SAUDI ARABIA. On the occasion of the World Dialogue Conference in Madrid, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia was interviewed by a reporter from the Italian daily La Repubblica.
The King addressed the effort to bring together representatives of the world's religious communities at the conference as well as a wide ranging discussion of other issues including the crisis in world energy and food supplies, the Arab-Israeli conflict, regional security challenges, America's influence in the Middle East and the battle against terrorism.
Q: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, what prompted you to call for convening the Madrid conference on dialogue of religions, and to invite believers of different religions and cultures from all over the world? What are the results you hope for? What makes you so concerned about the fate of humanity in this world?
King Abdullah: The need for dialogue between believers of different religions and cultures is called for by the current world conditions and the many crises faced by human communities. Also, the growing challenges that threaten to worsen existing economic, political and social problems and to deepen human suffering. Such conditions prevail at a time characterized by widespread injustice, corruption and immorality, and the breakup of the family, the basic unit of all societies. Humanity is moving away from noble values and principles that form the essence of all religions and beliefs.
We are part of this world. We influence and are influenced by it. We are a nation of a sublime mission and deeply rooted cultural heritage. Our religion urges us to embrace the principle of dialogue and call upon us to cooperate and coexist in peace with others, and promote understanding, peace, accord and good values among all humankind. My optimism stems from the broad positive response to the call for dialogue on the part of many circles, both inside the Muslim world and at all level of various religious and cultural levels around the world.
Q: You have organised an International Islamic Conference in Makkah. Do you see that conference as one that provided an opportunity to improve relations between Muslim countries, as well as those between Sunnis and Shiites? You entered the Conference Hall holding the hands of the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, and the former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjan. Does this picture symbolise better understanding between the two countries and the two states?
King Abdullah: We always look forward to establishing accord and peace not only among Muslims with their various sects, but also between the peoples of the world with all their beliefs. Muslim scholars did not encounter difficulties in their Islamic Conference in Makkah in terms of stressing the principle of dialogue, since dialogue is an integral part of our Islamic teachings. God ordered us to have dialogue in the Qur'an, and Our Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) also urged us to do the same. The policy of Saudi Arabia is also based on these principles.
Q: What is the current status of dialogue with the Vatican after your historic visit with Pope Benedict XVI? Do you expect the coming dialogue to help heal the deep wounds suffered by both sides, and allay Muslims' fear of new crusades, and Christians' fear of extremists who threaten values and cultures of the West? What is your response to Al Qaeda's denunciation of the dialogue among religions?
King Abdullah: We can remove mistrust and suspicions from our minds through the principle of dialogue, one that underscores human commonalities that find their expression in all religions, beliefs and cultures. They all call for good in all its forms and reject evil in all its manifestations. We will then realise that values and principles that unite us are more than those dividing us.
The differences that exist between cultures and societies in general are a matter of course and an eternal fact of the universe. But it is forces of extremism, injustice and darkness that often seek to exaggerate and exploit these differences for the purpose of instigating conflicts and wars, thus bringing about chaotic situations around the world. That is why we find them always in panic when they feel that there is an effort to engage in dialogue and promote understanding instead of confrontation and rivalry. These same forces know that dialogue is the effective way to abort their evil plans that are contrary to all religions, human beliefs, and inherent human nature.
Q: The G-8 met after the Jeddah Energy Forum in an attempt to resolve the crisis of hiking prices of crude oil. But expectations are not optimistic and prices are continuing to rise. What bothers you most about the consequences of this international crisis? And what are, in your opinion, the main reasons for the continuous rise in oil prices?
King Abdullah: Stability of the world oil markets is the common goal of both the producers and the consumers, and we are striving hard to reach it. In spite of the fact that the Kingdom and a number of oil producing countries have raised their production capacity, we have not detected a positive response on the international oil market. This demonstrates the extent of the effect of other causes and factors on the market prices outside the framework of supply and demand, most importantly speculations in the international oil market and the imposition in many oil consuming nations of additional taxes on imported oil.
Saudi Arabia called for a meeting of oil consuming and producing countries in Jeddah to discuss the current situation of the oil market. We believe that strengthening cooperation between the parties in tackling the global oil situation with all the variables that influence and impact the price of oil to the consumer is the guarantor to stabilizing international oil market.
We followed up closely the meeting of the G-8 and the resulting resolutions, including a call for dialogue between producers and consumers. It may be important to note here that a World Energy Forum has already been established, with Riyadh hosting its secretariat-general to achieve the goals of dialogue and to coordinate between producers and consumers.
In the context of our endeavour to protect the environment and address global climate change, Saudi Arabia established the King Abdullah Center for Oil Research and Studies in order to seek technology that would preserve the environment on one hand, and contribute to global economic growth on the other. These efforts include a fund for energy, environment and climate change, as initiated by the Kingdom and announced during the third OPEC summit in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia contributed US$300 million to this effort. I might add that this programme will fund research in many areas including carbon emissions. We urge the G-8 to support these existing programmes and projects rather than make duplicate efforts in similar programmes.
Q: Food shortage is the second crisis affecting the world after the oil crisis. What is the scenario, which you see, that would occur in the future regarding the scarcity of food and causes of food shortage? Will Saudi Arabia follow the example of China and invest in fertile lands in other countries to ensure food security in the future?
King Abdullah: The world has to put this crisis on the top of its list of priorities. It must double the effort internationally to address the food crisis because it has a direct bearing on the life of every human being. Saudi Arabia has dealt with this crisis at three main levels.
First: It has supported the World Food Programme (WFP) with US$500 million in response to the global appeal to cope up with the increase in global fuel prices and food commodities.
Second: It is pursuing a medium-and-long-term strategy to launch agricultural investment initiatives aiming at development and enhancement of agricultural products in countries that have the prerequisites for agriculture. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has agricultural experience, technology, and capital to invest in this area. The initiative is not only limited to buying land or even leasing it, but it also includes technology transfer and exchange of experience, and development of agricultural companies, and other steps that would contribute to increasing agricultural crops and providing food to the world in order to alleviate the crisis.
Third: We have been working to strengthen international cooperation to solve the crisis through our call at the Jeddah Conference to launch the 'energy for the poor' initiative to enable developing countries to meet the increasing energy costs. We called on the World Bank to hold a meeting as soon as possible for donor countries and regional and international financial institutions to discuss this initiative and put it into effect.
We proposed to the Council of Ministers of the OPEC Fund for International Development to meet and consider the adoption of a parallel programme and allocate US$1 billion to it. Saudi Arabia announced its readiness to financially contribute to these programs within the framework to be agreed upon. Also, we have allocated US$500 million for low-interest loans through the Saudi Development Fund to finance projects that help developing countries obtain energy and initiate other development projects. Undoubtedly these objectives require efforts from all countries of the world.
Q: The continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict poses a third challenge. In the case of failure of the Annapolis conference, the only remaining peace plan on the table is the Arab peace initiative presented by you in 2002. What made you put forward this peace initiative? Is this peace plan still in place and implementable? Some 60 after the establishment of the state of Israel, is it closer to living in peace with its Arab neighbours?
King Abdullah: The comprehensive Arab Peace Initiative reflects the overall sincere and serious Arab will towards achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East on the basis of international legitimacy and laws. The Arab initiative is regarded as one of the main points of reference in the peace process, which the Riyadh Arab Summit re-emphasised.
In addition to the Arab initiative, there are several international initiatives aiming at advancing the peace process in the region. But all these efforts and initiatives are still colliding with an Israeli policy of rejection and of continuous seizure of more Palestinian land, building new settlements, expanding existing ones, and imposing all kinds of unjust restrictions and sieges on the Palestinian people in clear defiance of all international laws and ethical principles.
Whenever the Arabs and the world make a step forward towards peace, Israel embarks on policies of injustice, aggression against the Palestinian people. Therefore, the international community is urged, more than ever, to deal seriously with the Israeli intransigence, so that the longest crisis in modern history would find its way to solution.
Q: Are you concerned about Iran's strengthening its power in Iraq and presenting its new strength in the region?
King Abdullah: Iraq is in dire need of being free from external interference in its internal affairs by any party so that it can move forward in its efforts to achieve security, stability and prosperity, and maintain its national unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. The Iraqi people are capable of achieving these objectives with a sincere and serious national will and a full sense of one country among all Iraqis, regardless of ethnic background and political and religious affiliations.
Q: Has Iran the right to continue its nuclear programme? What is the extent of damage caused by President Ahmadinejad's statements concerning the elimination of Israel? Israel has recently conducted military exercises simulating an attack on Iran. What are the results of such an attack?
King Abdullah: Nuclear proliferation in the region does not serve its security and stability. We hope that all countries of the region follow the policy of the GCC and the Arab League to make the Middle East and the Gulf region free of all weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons. As regards the Iranian nuclear issue, we call for abandoning the language of tension and escalation, and for adopting diplomatic solutions to this issue. As long as diplomatic efforts are still active and ongoing, I do not think there is room for discussing other options. The responsibility about statements made by certain countries lies in the countries making these statements.
Q: Some people believe that the United States has lost its traditional influence in the region, because of its policies and because of the emergence of other competitors looking for a role. What do you think of this? Has it become difficult for America's friends to continue defending it?
King Abdullah: We think that the situation in the region requires every possible international effort in light of the difficult crisis it faces. Whether this effort is American, Russian, European, Islamic or Arab, we will not hesitate to support it as long as it is sincere and serious in dealing with these crises, and as long as it aims at achieving regional security and stability and prosperity, including the legitimate rights of the people of the region. Our international friendships are based on the defence of those rights and interests of the region and its peoples and nothing else.
Q: What has been achieved so far in Saudi Arabia in combating terrorism? Do you think that you have defeated Al Qaeda and rid the country of its supporters? Or is there a need for more efforts to be exerted in this context? Is the world making enough effort to fight terrorism?
King Abdullah: Observers of the Saudi efforts in fighting terrorism must feel the significant achievements we have made in fighting this scourge and sedition over the past years. These achievements would not have been possible without the blessing of God, the courage and sacrifices of the security forces, and the Saudi people standing united in confronting this phenomenon extraneous to their religion, society and culture.
Since the beginning of recent terrorist attacks in the Kingdom, we adopted a comprehensive strategy to fight it. This strategy does not depend on its security side only, but also it includes fighting financing of terrorism and dealing with its intellectual roots through the adoption of an integrated programme for defying the deviant thought and rehabilitating its followers and giving counseling and advice to them.
In this regard we called for an international conference to combat terrorism, which was convened in Riyadh. The conference called for the establishment of a counterterrorism center for the purpose of prompt exchange of information and the adoption of preemptive measures to prevent terrorist action. However, the proposed center has yet to be established in spite of the support of many members of the world community.
In addition we are working assiduously towards closer regional and international cooperation to confront the phenomenon. We are continuing with our efforts in this strategy until completely eliminating this phenomenon and drying up its sources, and the deviant thought leading to it. We still believe that the international community can exert better efforts in close cooperation and coordination to tighten the noose on terrorist networks wherever they exist and deprive them of any safe haven that could be used to threaten the international community.