Iraq’s breakup will spark civil war, says Saudi FM
* Saud al-Faisal says Israeli barrier blocks any chance of peace in Middle East
* Saudi Arabia wants Iran to hand over Qaeda suspects
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Saturday he “hoped beyond hope” a sovereign Iraq would emerge quickly and warned any breakup of the country would spark civil war and wider conflict. Prince Saud also told Reuters in an interview that security was a precondition to the handover of power by Washington to a sovereign Iraqi government.
“The impact of a fragmented Iraq will not be just on Saudi Arabia. It’s the whole region. I think there will be conflict between the Iraqi independent (ethnic and religious) entities that would arise. This will spread to its neighbouring countries,” said the minister, whose country borders Iraq.
Prince Saud, a 63-year-old Princeton graduate and the international face of his country for nearly three decades, said any US plan for a political map based on ethnic and religious divisions would be ominous.
“If you give a federation to one ethnic entity there will be a wish from another... It is in the interest of all ethnic or religious groups to have a united Iraq rather than an Iraq divided along ethnic and religious identities that can cause strife in the future,” said the son of late King Faisal, one of Saudi Arabia’s most respected leaders.
“On paper, they all agreed that this is what needs to be done. But should Iraq fragment, then who knows what will happen?” he said, adding that Turkey had already made its position clear.
He said he could not see a successful political handover of power to a legitimate Iraqi government in June without “a minimum requirement of security and stability”.
“We hope beyond hope that this will succeed because security is interlinked with the return of Iraqi authority in Iraq.”
“Our position is the speediest return possible to an independent, a united Iraq, an Iraq with full authority to determine its future the ways it sees...but the actions to achieve that depend completely on the Iraqi people,” he added.
Prince Saud refused to be drawn on the tense showdown over demands by Iraq’s leading Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for direct elections. Washington’s plan is to hold a series of regional caucuses to select members of a new assembly, which in turn would appoint a new transitional government.
“I cannot come close to estimating when Iraq will be ready. It depends on the solution for the political formula — whether it is acceptable to everybody, whether it would remove the cause of violence and therefore allow a peaceful transfer of power.”
“There are too many imponderables,” he said.
Israeli barrier: Israel cannot reach peace with Palestinians until Prime Minister Ariel Sharon changes policy and halts construction of a barrier through the West Bank, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said.
The barrier will “rule out every prospect or possibility of a solution”, Prince Saud said. “The purpose of this wall is to divide the Palestinian population into a manageable number in three cantons.”
“Where would they go? Of course they will go to Jordan and he (Sharon) will claim this is the Palestinian state,” the prince said. “I don’t think peace can be achieved if the policy of Mr Sharon determines the prospects of peace.”
Prince Saud said it would be discussed by Arab foreign ministers in Cairo next month and Saudi Arabia hoped it would win the firm support of the European Union and United States.
Qaeda suspects: Saudi Arabia said on Saturday it wanted Iran to hand over any Saudi Al Qaeda militants rather than put them on trial, but added it did not know how many of its nationals were being held by Iranian authorities.
Responding to Iran’s announcement on Friday that it would put a dozen jailed suspects of Saudi-born Osama bin Laden’s network on trial, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Tehran had not revealed if any were Saudis.
“We have been having discussions with Iran and we have a security agreement with Iran and they had promised if there are any Saudis they would hand them over. We still hope that they would do that,” Prince Saud said.
Asked if he believed Saad bin Laden was being held in Iran, he said the question should not have to be one of guesswork. “We have an agreement with Iran on this. This agreement should allow us to exchange information rather than speculation.”
The foreign minister said Saudi Arabia’s cooperation with other countries, including the United States, had helped foil further attacks, both on US soil and elsewhere.
One of the kingdom’s leading US critics, Richard Perle, suggested earlier this month that President George W. Bush add Saudi Arabia’s name to his “axis of evil”, filling the space vacated by Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
But Prince Saud said his country had shown itself to be “the frontline of the countries that are fighting terrorism”.
“There are those (in the United States) who do not want to have a relationship with Saudi Arabia and therefore do not want to accept the reality that we are two countries cooperating with each other,” he said. —Reuters