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SPIEGEL Interview with Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister: "Drawn in by the Crises that Surround us"

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, 65, discusses Iran's power grab, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nuclear ambitions in the Middle East and a Saudi peace plan proposed two years ago that has received no response from Jerusalem.

Israeli troops arrest a Palestinian man in Hebron in the West Bank: "Who can watch this bloodshed in Palestine?"
AFP

Israeli troops arrest a Palestinian man in Hebron in the West Bank: "Who can watch this bloodshed in Palestine?"

SPIEGEL: Your Highness, your uncle, King Abdullah, has said that the Middle East is a powder keg that could blow up any moment. Do you share his opinion?

Prince Saud: Just take a look at the crises: Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Israel -- how else would you describe this than as a powder keg? Each of these individual crises triggers others, leading to terror and instability. And the resources we need to build affluence are being spent to establish security.

SPIEGEL: Now a new conflict is being added to the mix. The king has said, without specifically mentioning Iran, that there are attempts to turn Sunnis into Shiites.

Prince Saud: We are talking to the Iranians. They feel isolated and unable to play the role to which they feel they are entitled. We tell them: If you want to be a leading power, you must respect the interests of others and cannot exclusively pursue your own strategy. Having good intentions is not enough. You must demonstrate, with your actions, that you are not inciting strife between Sunnis and Shiites. They have now approached us and declared their willingness to avoid further escalation.

SPIEGEL: (German) Chancellor Angela Merkel recently visited the region. The Middle East conflict is one of her main concerns. The Emir of Qatar, which, like Saudi Arabia, has no diplomatic relations with Israel, recently met with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Do you welcome this initiative?

Prince Saud: That is entirely Qatar's business. If you ask me, I don't know what to think of this visit. It is not for me to either condone or to condemn this visit. I will wait to see how the Qataris evaluate it.

SPIEGEL: Could you imagine ever welcoming a leading Israeli politician to Riyadh?

Prince Saud: Not under the current circumstances. I believe that it is more important for the Israelis to meet with the Palestinians, because they must come to an agreement with the Palestinian people. Making trips to other countries won't solve their biggest problem.

SPIEGEL: Saudi Arabia itself presented a peace plan in 2002 that called for the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab countries.

Prince Saud: This offer still stands, and it is not just being extended by us, but by all Arab states. But we are still waiting for Israel to respond. Israel stresses that it needs security. Nothing can provide Israel with more security than a peace treaty signed by all Arab countries.

SPIEGEL: And the goal of this treaty would be for your fellow Saudis to be able to buy Israeli oranges and the kingdom's green flag to fly over the Saudi embassy in Israel?

Prince Saud on nuclear programs in the Middle East: "All countries in this region must be subject to the same, strict control."
AFP

Prince Saud on nuclear programs in the Middle East: "All countries in this region must be subject to the same, strict control."

Prince Saud: Flags and oranges aren't the real issue. The issue is a fundamental shift in what Israel perceives as peace. The idea of peace is incompatible with territorial claims, and it is incompatible with the use of military force to solve every problem. Peace is incompatible with the concept of a fortress Israel.

SPIEGEL: You have been foreign minister for more than thirty years, and efforts to achieve this peace have been going on for almost twice as long. Is it more likely today than it was when you took office?

Prince Saud: Today the international community is in agreement, for the first time, that the Middle East problem must be solved. This consensus never really existed, not in Europe, and certainly not in the United States, where public opinion has always been opposed to Washington becoming seriously involved in this conflict or even applying pressure to Israel. This is different today.

SPIEGEL: Isn't it also the case that, in light of the nuclear threat from Iran, Israel's interests and those of the Arab countries are converging?

Prince Saud: Absolutely not. Israel is the original sinner when it comes to nuclear weapons. I doubt that others in the region would have begun developing nuclear programs if Israel's nuclear buildup had been stopped. All countries in this region must be subject to the same, strict control. This is the only way to avert this threat.

SPIEGEL: Ms. Merkel's visit to Riyadh was preceded by that of the outgoing US ambassador in Iraq, and now the leaders of Hamas and Fatah are visiting. Is Saudi Arabia the region's new broker?

Prince Saud: Saudi Arabia isn't seeking such a role. Saudi Arabia is repeatedly being drawn in by the crises that surround us. For example, who can watch this bloodshed in Palestine without doing anything about it? King Abdullah is a sensitive, even a highly emotional, man when it comes to human suffering. This is why he has now invited the leaders of Hamas and Fatah to Mecca. They should come to the holiest place in the Islamic world and feel the weight of the responsibility that they bear.

SPIEGEL: What about Europe's responsibility, and Germany's responsibility toward Israel?

Prince Saud: We need Germany's influence in Europe and Europe's influence in the world to unleash the necessary dynamics. Ms. Merkel understands that the need to finally bring peace to the Middle East overshadows all other requirements.

INTERVIEW: VOLKHARD WINDFUHR, BERNHARD ZAND

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© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2007
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