Frankly Speaking | S4 E1 | Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Former chief of General Intelligence Directorate

Frankly Speaking | S4 E1 | Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Former chief of General Intelligence Directorate

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Hello and welcome to Frankly Speaking where we   dive deep into the biggest news making  headlines across the region and around   the world speaking with leading policymakers  and business leaders. I am Katie Jensen. On today’s show we speak with His Royal Highness  Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s former   intelligence chief and ex-ambassador to both  London and Washington. We tackle US-Saudi   relations, his view on the war between Russia  and Ukraine, as well as ever-shifting dynamics   of Middle Eastern geopolitics as both  oil prices and diplomatic tensions rise. Your Royal Highness, thank you  for joining us on the show today.   Now you recently wrote an article for Arab  News arguing that the US should be laughing   with Saudi Arabia instead of scowling at them.  Frankly speaking, who is to blame and can you  

explain some of the reasons behind what many are  calling an all-time low in US-Saudi relations.   That’s a tall question but first of all let me   say, “In the name of Allah, the Gracious,  the Merciful, upon whom we call for help.” As far as my writing about laughing  together instead of scowling at each other,   that was the result of what I thought was  unfair and perhaps thin-skinned reaction to   a comedy sketch on a Saudi television station that  lampooned President Biden and his vice president   and it is something that I thought the American  media particularly would not be much affected by   since they themselves have made lampooning others,  especially Saudi Arabia and its leadership and its   society very frequently, so that is why I wrote  that piece. As far as the relationship between   the two countries, we’ve always considered our  relationship with the US as being strategic   we’ve had our ups and downs over  the years and perhaps at this time   it’s one of the downs, particularly since the  president of the US in his election campaign said   that he will make Saudi Arabia a pariah, and of  course he went on to practice what he preached by   first of all stopping the joint operations  that America had with the Kingdom in meeting   the challenge of the Houthi-led rebellion in Yemen  against the Yemeni people and also by not meeting   with the crown prince and publicly declaring  that he would not meet with the crown prince   and at one stage withdrawing anti-aircraft  missiles from the Kingdom when we were facing   an increase in the attacks on us by the Houthis  using Iranian equipment like missiles and drones   and other such actions which were basically coming  from the US. As far as the Kingdom is concerned  

the crown prince a few months ago I think in an  interview said that our relationship with the US   is 90 percent we’re together and 10  percent we can talk to each other about.   So basically this is how this is the present  situation has come to this stage and I hope that   we’ll get over it like we got over so many  previous downturns in the relationship. Well it doesn’t feel like a 90 10 split at the  moment. As I mentioned people are calling at an   all-time low in relations. You mentioned a  few things there. Of course Biden infamously  

delisting the Houthis as a terrorist organization.  You also mention the missile batteries being   removed, as well. What is the sentiment like  in Saudi at the moment. Do many people feel   that they’ve even been betrayed by what has  formerly been one of Saudi’s closest allies. The people I speak to, and I can’t  speak for all Saudis of course,   do not necessarily feel betrayed — as I  told you Saudis consider the relationship   as being strategic — but as being let down  at a time when we thought that America and   Saudi Arabia should be together and facing  what we would consider to be a joint   not just irritant but danger to the stability  and security of the area which is the Iranian   influence in Yemen and their direction  of the Houthis as a tool not only to,   if you like, destabilize Saudi Arabia but  also affect the security and stability   of the international sea lanes along the Red  Sea and the Arabian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.  

On those matters, of course, the fact  that as you mentioned President Biden   delisted the Houthis from the terrorist list has  emboldened the Houthis actually and made them   even more aggressive in their attacks  on Saudi Arabia and they included also   attacks on the UAE. At the time of course Saudi  Arabia and the coalition that is hoping to restore   the legitimacy of the Yemeni republic and  the return of the government to Sanaʽa,   the Kingdom for all the time that this  struggle has been going on has been calling for   a ceasefire and a peaceful solution to the Yemeni  conflict and unfortunately the Houthis have always   either not responded to that call or simply  ignored it or opposed it and as we see now   there is a supposed ceasefire established by the  UN but the Houthis continue to infringe on that   ceasefire and to take advantage of the ceasefire  to reposition their forces and replenish them. You’re saying primarily the relationship between  the US and Saudis of strategic importance. Now  

we’ve seen Washington reiterate their commitment  to Saudi security. We’ve seen they seem to be   quite eager to exchange calls between both sides  and to be able to send officials to the Kingdom   but we really have seen Riyadh not budge when it  comes to increasing oil production as the White   House would have hoped so what do you feel in  your opinion what more does the US need to do. It’s not just one thing. I think it’s the  general tone of the atmosphere and you’re right,   America, for example, has been declaring  or American officials have been declaring   that they are in support of Saudi Arabia and will  help Saudi Arabia defend itself against outside   aggression and so on and we are grateful for those  statements. But also we need to see more on the  

field of the relationship between the leadership  there and the leadership here. And when you say   that Saudi Arabia has not budged on the issue  of the oil problems that America is facing,   basically America itself is the reason for  the state that they’re in because of their   energy policy. You know President Biden made it  a policy of the US government to cut all links to   what are called the oil and gas industry and he  curtailed the oil production and gas production   in the US and, as we know, the US has been in the  last few years the biggest producer of these two   energy sources. And yet by curtailing them,  that has helped bring up the prices of oil and   OPEC+ that was established after the  COVID-19 difficulty if you remember at   the beginning of COVID-19 when Russia decided  to not to abide by oil productions and then   there was an agreement to bring down production in  order to stabilize the prices that is an agreement   that is for the benefit of everybody and for  the benefit of the stability of oil prices.

We don’t want to be an instrument or a reason  for instability in the oil prices as we saw   in the past. So that is why the Kingdom and  the other OPEC members and the OPEC+ members   are sticking to the production quotas  that they have assigned themselves and I   just read today for example that the recent  decision by OPEC+ to increase incrementally   oil production while the agreement is on so that  is in response to the present difficulties that   people have in the energy sector. Another factor  of course that adds to all this is the security   issue, the high rates of insurance that have come  about as a result of the war in Ukraine, plus the   European and American curtailment and sanction  of the Russian oil industry. All of these things   have added to the increase  in oil prices. It’s not just   Saudi Arabia’s decision that has not responded  to the American request. These all together   make for the difficulty that is facing,  if you like, the consumer in America.

Okay, well let’s talk about some of the  comments from the former US secretary   of state Hillary Clinton. Now she told media  that America should pursue a carrot and stick   policy with Saudi Arabia. Now, how do statements  like that resonate with people in the Kingdom? As I told you, I cannot speak for all Saudi  Arabians, but I mentioned in the article, that you   referred to that I wrote, that we’re not school  children to be treated with a carrot and stick.   We are a sovereign country and when  we are dealt with fairly and squarely   we respond in like and so it is  unfortunate that such statements are made   by politicians wherever they may be  and all I can say is that I hope that   the relationship of the Kingdom and the US will  not hinge around or be built upon that principle. Well, when it comes to the conflict, I saw that in   a recent Arab News article you said that  the Ukrainian-Russian conflict has exposed   international hypocrisy. Why do  you believe that this is the case?

Well, that is I think attested to by the way that,  for example, refugees from Ukraine, the way that   they have been described in civilizational terms  as being one with the West and one with Europe and   so on as if other refugees from the Middle East  or from other parts of the world are not equally   human as Ukrainians. That’s one discrepancy  in the way that Western media particularly has   depicted the issue of the refugees. Another one  of course — part of the hypocrisy — is the UN   and the way that sanctions have been placed on  Russia for invading Ukraine but no sanctions for   example have been placed on Israel when it invaded  Arab countries a few years back and those are   the double standards and the injustices I think  that have been taking place over the years. Well, the Saudi position in  regards to the Ukrainian-Russian   war is cryptic to many people around the  world. We mentioned oil production recently   and the fact that Riyadh has so far refused  to increase production. Now obviously   higher oil prices in the Kingdom can certainly  boost their economy, but there are observers out   there who were saying that it shows Riyadh is  choosing to side with Moscow. Now do you think  

the Kingdom has chosen a side in this conflict?  What do you think their position is on this war? The Kingdom has publicly declared  and voted in the UN general assembly   to condemn the aggression against Ukraine  that was passed by the UN general assembly.   But also, if you remember, and I’ll remind you and  others who are maybe listening or watching this,   that the Kingdom offered to mediate between  Russia and Ukraine and as a mediator,   it will have to maintain a link — if you  like — and the ability to talk to both sides,   so that is where the Kingdom is coming from and  how it is dealing with the Ukraine issue. We’ve   had good relations with both countries over the  years, and of course in general, as I mentioned,   the Kingdom is against the aggression  in Ukraine. But also, most recently,  

of course, the Kingdom has contributed to  the fund that was established by the UN   to provide support for the Ukrainian refugees  in Europe. So that is where the Kingdom stands.   Tell me about these Saudi attempts to  mediate between Ukraine and Russia. How   much sway do you think the Kingdom  would have in something like this?   I am not in a position, and in government, to  be able to weigh how much weight we have. But   it is the offer of a friend to friends — both  Ukraine and Russia — (with) both of whom we’ve   had excellent relations in the recent past. It is not for me to say whether there is   weight or leverage that the Kingdom  has in that. But the offer is there.   Going back to that Arab News article we were  discussing. You called out the international  

hypocrisy of countries’ treatment of Israel. You said not only did it invade three Arab   countries back in 1967 but claimed parts of  those territories as its own. Frankly speaking,   do you think the international community should  be imposing sanctions on Israel in the same way   that they have (imposed sanctions) on Russia? Absolutely. And I don’t see what the difference is   there between the two. Aggression is aggression,  whether it is committed by Russia or by Israel,   and yet there has been no such  effort to sanction Israel.   Several Arab countries, such as Egypt and  Jordan, and, more recently, the UAE, Bahrain,   Sudan and Morocco — they have normalized ties  with Israel despite some of the violations   you’ve been talking about. Could perhaps  embracing Israel be a more productive policy?  

I have seen no evidence of that. Egypt has been  at peace, if you like, with Israel since 1979;   Jordan since a couple of years after that. More  recently, our brothers in Abu Dhabi and the UAE,   Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have also signed peace  agreements with Israel. And yet the situation in  

the West Bank and Gaza is still the same. The Palestinian people are still occupied,   they are still being imprisoned will-nilly by the  Israeli government. Attacks and assassinations of   Palestinian individuals take place almost on a  daily basis. The stealing of Palestinian land by  

Israel continues despite the assurances  that Israel gave to the signatories of   the peace (accord) between the UAE and Israel. So, there is no sign whatsoever that appeasing   Israel is going to change their attitude. Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs   has already said they will not normalize  ties with Israel without an agreement that   would have a Palestinian state with  its capital in East Jerusalem and a   fair solution for Palestinian refugees. Now, frankly speaking, many say this is   highly unlikely. Does that mean that Saudi  Arabia will never normalize ties with Israel?   Well, I will go by the statement of  the (Saudi) foreign ministry. You know,   international affairs and positions of countries  change over time and, hopefully, for the better.  

For example, on the issue of the treatment by  Israel of Palestinians, I think there is much more   awareness today in the world that the occupation  has been not only vicious and unacceptable,   but that something should be done about it. A few years back, if I remember correctly,   a few parliaments in European countries  declared that their governments should recognize   Palestine as a state. So, there is progress there,  and I hope that there will be more progress. So,   things are not going to remain status (quo). Look what happened to South Africa, when it was an   apartheid state and how the world  community, when it finally turned on them,   it removed the apartheid status from its policy.  Hopefully, the same thing will happen in Israel.   Another country that has been in the headlines  in recent months is Afghanistan. Last year you   published the Afghanistan File, which is  essentially your memoir as intelligence   chief of a unique era in that country  during the Soviet invasion in the 1970s. 

It is surreal in many ways but the Taliban  returned to power around the same time that you   published your book. So, frankly speaking, what  were the first thoughts that crossed your mind   when you witnessed their return? I was as surprised perhaps as others   were that America would just pack up and leave in  the way that it did, without leaving (behind) some   kind of stable continuity to whatever was  happening in Afghanistan, and the support   for the then government of Afghanistan.  After all, they were there for 20 years.  I would have thought they would have  prepared themselves much better.  

But, in my book, I also reached a conclusion,  I think, and I refer to it now, which is that,   when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, they wanted  to turn Afghanistan into a communist country.   And they failed, because the  people simply did not accept that.  And when, after the Sept. 11 affair and the  Taliban’s refusal to hand over (Osama) bin   Laden to the Americans, because of  that America then invaded Afghanistan,   America and the West in general wanted to  turn Afghanistan into a Western country.   And that has failed. So, my position is and  my belief is that when attempts are made from  

outside countries and outside of people’s  own interests and or their background   and their culture, inevitably those attempts  will fail and the two examples are there for us. But I think you make a fascinating point there, I  know in a recent interview with Saudi television,   you told the host Sami Al-Jaber in a clip that’s  been widely circulated on social media that one of   the biggest lessons learned from both the Soviet  invasion and the American invasion of Afghanistan   is that no country can conquer another and  impose its values and way of life on other people   forcibly. So tell us about that and now that the  Taliban are back, will they last and for how long? I don’t know how long they will last but I’ve  written before and I’ve said publicly I think that   we should not ignore the Afghan people. They  are the ones who have been paying the price of   all that’s been happening in Afghanistan since the  Soviet invasion and so providing humanitarian aid   to the Afghan people is a prerequisite, it’s not a  choice and that is why the Kingdom led the Islamic   Cooperation Conference to establish  a fund to help the Afghan people. As far as the Taliban are concerned, they publicly  said that for example that they will not support   any groups that may want to harm other  countries, that they will guard the human   rights of all of the citizens of Afghanistan  equally, whether it is in terms of education,   in terms of women’s rights and so on and so on. So I’ve said publicly that they should be kept   under a careful and watchful eye as to whether  they implement what they promised and upon their   response to what they said they will do and  their implementation of what they will do,   then countries should decide  whether to deal with them or not. 

For the moment, perhaps it’s a  bit early to tell but there are no   still positive signs that the Taliban are  fully committed to what they said they will do. Well on a more optimistic note, among the many  Islamic world leaders who visited the Kingdom   of Saudi Arabia during the holy month of  Ramadan was Turkish President Erdogan.   Of course Ankara and Riyadh have certainly  had several disputes and disagreements   over the years but are we seeing a new  chapter unfold in bilateral relations? I hope so. I think the leadership in in Turkey  has come to realize that their previous animus   if you like towards the Kingdom and so on was  not serving anybody’s well-being and purpose,   especially the Turkish people. As you know historic links   bring us together with Turkey not just in terms  of geography but also in terms of human relations,   family ties between the two countries. My  own grandmother was of Turkish extraction,   Circassian actually, and so on. And in terms of economic well-being,  

the relationship between the two countries  should be one of the best in terms of   benefit for both countries whether it is in  terms of trade, in terms of construction,   in terms of development projects, in terms of  investments by Saudi Arabia and Turkey and so on,   so all of that I hope will be restored now that  the relationship is hopefully back to normal. Oh certainly, we have seen a major new  direction particularly after the visit   of Erdogan. And finally, also on a more positive  note, there seems to be some optimism recently   with regards to Yemen. We’ve seen the Riyadh  agreement and the Ramadan ceasefire take place.   Do you think there is enough momentum there for  a lasting and conclusive peace deal and what   should the Saudi role be if and when the war ends  considering that Yemen is your southern neighbor? Well we live in hope. I’ve always maintained that  ceasefire agreements as they have been attempted   by the UN, particularly on Yemen, have lacked one  crucial aspect which has not led to their success   and that is a mechanism to enforce the ceasefires. Now we’ve seen after the Kuwait meeting back in   2015 I think or 2016 there was a ceasefire  but it led nowhere. And then there was  

the Swedish sponsored ceasefire attempt back  in 2018 I think or 19 and equally without   much success there. Saudi Arabia’s own efforts  at unilateral ceasefires which were declared   during the recent years have led nowhere because  there is no mechanism to implement the ceasefire.  Hopefully that with the new impetus if you like  or drive by the UN and by the world community   to bring the fighting to an end, that some  sort of instrument can be implemented whereby   if anything at least, the person or the group that  does not abide by the ceasefire is publicly shamed   by the world community. That has not happened yet.  I have not seen yet the UN saying that the Houthis   are not abiding by the ceasefire so I hope that  they will have the courage and the moral courage   to stand up and say who is at fault here. Certainly some major difficulties still to   be overcome but it really has been the largest  political shift that we’ve seen on the war in   Yemen in a very long time. Yes, indeed.  Your royal highness Prince Turki Al-Faisal thank  you so much for your insights today we appreciate   your time, thank you very much. Thank you, thank you very much.

2022-05-04 22:37

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