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'Any attack on Iraq shld not be contemplated '- Saudi

An Intriguing Signal From the Saudi Crown Prince

February 17, 2002 


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Earlier this month, I wrote a column
suggesting that the 22 members of the Arab League, at their
summit in Beirut on March 27 and 28, make a simple,
clear-cut proposal to Israel to break the
Israeli-Palestinian impasse: In return for a total
withdrawal by Israel to the June 4, 1967, lines, and the
establishment of a Palestinian state, the 22 members of the
Arab League would offer Israel full diplomatic relations,
normalized trade and security guarantees. Full withdrawal,
in accord with U.N. Resolution 242, for full peace between
Israel and the entire Arab world. Why not?

I am currently in Saudi Arabia on a visit - part of the
Saudi opening to try to explain themselves better to the
world in light of the fact that 15 Saudis were involved in
the Sept. 11 attacks. So I took the opportunity of a dinner
with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, and de facto ruler,
Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, to try out the idea of
this Arab League proposal. I knew that Jordan, Morocco and
some key Arab League officials had been talking about this
idea in private but had not dared to broach it publicly
until one of the "big boys" - Saudi Arabia or Egypt - took
the lead.

After I laid out this idea, the crown prince looked at me
with mock astonishment and said, "Have you broken into my

"No," I said, wondering what he was talking about.

reason I ask is that this is exactly the idea I had in mind
- full withdrawal from all the occupied territories, in
accord with U.N. resolutions, including in Jerusalem, for
full normalization of relations," he said. "I have drafted
a speech along those lines. My thinking was to deliver it
before the Arab summit and try to mobilize the entire Arab
world behind it. The speech is written, and it is in my
desk. But I changed my mind about delivering it when Sharon
took the violence, and the oppression, to an unprecedented

"But I tell you," the crown prince added, "if I were to
pick up the phone now and ask someone to read you the
speech, you will find it virtually identical to what you
are talking about. I wanted to find a way to make clear to
the Israeli people that the Arabs don't reject or despise
them. But the Arab people do reject what their leadership
is now doing to the Palestinians, which is inhumane and
oppressive. And I thought of this as a possible signal to
the Israeli people."

Well, I said, I'm glad to know that Saudi Arabia was
thinking along these lines, but so many times in the past
we've heard from Arab leaders that they had just been about
to do this or that but that Ariel Sharon or some other
Israeli leader had gotten in the way. After a while, it's
hard to take seriously. So I asked, What if Mr. Sharon and
the Palestinians agreed to a cease-fire before the Arab

"Let me say to you that the speech is written, and it is
still in my drawer," the crown prince said.

I pass all of this on as straightforwardly as I can,
without hype or unrealistic hopes. What was intriguing to
me about the crown prince's remarks was not just his ideas
- which, if delivered, would be quite an advance on
anything the Arab League has proposed before - but the fact
that they came up in the middle of a long, off-the-record
conversation. I suggested to the crown Prince that if he
felt so strongly about this idea, even in draft form, why
not put it on the record - only then would anyone take it
seriously. He said he would think about it. The next day
his office called, reviewed the crown prince's quotations
and said, Go ahead, put them on the record. So here they

Crown Prince Abdullah is known as the staunchest Arab
nationalist among Saudi leaders, and the one most untainted
by corruption. He has a strong Arab following inside and
outside the kingdom, and if he ever gave such a speech, it
would have a real impact on Arab public opinion, as well as
Israeli. Prince Abdullah seemed to be signaling that if
President Bush took a new initiative for Middle East peace,
he and other Arab leaders would be prepared to do so as

I also used the interview with the Saudi leader to ask why
his country had never really apologized to America for the
fact that 15 Saudis were involved in 9/11?

"We have been close friends for so long, and we never
expected Americans to doubt us," he said. "We saw this
attack by bin Laden and his men as an attack on us, too,
and an attempt to damage the U.S.-Saudi relationship," the
crown prince said. "We were deeply saddened by it and we
never expected it to lead to tensions between us. But we've
now learned that we respond to events differently. . . . It
is never too late to express our regrets."

As for the "axis of evil" and reports of a possible U.S.
military strike against Iraq, the Saudi leader said: "Any
attack on Iraq or Iran should not be contemplated at all
because it would not serve the interests of America, the
region or the world, as there is no clear evidence of a
present danger. Iraq is contemplating the return of the
inspectors, and the U.S. should pursue this because
inspectors can determine if Iraq is complying with the U.N.

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