20 and they're reaching the age when they'll need jobs. There is already a good deal of unemployment. That can lead to discontent and some people feel it can lead to radicalism. What are you doing about that?

ABDULLAH: I would like to say first that the issue of unemployment in Saudi Arabia has improved greatly in recent years, and we have been able to reduce it substantially. We need to find approximately 100,000 jobs for those who are seeking jobs but cannot find them at this time.

[Interview break for video clips and Walter's comments]

WALTERS: Since this is the first interview that you are doing on television and the first for America, what would you most like my country to know about yours? What would your message be for America?

ABDULLAH: Yes, the message is that the American people have been our friend for over 60 years. There was no conflict or problem or doubt that existed between us until the tragic events of a few years ago in New York City, which were perpetrated by a small and deviant group of individuals who have no respect for humanity or for the teachings of their faith. I also want to convey my greetings to President Bush and to all Americans, young and old.

[Broadcast transcribed by SUSRIS.]

 

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