On Tuesday, November 15, 2011, HRH Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia gave a riveting address to a large contingent of members of the press and media during a Newsmakers Program at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Peter Hickman, Director of the Newsmakers Programs, moderated the program and introduced the Prince who is a former Saudi Ambassador to the United States, and the current chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.
As Prince Turki al-Faisal began, he framed his speech using a sailing metaphor – “tour d’ horizon;” indicating that after carefully considering and viewing “ seas of change,” that while the conditions for Saudi Arabia currently may be stable, the “weather” forecast appears very troubling. Prince Turki referred to Saudi Arabia as the “calm in the eye of a storm,” caught up in the midst of “Arab troubled seas,” commonly known as the Arab Spring, as Middle East governments crumble and rapid changes occur in the social world, as Saudi addresses its own internal issues and confronts long-standing practices and changes that need to be re-examined and adjustments made.
According to Prince Turki, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s refusal to halt his government’s violence against its own people has made his departure from power inevitable. As the former chief of Saudi intelligence services, Prince Turki said Assad had made his position clear by failing to live up to commitments made under an Arab League initiative to stop the bloodshed and start political dialogue.
The Prince said the Arab League had given Assad a “last chance” to comply with its proposal to resolve the situation and would now be expected to take further steps — citing Libya as a precedent. He also said that Saudi Arabia and its partners in the Gulf first brought Libya to the Arab League in March “and pushed the Arab League to take a decision to move the issue to the United Nations Security Council and bring about the resolution that allowed for intervention in Libya.” “Whether the Arab League will go that route (on Syria), I really can’t say, but it is an option and it has been practiced by the Arab League,” he said.
With regards to Iran’s alleged plot to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United, Prince Turki claimed that there was “ample and heinous” evidence that Iran was behind it. He said that if Tehran failed to investigate and prosecute Iranians linked to the plot, Saudia Arabia would take its case to the United Nations. The Prince encouraged a concerted regional and global effort to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapon production capability, and warned of dire consequences for Iran if it continues to engage in regional mischief and pursue its nuclear weapons ambitions.
While the “Arab Troubles” are an example of new troubles for Saudi Arabia and its neighbors, Prince Turki al-Faisal also addressed longstanding problems; mainly that of the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. His Royal Highness noted that the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the U.S., while continuing to be strong, is strained because of a strong disagreement on how to resolve this persistent issue. Prince Turki emphatically stated his continued support for the recognition of a Palestinian state. He believes that in order for there to be a just, enduring resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, meaningful, productive negotiations peace must involve both parties sitting at the negotiating table as equals – one sovereign state negotiating with another. Therefore, he advocated strongly in favor of the Palestinian quest to seek and secure recognition as a sovereign state, and UN membership.
As the press conference concluded, Prince Turki al-Faisal reassured the audience Saudi Arabia was in “quite good sailing conditions,” as prospects of alternative energy, social progress, and economic growth took the forefront in new policy. The Prince then responded to questions from the press and TV media for approximately 20 minutes.